On the night of his coronation at the Berlin Philharmonic, Kirill Petrenko was conducting a rehearsal of Die Walküre at Bayreuth. No part of the Berlin big bang was allowed to disrupt his musical routines. If he raised a glass to celebrate, it will probably have been half full.
Berlin’s biggest tabloid newspaper, Bild, splashed his election on the front page, opposite the slump at Real Madrid.
Munich’s deadly serious Süddeutsche Zeitung devoted the whole of page three to him, praising him as the world’s most sought after maestro. Die Zeit headlined its article ‘Maestro ohne Mythos’, rearranging the title of my conducting history, The Maestro Myth, a title that has since become cliché.
Overnight, I wrote an op-ed for Bild which was headlined ‘Habemus Petrenko’, a reference to the relief felt at the Philharmonic that a man of substance had emerged in their white smoke.
Among other things, I write:
His shyness is a problem. The Berlin Phil is a flagship ensemble for German culture and its leader needs to be seen and heard on the high media seas, leading the fleet to triumph. Petrenko gives few interviews and betrays nothing of his inner self.
Worse, he is completely unknown abroad, in the territories where the Berlin Phil needs to be number one. A few guest appearances at the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden and the Concertgebouw left no lasting impression. He has never toured Japan or China. He has made hardly any recordings. Berlin will have to build his profile up from scratch before 2018 in order to maintain its myth of being the world’s premier orchestra with the greatest living conductor.