Sought-after conductor Jader Bignamini to lead San Diego Symphony in ‘Places in Time’


In many of his photographs, Italian conductor Jader Bignamini is smiling. Given that he is rapidly becoming sought-after by symphony orchestras and opera theaters alike, it’s not surprising. But, he says, grins come naturally.

“I try to always be positive,” Bignamini said in an email interview from a conducting engagement in Frankfurt, Germany. “This is my defining trait. I’m happy because I am a lucky person. I get to do one of the most beautiful jobs in the world that I’m passionate about, and I have a happy family that often travels with me. What more could I wish for?”

Bignamini, 41, brings that upbeat attitude to his work as well. He will conduct the San Diego Symphony on Saturday and Sunday in a program titled “Places in Time.”

“I expect a lot from myself, and I expect a lot from the people I work with,” said the conductor, who began playing clarinet at age 9 in the Italian town of Cremona. “I like to work hard and do my best — but with positive energy, with a nice atmosphere and with a smile.”

When he was 19, Bignamini began his career as a clarinetist in Milan’s Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi. To reach his goal of being a conductor, he did double-duty for a while, simultaneously playing in the orchestra and leading children and family concerts. He also prepared the musicians for guest conductors and worked his way up to Orchestra Sinfonica’s resident conductor in 2016.

He has since led symphonies in Bologna, Toronto and Los Angeles, among other cities, as well as the Santa Fe Opera and Metropolitan Opera. Last year, Bignamini conducted “La Traviata” in Rome, a production directed by filmmaker Sofia Coppola. Although his parents weren’t musicians, they are regular operagoers who instilled a love of the art form in him.

This weekend’s concerts here are part of the San Diego Symphony’s “It’s About Time” festival, which celebrates percussion and rhythm. With that in mind, Bignamini has selected works by the Italian composers Gioacchino Rossini, Giuseppe Martucci and Ottorino Respighi. He also has included Russian master Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who mentored Respighi.

“In these pieces, there are Italian rhythms and rhythmical dances, such as the tarantella, march, Italian mazurka, valzer, galop, alborada and fandango,” he said. “So I think the program will be perfect for this festival.”

Bignamini approaches leading an orchestra totally new to him — in this case the San Diego Symphony — by mining his experience as both an orchestra musician and a conductor.

“I can understand when a musician needs my baton or just my musical ideas or sensations,” he explained. “Sometimes they need to be free from the conductor to give their best, just giving them some musical suggestions. When you meet great musicians, it’s very exciting to work together for the same goal. I can’t wait to work with this great orchestra.

“To be part of an orchestra has been very important to me, because I learned that each section that is a little universe. I learned how to relate with my colleagues and their musical needs.”

In addition to looking forward to working with the symphony here, Bignamini has a not-so-secret wish for another experience when in San Diego.

“I love food, especially barbecue,” he admitted. “When I was in Santa Fe, I did a barbecue with all the orchestra members. Let’s see if the musicians of San Diego orchestra will invite me for a barbecue!”

San Diego Symphony presents “Places in Time”

With: Jader Bignamini, conductor

When: 8 p.m., Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday

Where: Jacobs Music Center at Copley Symphony Hall, 750 B St., downtown

Tickets: $20-$98

Phone: (619) 235-0804


Wood is a freelance writer.