Kirill Petrenko on living composers

Kirill Petrenko on living composers


norman lebrecht

January 18, 2016

At an introductory talk yesterday about South Pole, the Miroslav Srnka opera which will be premiered in Munich at the end of the month, the Staatsoper music director was asked what the difference was between conducting a work of a living composer or a dead one.

Petrenko: ‘If the composer is dead you’d like to to ask him questions, but you can’t. If the composer is alive you can ask him questions, but sometimes you’d prefer he would be already dead.’

(loud laughter and applause).

source: Miroslav Srnka



  • Olassus says:


  • Basia Jaworski says:

    Love this guy!

  • Opus Klassiek says:

    I understand what he means but it’s a little bit rude.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It depends whom is being questioned….. and why. The score should give enough information.

    • Emil Archambault says:

      I’ve never seen a score interpret itself. Just like I’ve never heard of a Shakespeare play that included EVERYTHING needed for a performance.

      • John Borstlap says:

        A good conductor picks-up enough from a score (if well-written) to bring it to life. And other conductors will do it differently but within certain margins. The pianist Arthur Schnabel said: ‘Great music is music that’s better than it can be played’, meaning that a performance can never cover all the aspects that are in the music. And the same with plays, it seems to me. But in both cases, the score and the text should be written clearly and thoughtfully so that it can offer all those possible interpretations.

        • Holly Golightly says:

          In both plays and music there are three dimensions; the original creator, the interpreter and the audience. This is unique among the arts because of the existence of that ‘third party’ – the play or the score needs to be interpreted and this interpretation can never be regarded as the last word.

          A book or a painting moves in a straight line from creator to audience, and interpretational issues can be argued amongst readers/viewers themselves; one ‘reading’ is no more valid than the other – provided there is a ‘reasonably intelligent’, mutually agreeable understanding of the text.

          But it doesn’t end there. In the case of literature it is often a case of whom we should believe; the tale or the teller? Plenty of authors have made post-publication comments about their work which have influenced the reception of them.

          • John Borstlap says:

            …. and there have been plenty of composers in the last century who provided a listening manual in the programme booklet for audiences to influence reception. It didn’t help much, however. Yet, the clearer an original text (incl music) is, the better chance that things embedded in it will be picked-up and understood. If authors / composers leave that notion, the only thing left is the performer.

  • Alex says:

    He probably also thought to continue the phrase with something like “…and hadn’t composed the crap that he did!” But decided that would not be accepted at all. I agree completely.

  • Robert says:

    At least he did qualify that with “sometimes”. 😀

  • T. Manor says:

    Fair enough. As a composer, I’ve choked enough conductors to agree.

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    That’s a nice example of a KP bon mot. Knowing how he likes to prepare his scores I can understand where that came from.

  • Brian Hughes says:

    As a conductor, when I make an interpretive decision, I often tell the players, “X is dead, so he won’t be coming after me.” Of course, that won’t work on my next concert; there are no dead, white, European, males allowed….

  • JJC says:

    Of course the same thing can be said of questions toward conductors…

  • Milka says:

    But without the “composer ” Petrenko” would be nothing , and when they tire of
    him the next favorite will be waiting in the wings to take over .Conductors are a dime a dozen .One notes the piano didn’t work out so lets try conducting .So it goes