Opera Australia has announced Pietari Inkinen will replace Richard Mills as conductor of The Melbourne Ring Cycle 2013. Inkinen will join Opera Australia for the first orchestral rehearsals as the second phase of Ring rehearsals kick off in September.
In a lineup of the world’s conducting greats, Inkinen would stand out instantly: the maestro is just 33 years old, without a grey hair. So who is this wunderkind?
At age 15, Pietari Inkinen picked up his baton and stood in front of a professional orchestra for the first time. Balancing his extraordinary talent as a violinist and passion for conducting was never going to be an easy ask, but he has achieved what many conductors can’t: maintaining a career as a performing and recording violinist alongside a busy schedule conducting some of the world’s best orchestras.
Two decades after he first raised a baton, Inkinen is in demand across the globe: the Finnish conductor spends up to 300 nights a year in a hotel room. Famed for his work on Sibelius, Inkinen has harboured a deep passion for Wagner for many years. He realised this at the helm of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra last year, conducting a concert performance of Die Walküre to superlative reviews and a “standing ovation of an intensity unprecedented” in one reviewer’s experience.
His deft hand with the orchestra led to his appointment as conductor of a daring production of Wagner’s Ring cycle at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo at the start of the year.
For Inkinen, it was the realisation of a lifelong ambition to conduct a full production of Wagner’s epic, and one he executed with a mastery that belies his age. German Newspaper Die Welt praised Inkinen for “unfolding a luscious Wagnerian sound” from the Orchestra del Teatro Massimo. “His interpretation and leadership allow the music to bloom and glow.”
The Financial Times praised his ability to support the singers, while Italian reviewer Sara Patera pointed out the “confident and convincing direction” of Inkinen, “who did justice to the complex timbres and dynamic nuances of the difficult score”.
With the Teatro Massimo entering administration and suspending its season of the Ring, Inkinen became an obvious choice to take the podium for Opera Australia’s Ring cycle. Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini said “There was an avalanche of interest from conductors around the world, but we couldn’t have found a better person for this”.
“He has all the qualities you need to conduct this work masterfully,” Terracini said. “The orchestra drives the Ring cycle. You only need to look at the list of orchestras Inkinen has worked with and the repertoire he conducts to see that he is immensely talented.”
As experienced in the Pacific as he is in Europe, Inkinen has strong connections in this part of the world. He was appointed Music Director of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at just 27 and Principal Guest Conductor of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra a year later. His C.V. reads like that of a much older maestro: conducting orchestras of such renown as the Dresden Staatskapelle, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Bayerischer Rundfunk, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the La Scala Philharmonic, to highlight just a few.
“He is firstly an outstanding musician,” Terracini said. “He is an impressive conductor with terrific stick technique, and he really demonstrates an innate understanding of and affinity with Wagner’s music. His passion for the piece is palpable.”
With his unlined face and Nordic appearance, Inkinen cuts a fine figure in tails and a bowtie. Aware of his relative youth compared with the instrumentalists under his command, the maestro has always had to let his talent speak for itself. And it has, loudly: talk to any singer or instrumentalist that has performed under his baton, and you begin to get an idea of his talent.
Ultimately, his youth has nothing to do with it, Terracini said. “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough. It’s exciting to have a young conductor of immense talent working with Neil Armfield on this life-changing project.” The artistic director had already approached Inkinen when he began to receive emails from singers praising the conductor’s immense talents.
Among the big names who have sung under his baton are the acclaimed New Zealand tenor Simon O’Neill and Australian helden baritone John Wegner.
Last year, Inkinen brought New Zealand a concert performance of one of Wagner’s Ring operas, and critics were dumbfounded. “Superlatives are inadequate to do the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s Die Walküre justice … Pietari Inkinen sustained a sumptuous, perfectly paced orchestra flow, springing into passionate bloom for the young lovers, ushering in the Valkyries with whiplash thrills,” wrote William Dart in the New Zealand Herald.
Lyndon Terracini is confident he will bring the very best out of the stellar international cast gathered in Melbourne to perform in Opera Australia’s first Ring cycle.
“As Peter Craven wrote in his wonderful article on the Ring in The Australian, finding the perfect conductor for The Ring is an eternal quest. But we think we’ve got pretty close to that,” he said.
Pietari Inkinen joins Opera Australia in September.