There’s a palpable sense of excitement at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), shared by players and management alike. It stems from Vasily Petrenko’s appointment as Music Director and is set to build towards the start of his five-year contract in August 2021. The 42-year-old Russian, recently praised by the Berliner Morgenpost for his ‘fearless’ and ‘brilliant’ artistry, has a fund of ideas for developing his new orchestra, raising its status at home and overseas, and broadening the global audience for orchestral music. He’s destined to become Music Director Designate in August 2020, soon after finishing work as Chief Conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. The timeline for Petrenko’s arrival in post as RPO Music Director includes his departure as Chief Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO) in July 2021 and appointment as its Conductor Laureate.
Vasily Petrenko’s intensely powerful interpretations and passionate music-making, a highlight of British musical life for more than a decade, left a deep impression on the RPO’s collective soul when they worked together for the first time two years ago. Conductor and orchestra bonded over Mahler’s Symphony No.2, ‘Resurrection’ at the Royal Albert Hall and deepened their relationship last year with a compelling performance of Verdi’s Requiem at the Royal Festival Hall. While it’s too early to post details of Petrenko’s programme plans, he’s determined to develop landmark series with the RPO at home and export bold projects overseas. He will work with the Orchestra in London for around ten weeks each season and lead additional touring periods. The idea, he says, is to seize the public’s imagination and draw attention to the RPO. The proposition sounds well within reach, given the success of the conductor’s award-winning work in Liverpool and his ability to connect with audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
“This Orchestra has enormous potential,” observes Vasily Petrenko. Its presence in the capital city and wide recognition overseas, he adds, stand as rock solid foundations for what he wants to achieve. “It has a very modern approach and a youthful energy which underpin its music-making. I’m thrilled to become Music Director. This will be a new chapter for an orchestra with a glorious past and high ambitions for the future; my goal is to see this realised on the world’s leading concert platforms.”
James Williams, Managing Director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, pays tribute to Vasily Petrenko’s inspirational attributes as musician and artistic leader. The conductor, he notes, owns the ideal mix of experience and energy to take the Orchestra forward. His arrival in post, which coincides with the RPO’s 75th Anniversary, is sure to mark a major milestone in the Orchestra’s development. “The qualities that Vasily brings are thrilling,” says James. “He’s a great musician with a remarkably diverse repertoire. That diversity matches the range of work the RPO does across all its programmes. To have someone leading the organisation who embodies such a breadth of music and is so committed to building audiences, widening access and placing orchestral music at the heart of the community, is central to the RPO’s future. Those values of quality, diversity and communication, for which Vasily is so well known, are key to the Orchestra’s identity.”
Seasoned observers of Britain’s orchestral scene will understand the power of the Petrenko effect in Liverpool. He became the RLPO’s youngest ever Principal Conductor in 2006 and was named Chief Conductor three years later. Audience numbers soared as the young Russian surveyed Shostakovich’s complete symphonies in concert and on disc and continued to rise as the football-mad musician scored major hits on Merseyside with pioneering education and community outreach projects. Five-star reviews, first-rate recordings and a clutch of prizes, Classical BRIT and Gramophone awards among them, helped put the RLPO under Vasily’s leadership on the international orchestral map. Small wonder that he was appointed ‘Honorary Scouser’ by Liverpool City Council.
“I’m extremely grateful to the RLPO for my many rewarding years there,” says Vasily. “They will always have a special place in my heart and we will continue to make music together. I look forward to developing special projects with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, reaching out to contemporary arts and hi-tech organisations, expanding the RPO’s relationship with the Royal College of Music and building bridges between the worlds of virtual reality, social media and orchestral music. These are just a few of our plans. The artistic quality – the most important aspect – is already there. I can’t wait to see where our work together will lead.”
He’s not alone. James Williams is convinced that the existing chemistry between conductor and orchestra augurs well for the future. “His title of Music Director is significant,” says James. “It recognises the artistic leadership that Vasily will bring to the Orchestra, both on and off the podium and within the communities it serves, drawing on his passion for music education and widening access to orchestral music to make it truly inclusive.”