Liverpool loses its music director to London

Liverpool loses its music director to London


norman lebrecht

July 02, 2018

It has been announced in London that Vasily Petrenko will become music director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 2021, when he leaves the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic after 15 years.

Petrenko, 42, is also stepping down as chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra.

We had prior information from agency sources that Petrenko was to share his post with Sir Andrew Davis. This was incorrect. We apologise the confusion.


  • Olassus says:

    Horrible conductor of Elgar.

  • William says:

    GOOD conductor of Elgar !

    (Everything is a matter of personal opinion and taste isn’t it ?)

    • Olassus says:

      Listen to his Geneva recording of Enigma and report back. (I posted the link, but NL goes thru those manually unless the domain is known, so there is a delay.) Nothing is properly characterized, undermining the whole point of variation form, and I think this exposes a quite big weakness in Vasily Petrenko.

  • FS60103 says:

    Bit of a step down for him…

    • Will Duffay says:

      I was going to say the same. I don’t know what the RPO is for these days, although looking at their Cadogan schedule they do do some proper concerts. I thought it was all popular classics and songs from the shows. They really need him, and they must have paid him a lot, or are giving him a lot of time off.

      • Will Duffay says:

        Looking again, at their RAH schedule, there is some pretty desperate stuff there. But it supplies a need, if they can fill the place. I bet Petrenko won’t be doing ‘Movies’ Greatest Heroes’.

        • Tommy says:

          Indeed he isn’t. It will be the excellent Nick Davies, who conducts that repertoire superbly. The audience will love it.
          There is room for everything, and the RPO (like the LSO) has always had a huge range and employed conductors that are appropriate for the genre.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          No worse than the “Beatles Nights” the RLPO does…

  • Daphne Badger says:

    Bit of a step up for him…

    • Alex Davies says:

      Seriously? Unless he plans to do something pretty revolutionary with the RPO I can only see this as a most surprising move. The RLPO surely offers many much more interesting opportunities for serious music making. I could see him making the move if he’d been invited to take over the LPO or the Philharmonia, but but not the RPO.

  • John says:

    I’d say step down. I’m actually quite surprised that VP has taken on the RPO

  • Daphne Badger says:

    Maybe he likes a challenge…?

    • John says:

      Yes maybe. And I hope he succeeds. But I would have thought that he’s been around a bit too long to be taking on such a challenge. From Liverpool, Oslo to RPO. Hmmmm

  • Blyth H. says:


    So the once sleeping giant of the Classical World (with the most famous name in the U.K) now has a new young World Class conductor!

    There is no reason these days why The R.P.O can’t be both High Art and massively commercially successful!!

    He’s to more chart topping albums, being the most inclusive, wide reaching orchestra in the world and also to high quality repertoire to keep the critics happy!

    Congratulations to it and it’s new conductor!

    • Alex Davies says:

      The RPO the most famous name in the UK? To be perfectly honest, the RPO rarely has cause to enter my consciousness. The orchestras I listen to most frequently are probably, more or less in this order, the LPO, Philharmonia, Royal Opera House, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Academy of Ancient Music, LSO, BBCSO. Outside of London-based orchestras, I’d probably have said that the RLPO was the best and most interesting, if only because I am old enough to remember the Pešek years when the RLPO became one of the foremost interpreters of Czech repertoire (perhaps surpassed only by the Czech orchestras themselves).

      I probably go to around 100 concerts a year, and I’d be surprised if, during my whole lifetime, I’ve been to an RPO concert more than three or four times. I do occasionally see an advertisement for one of their concerts, but it’s rarely anything I’d go out of my way to hear in concert performance. The RPO seems to keep itself busy touring with unimaginative programmes mainly comprising well known overtures, the most popular concertos for violin, piano, or cello, and symphonies by Tchaikovsky and Sibelius. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but the RPO is not undertaking more interesting projects such as the LSO’s recent performances of Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum and Stockhausen’s Gruppen at the Tate Modern Turbine Hall and the Philharmonia’s wonderful performance of Gurrelieder last week.

      I’m sorry to say it, but these days I think of the RPO as being somewhat peripheral to the world of serious classical music.

      • Blyth H. says:

        Times Change!

        The R.P.O needs to stop apologising for being so commercially successful

        Year on year it plays to more people in the UK than any other UK orchestra and cost the tax payer a fraction of the other London Orchestras.

