Now a versatile conductor based in the United Kingdom, American-born Robert Ziegler Summer Session ’69 first tried his hand at the baton after volunteering to conduct a Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta. Ziegler, who was studying piano performance at the Immaculate Heart College at the time, went on to learn basic conducting repertoire, accepted a contract at the Monday Evening Concerts in Los Angeles, and embarked on a career as a professional conductor.
Ziegler said, “I just went from [the Monday Evening Concerts] and I spent the next ten years in Los Angeles until 1981 when I moved here to England. And I’ve been here ever since. This was 40 years ago, it went rather quickly. I was studying the piano and I loved that, but I was interested in all kinds of music. I started conducting as a way to do it.”
Ziegler attended the Andover Summer Session program in 1969, where he took a drama course and played in a band. According to Ziegler, the program allowed him to forge deep connections with a diverse group of musicians, something that he still continues to cherish in his professional career.
“We did have a wonderful time in that summer session… I just remember [Andover] as a wonderful place to get to know people not from where I was, from completely different backgrounds,” said Ziegler.
Compared to the more traditional path of conducting in a European opera house and working one’s way up, Ziegler has forged his own path throughout his career—acting on his passion for diverse styles of music. From Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” to Howards Shore’s film music for “The Hobbit,” Ziegler has conducted a broad variety of repertoire.
“Lots of pop concerts, lots of film music, lots of classical repertoire, lots of opera. I think that’s probably the thing I love the most, is that you get this enormous variety of music. It brings out your strong and weak points and tells you what you resonate with,” said Ziegler.
With the mutable nature of the film-making process, composers must constantly adapt their music to last-minute changes. Consequently, Ziegler oftentimes does not receive a score until the day of the recording session. Nonetheless, he enjoys the spontaneity and flexibility with working on unfamiliar pieces on the fly.
“It’s not like they are playing a piece that has been played for 100 years. Nobody knows this music, which is why it is really valuable as a musician and as a conductor to have no preconceptions whatsoever about the music to the point that you haven’t heard it before, and no one has, so you just see what appears,” said Ziegler.
Ziegler strives to achieve a performance level where his work appears to be seamless. According to Ziegler, as monumental of a job as a conductor may seem, he ultimately lets the music speak for itself.
“It’s all about listening… In a way, you want to be in control of everything. But in the end, sometimes the best result is if you almost disappear, and the music just speaks. That’s really what you want. That’s a very hard lesson to learn as a conductor because you feel you should always be doing stuff,” said Ziegler.