Ryan Bancroft, the 28-year-old American, has won the 2018 Malko Competition for Young Conductors. He leaves Copenhagen with €20,000, new mentors in Fabio Luisi and Jennifer Spencer, and invitations to conduct 24 symphony orchestras from Canada, Europe and the Far East.
Bancroft made his presence felt at the competition – which Gramophone streamed live – from the first round on Sunday 22 April. An open hearted, emotional musician in the Bernstein mould who conducts without a baton, he put his mark on repertoire from Beethoven to Schumann and gave the world premiere of Poul Ruders’ Sarabande Blues by default, as the first contestant to play the prescribed work through in front of the audience without stopping the orchestra to make adjustments.
Despite stiff competition at Friday night’s final from the Russian Anna Rakitina (28, placed second) and the Italian Alessandro Bonato (23, placed third), Bancroft gave us an involving and at times commanding performance of the first movement of Brahms’s Second Symphony. It is not easy for a conductor to put their mark on a Brahms symphony, let alone a conductor under 30. But Bancroft did so, and marginally more than his co-finalists. His reading of the ‘Dance of the Cockerel’ from Nielsen’s opera Maskarade induced titters from the audience, which also awarded him the Audience Prize. Rakitina won the prize awarded by the competition’s Children’s Jury.
Bancroft, a native of Los Angeles, studied at the Californian Institute of the Arts and at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, during which time he appeared frequently as a trumpeter with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. He has studied dance as well as music, which goes some way to explaining his constant composure in front of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and his expressive physicality. In Malko tradition, Bancroft was forced to conduct Hans Christian Lumbye’s Champagne Gallop at sight, in celebration of his victory.
More than 566 conductors from around the world applied to participate in the week long, triennial Malko Competition for Young Conductors, with 24 conducting the Danish National Symphony Orchestra during the course of the competition in Copenhagen under the watchful eye of Fabio Luisi’s jury. The next competition will be held in 2021.