        Such a platform can be used to bring in new audiences to more purist performances (which all orchestras benefit from)

        If you have consecutive no 1 albums in the pop charts (across Europe, Australia and more) with Elvis Presley you don’t need to say sorry, you need to say OK, now I have your attention, come and see what else we do!

        Enter Mr Petrenko!

        The R.P.O is a beautifully modern, young and egalitarian organisation that represents the future!

        It should be very proud of what it has achieved and it’s new Superstar conductor!

      • Robin Smith says:

        Some interesting observations there but your analysis of orchestras outside London very seriously lacks comment on the great CBSO years with Rattle and the glorious years with Nelsons. Easily the equal of any London orchestra during those times and in a far greater accoustic than any of them.

        I’m also a regular at RFH/ROH and Barbican as well.

        • Adrienne says:

          “analysis of orchestras outside London”?

          Read the post again and it’s largely an account of his personal listening habits, that is all.

          Heaping praise on the CBSO at every opportunity is not compulsory.

          • Robin Smith says:

            “Outside of London-based orchestras, I’d probably have said that the RLPO was the best and most interesting, if only because I am old enough to remember the Pešek years when the RLPO became one of the foremost interpreters of Czech repertoire (perhaps surpassed only by the Czech orchestras themselves)”.

            Implies knowledge of orchestras outside of London.

          • Christopher Clift says:


            As a frequent (and regular) audience member at Symphony Hall, may I venture to suggest that most people ‘heap praise on the CBSO’ not from a sense of obligation but because (generally speaking) the Orchestra and its various soloists/conductors are deserving of such praise. Might I suggest you leave whichever ‘Ivory tower’ you inhabit, and venture to the ‘wilds’ of Birmingham to experience for yourself what the Orchestra has to offer. They do after all, perform in the finest auditorium in the UK, which probably puts them at an advantage over most other orchestras in the country.

        • Alex Davies says:

          I am of course familiar with the CBSO. I don’t get to concerts outside of London often and I don’t often buy multiple recordings of a work I already have apart from a few specific interests such as solo violin music and Chopin. Overall, I’d say that my impression of the most famous UK orchestras would be: 1. the London-based orchestras, 2. the BBC orchestras outside London, if only because the BBC gives them a profile, a close 3. the RLPO, CBSO, and Hallé, 4. Royal Northern Sinfonia, Ulster Orchestra, 5. Bournemouth Symphony, Oxford Philharmonic.

  • The Ghost of Karlos Cleiber says:

    Must say I’m a bit disappointed that the RPO didn’t instead promote Alexander Shelley (currently their principal guest), who I genuinely think is one of the best and most effective conductors I’ve seen in recent years.

    Bit baffled as to why Petrenko would drop Oslo and Liverpool in favour of a much less stable and less regularly-performing band, though.

    • Nik says:

      More time for freelance work?

    • Professor emeritus says:

      VP did not drop Oslo. He wanted to stay.

      • Anon says:

        Please tell us more! Oslo must be crazy if they didn’t want to keep him. He’s terrific!

        • Professor emeritus says:

          Oslo Ph. is not crazy. This is well thought out. Much of the orchestra is still there from the period with Mariss Jansons , which was 23 years. VP can in no way stand up to the comparison.

      • Olassus says:

        Oslo renewed him in 2015, thru 2020. What changed?

    • Louisa says:

      A less regularly performing band eh??? You obviously haven’t seen the schedule.

      RPO has to survive by getting bums on seats as the arts council don’t give them much money so therefore they play popular programmes. Simples!

  • Derek Bacon says:

    What a terrible move!!!! When it said ‘London’, I thought LPO but RPO?????? Very odd.

  • Oliver Holt says:

    It looks like Petrenko can see what is possible!

    The R.P.O is a very different beast than 5 years ago and seems to be doing really well on all fronts.

    It’s profile has never been higher and there is a real buzz about the new management

    So much potential here!!

  • Rob says:

    and can ease cold war tensions

  • Anton Bruckner says:

    VP just conducted a fantastic series of concerts with the Israel Phil featuring Struass the Alpine Symphony in one of the best IPO performances in the last few years. He was far better than the other Petrenko, KP, who appeared with the IPO. the RPO used to be a great orchestra years ago before it became a popular mainstream music orchestra. An odd choice for a conductor of VP’s caliber but perhaps he will resume the RPO golden days.

    • Martinu says:

      Indeed it was a great performance of Alpine Symphony. But it was a miserable accompaniment to Pablo Ferrandez in Dvorak Cello concerto. Petrenko (and the IPO) covered him completely, were out of rythm- really bad. Pity. Great cello concerto, boring and noisy Alpine symphony.

