It’s perfectly understandable if Rodrigo Ruiz is just a tad nervous these days. After all, it’s not every day someone makes their professional conducting debut while still a student.
The Lawrence University senior will lead the Mexican Orchestra of the Arts Sunday, Feb. 6 in an all-Beethoven symphonic concert in Mexico City’s most prestigious concert hall, the 2,300-seat Sala Nezahualcóyotl.
Ruiz, who grew up in Baja California and now makes his home in San Diego, will conduct the professional orchestra in performances of Beethoven’s Leonore III Overture, the Emperor Piano Concerto, with guest pianist Mauricio Náder, and the Fifth Symphony.
A piano performance major, Ruiz has taken conducting tutorials with David Becker, Lawrence director of orchestral studies, since his sophomore year. He spent the 2009-10 academic year as the student assistant conductor of the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra.
“There are many things I enjoy about conducting the LSO, but this is going to be very different,” said Ruiz, who is currently on leave, but plans to return to campus for commencement exercises in June. “This is an older, professional orchestra and the musicians all feel they know what they’re doing already. But if I can get them to open up and really work with me, then they will realize that even if I’m only 22, I still have something to say. If they’re receptive, we can do something great together.”
Ruiz was chosen for the guest conducting position through a cultural program run by the state of Baja California based in part on video footage he submitted. The program is designed to assist talented young artists with their career development and is modeled on Venezuela’s “El Sistema” program, which has produced such talents as Gustavo Dudamel, currently the principal conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Becker hailed Ruiz as “a most talented young conductor with great potential.”
“His musical gifts and dedicated commitment combined with his sincere love of humanity and the music will properly guide him through this outstanding professional conducting opportunity. I wish him only the best with his very bright future.”
Ruiz is approaching the concert with the goal of making a meaningful connection with his audience, which will include his parents.
“My job as a conductor is to present myself just as a metal would conduct electricity so that this beautiful music written by these great composers can flow through me and reach the essence of the audience,” said Ruiz, who began rehearsals with the orchestra on Tuesday in preparation for Sunday’s concert.
“It is a huge thrill to work with a orchestra like this, especially in the Sala Nezahualcóyotl, which is the most important hall in Mexico. Some people consider it the most important concert hall in all of Latin America. It’s a little shocking to think I will be standing in this magnificent hall making my professional conducting debut. It is a little bit daunting, but very exciting, too.”