Bertie Baigent is the first winner of a new conductor competition in Rotterdam

British conductor Bertie Baigent (1995) is the first major winner of a new Dutch conducting competition, the International Conducting Competition Rotterdam (ICCR). He won the Grand Prix (€15,000) for best all-rounder, but also the partial prizes (€7,500) ‘Classical music’ and ‘Great symphonic works’.

What is special about this competition is that the six preselected participants conducted not one, but five final evenings in five different subgenres within the classical repertoire: ‘Proms’ (open air concert), Contemporary (roughly 21st century), Classical (late 18th, early 19th century) , opera (conducting with singers) and ‘Great Symphonic Works’ (19th and 20th century). The participants worked with four different orchestras: Sinfonia Rotterdam, DoelenEnsemble, Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. Each evening the jury consisted of specialists in the relevant genre. Martijn Dendievel (1995) won the Proms Round, Chloe Rooke (1996) the Contemporary Music Round, Luis Toro Araya (1995) the Opera Round and the Audience Award (€10,000).

Baigent’s big win was no surprise after a long final evening on Friday (‘great symphonic works’). Not only did he combine all the different qualities of his fellow participants in the last two parts of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphonyhe had already been selected by the jury after the morning rehearsals to open the concert with a new work by Joey Roukens: night flight, the third movement of his first symphony, which will be premiered in October; a promising foretaste, exciting with an enormous drive, that sounds like a bustling fairytale city.

Big differences

Interesting how conducting six times can mean something completely different. Dendievel and Carlos Ágreda (1991) go for authoritarian, Dendievel (classic skirt coat, large white bow) clear and consistent, Ágreda with large angular, quivering movements (see a conducting C-3PO from Star Wars for you). Toro Araya and Joel Sanderson (1994) give the orchestra plenty of space, what with the Mahler (Fourth Symphonyfirst part) by Toro Araya just turned out well, but for Shostakovich (Fifth Symphonyfirst part) by Sanderson proved to be insufficiently directing.

Also read: ‘The New Conductor: Approachable Genius Superhero Without Diva Behavior

Chloe Rooke is perhaps the most memorable conductor yet. Not only as the only woman, but also as the only conductor without a baton (conductor baton) and the only one who saw absolutely no point in indicating the measure, unless there really was no other option.

What Rooke does is portray the music, flowing and round with hands as in Indian mudras, causing her Mahler to swirl and flow wonderfully. By sometimes exaggerating, it is impossible to misunderstand how she wants to hear the music, which an orchestra like the Rotterdam Philharmonic does well.

For those who think ‘music shouldn’t be a competition’: the evening certainly didn’t feel like that. Unlike singers or instrumentalists who always have their instrument available, it is difficult for young conductors to gain experience. Four different orchestras and hours of rehearsal time is a gift for each participant, all of whom visibly enjoyed. In addition, there are hardly any places to stand out as a young conductor.

Looking back on Friday evening: Listening back: The next ICCR is in June 2025.

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