    • Olassus says:

      RPO golden days – circa 1958

      LSO golden days – circa 1965
      Berlin Phil golden days – same as LSO

  • barry guerrero says:

    What a great coup for the RPO. There are many young and talented players in their roster these days. I hope the best for them.

  • Adrienne says:

    Always amuses me how some people pay lip service to the need for classical music to reach a wider audience but, when it does, they don’t approve or they nit pick over the way it is done.

    Yes, some attempts at populism are crass, but there’s clearly a demand for film music, the lighter stuff etc.

    How dare the RPO want a good conductor. What a waste!

    • Alex Davies says:

      I for one don’t actually object to the film music or the unashamedly popular programmes, e.g. Symphonic Russia at the Royal Albert Hall. These concerts keep some great music in the repertoire and are accessible to people who do not usually listen to live classical music.

      What I despair at is the lack of imagination in programming the RPO’s serious concerts both in London and touring venues around the UK that rarely see a symphony orchestra (including my local theatre out in the London suburbs). I don’t know whether the RPO has ever performed a programme comprising the Academic Festival Overture followed by the Bruch violin concerto no. 1 followed by Tchaikovsky’s symphony no. 5, but that is a pretty close approximation to a typical RPO programme. I won’t go to my local theatre to hear that. I’d rather go to the Southbank or Barbican to hear something more interesting. Now, if they would schedule something like the 2nd Brandenburg Concerto in place of an overture, Berg’s Seven Early Songs in place of a concerto, and Suk’s Asrael Symphony in the second half, you could not keep me away.

      • Derek says:


        If the concert program selection is too unusual, you may be there, but the audience might be small in number.
        I am open to most music but I doubt that Stockhausen’s Gruppen would get me there – and the comments seen about it at Tate Modern have put me off!

      • Aurael says:

        Alex – your comments demonstrate an almost comic lack of awareness of what audiences want, especially outside of London.

        If you think punters in Hull (or Reading, Scunthorpe, Bexhill etc. etc.) – all venues at which the RPO is the sole provider of regular classic music – want to explore the outer reaches of orchestral music, you are truly mistaken. Programmes like Figaro, followed by Rach/Pag and Sibelius 5 are precisely what audiences would like to hear in these places and, quite frankly, given audience numbers for a lot of LPO/LSO/Philharmonia concerts, it’s what they want to hear in London, too!

        • Chris Clift says:


          I’m curious about your authority for proclaiming what audiences outside of London want from the RPO, and how do you define ‘sole provider of regular classical music’.

          I happen to live in East Yorkshire, and I for one wouldn’t give you a ‘Thank You’ for the type of programme you cite as examples of those ‘punters’’ requirements. Most of the time, audiences go for precisely the reason that there IS no other choice, but that does not support your thesis that is what they want.

        • Alex Davies says:


          I am no fan of the likes of Stockhausen, Boulez, and Xenakis myself. I did not go to the Gruppen at Tate Modern, though may have done had I realised that the first half of the programme was Messiaen. I appreciate that these composers are a niche, avant-garde interest and that programmes of their music will sell out only when they are staged infrequently and at major venues in large cities such as London, Birmingham, and Manchester, which will attract audiences from a wide radius. The performance of Mittwoch aus Licht in Birmingham in 2012, for example, was an event to which people travelled from all over the UK, and probably from further afield in Europe too.

          But the sort of programming I am talking about is not niche, avant-garde repertoire; it’s the core repertoire of any serious symphony orchestra. There is more to classical music than the RPO’s standard format of Tchaikovsky—Mendelssohn—Sibelius or Brahms—Elgar—Rachmaninoff. I’m not talking about more Harrison Birtwistle and Luigi Nono; I’m talking about Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Wagner, Mahler, Strauss, the earlier periods of Schoenberg and Berg, Korngold, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Nielsen, Britten, Tippett, Chopin, Szymanowski, Martinů, Janáček, Suk, Lutosławski, Panufnik, Penderecki, Górecki.

          I wouldn’t claim to know what sort of music people in Hull, Reading, Scunthorpe, and Bexhill enjoy, but I don’t see why their tastes should be any more limited than those of people in London or why they should not be afforded the opportunity to widen their range of interests. The only reason I know about Sylvestrov and Gubaidulina is because I have heard them in live performance. And I’m really not talking about trying to convince people to listen to obscure repertoire than few people really enjoy, e.g. Ligeti, I’m talking about the Korngold violin concerto, Taras Bulba, Verklärte Nacht, Strauss’s Metamorphosen, Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

          • Morello says:

            This thread reminds me of another from not long ago.


            There was a similar exchange about repertoire and I can only reiterate what I said then. It’s far too simplistic to suggest that orchestras *should* include unusual rep because audiences *might* enjoy it, particularly in the regions. An orchestra like the RPO has little choice but to adopt an ‘if it ain’t broke’ strategy in its regional venues, not least because the venues themselves often dictate the repertoire, for self evident reasons.

            RPO’s London 2018/19 season @ Cadogan Hall, however (I just had a quick look) offers Kodály, Liszt, Bartók, Korngold, Stravinsky, Wagner, Enescu, Porumbescu and Tom Coult. Anyone heard of the last 2? No, nor me. (There are more composers I haven’t heard of featured in their ‘Preludes’ chamber concerts)

            Yes, of course there is popular repertoire too, and no, you won’t hear the Asrael Symphony at Cadogan. It would be financial suicide and the hall isn’t big enough.

            Everyone knows about the disparity in funding between the London orchestras, so what’s the point of expecting the RPO to take risks it can’t afford? Blame ACE for the unfair disparity and frankly, applaud the RPO for its continuing resourcefulness. It’s so easy to sneer at Classical Spectacular and Elvis albums….far harder to keep producing such quality, year after year. Bravo to them, I say.

          • Derek says:

            Thanks for the further explanation Alex,

            Now that list has plenty of possibilities. Korngold’s Violin Concerto is a great choice, for example.

            Morello makes some great points (above) and mentions that the RPO is including some of those composers in future concerts. I am going to one in autumn which includes Richard Strauss and Shostakovich.

          • Alex Davies says:

            @Morello: I think repertoire crops up reasonably frequently on this blog in a number of different contexts. The interesting thing is that the situations presented and the opinions expressed can be oddly contradictory. There have been a number of threads that I remember in which the main line of argument is that orchestral repertoire is drawn from far too narrow a range of composers (and not even a particularly wide range of works by those composers). Here, for example: We read that Beethoven and Mozart account for over 15 percent of all works performed by seven major US orchestras. And in that context that is seen as being detrimental to attracting audiences. So it seems that neither orchestras nor commentators can win: if they programme nothing but Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky, and doubtless after those Rachmaninoff, Sibelius, Elgar, Mendelssohn, etc., it is said that programming is repetitious and unimaginative and that audiences eventually will give up coming to hear the same material again and again. On the other hand, we are told that Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, etc., not Schoenberg and Korngold, are what audiences like and that this same repetitious and imaginative programming is in fact a winning formula and that people simply would not turn up to hear unfamiliar pieces (perhaps more accurately, unfamiliar names: early Berg and Schoenberg works are just as easy to listen to as Wagner, Mahler, and Strauss, and yet people are intimidated because they either haven’t heard of them or have heard of them and assume that everything they wrote is as difficult as Moses und Aron).

          • Morello says:

            I suppose the answer lies (loosely) in sandwiching lesser known works and composers between the Mozart overture and the Tchaikovsky symphony and hoping that people love it, despite being there for the other stuff in most cases. I’d agree that most orchestras could do a bit more of this, but in the RPO’s case, the extra rehearsal that might be required is often prohibitive. Again, back to the funding disparity.

          • Alex Davies says:

            @Morello, yes. Clearly there is some sense in sandwiching, whatever level you are pitching at. A few years ago I heard a performance of Hartmann’s Concerto funebre, which I suspect I would never have chosen had it not been sandwiched between Verklärte Nacht and Metamorphosen. So I guess if you’re pitching at an audience who wouldn’t normally pick Verklärte Nacht and Metamorphosen, let alone Concerto funebre (which was pretty forgettable, in my personal opinion), you’re going to have to sandwich, or at any rate package, some Schoenberg or Strauss with some Brahms and Tchaikovsky, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            There is a vast difference between a 30 week programme of concerts, where you would want a mixture of “classics” and “more interesting repertoire”, and a one week programme in somewhere like Hull.

            If you have a 30 week programme, then repeating Beethoven and Brahms ad-nauseum will likely eventually bore your audience. Especially if similar repertoire is played year-after-year.

            But playing a one-off programme in somewhere like Hull, then play some “standard repertoire” since the audience are unlikely to have heard it played live before, and it can get a big audience. If you go back for a week each year, then there is so much “standard repertoire” to play, so that only playing the classics result in the same pieces being performed year-after-year.

  • Anon says:

    One theory I’ve heard circulating is that maybe RPO offered him a big paycheck. That and what someone mentioned here that perhaps he sees the potential of the RPO and it interests him.

    I think Vasily Petrenko lives his life the way he conducts. He’s fearless and extremely opinionated. He knows exactly what he wants and he doesn’t stop until he gets it. He doesn’t follow public opinion or conventional wisdom. He says what he thinks and he pretty much does what he wants. He’s intelligent and determined and it usually works out for him.

    The move to RPO may be surprising to some, but I have no doubt whatsoever that he knows exactly what he’s doing.

  • Alex Davies says:

    Just an idea: has anyone researched the relationship between a person’s enjoyment of a piece of music and their assumptions about the composer? For example, if you play somebody Gurrelieder and say it’s by Schoenberg, do they perceive it as being difficult to listen to, whereas if you played them Gurrelieder and claimed that it was by Wagner or Strauss, would they think it was more readily enjoyable? Or the other way round, play some Mahler and claim it’s Berg, will people be predisposed not to enjoy it? Obviously I’m talking about a casual listener, e.g. the typical Classic FM listener, not people who would actually know the works and the composers and understand the history of music. I’m thinking along the lines of how it has been shown that the label on a wine bottle influences perceptions of taste (by putting exactly the same wine in two bottles and labelling them differently).

    • Morello says:

      I’ve never heard of such research but it would make for fascinating reading!

      • Alex Davies says:

        Interesting. It reminds me of when a rather distinguished older gentleman who had formerly been in the wine trade introduced me to claret, explaining that a good claret should taste like sucking on lead pencils. Now, the taste of a lead (actually graphite, of course) pencil is actually mildly revolting, so why would somebody go out of their way to drink a very expensive wine that does, indeed, taste just like that? I can only imagine that the answer is because he knows that it is a very good and very expensive claret.

    • Adrienne says:

      An interesting point.

      Another anomaly, I think, is that people will reject music which they regard as difficult or ugly, but will accept surprisingly dissonant and “ugly” music in a film sound track provided the “ugliness” is in-keeping with what is happening on the screen.

      I’m not claiming that they will immediately rush out and buy the soundtrack, but difficult music provided within a context that makes sense can overcome a lot of resistance.

      • Alex Davies says:

        This is very true. I recently went with somebody to a performance of Gurrelieder. He claimed not to like it, despite having an established track record of liking not dissimilar works by Wagner, Mahler, and Strauss. This person has always maintained that he doesn’t like Schoenberg, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Schoenberg’s works span at least two very distinct compositional styles (i.e. the style that brings us Gurrelieder and the style that brings us Moses und Aron).

        Now, the really interesting thing is that this same person apparently absolutely loved the score to the ballet The Boy in Striped Pyjamas. He was seemingly oblivious to the fact that the ballet score actually bears a remarkable similarity to the later works of Schoenberg as exemplified by Moses und Aron, which was what I immediately thought of when I heard The Boy in Striped Pyjamas. He apparently completely failed to grasp that the ballet score uses exactly the same atonal and serial techniques that he cannot abide in Schoenberg.

        It seems that the trick is not to let on that a work is atonal and/or serial and in particular not to let on that it’s by Schoenberg (even if predating his atonal/serial period). I suspect that this probably works the same way with a lot of people. I remember being told about 20 years ago that the reason why Haydn is relatively seldom performed compared with Mozart is simply because he doesn’t sell as well at the box office. I think Simon Rattle recently said in the introduction to one of his LSO concerts something to the effect that Haydn is the last undiscovered great composer, not in the sense that he is actually unknown, but in the sense that his importance as a composer and the scale and scope of this oeuvre are less well and widely appreciated than any composer of comparable stature such as Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, etc. Martin Feinstein has recently been trying to do the same sort of thing in raising the profile of Telemann.

  • Christopher Clift says:

    Saxon Broken (posting on July 8 at 18:02hrs) posts one of the most condescending messages it has been my misfortune to read on this website.

    How dare he (or possibly she) discuss the preferences of the population of Hull in such a disparaging manner;? ‘….a vast difference between a 30 week programme…and a one week programme in somewhere like Hull’

    ‘Repeating Beethoven and Brahms ad nauseam will likely bore your audience.’ It may be that you are less than familiar with the way orchestras, such as the RPO plan programmes which are featured in their twice-a-year foray into the darkest recesses of East Yorkshire. In all likelihood they repeat their programmes in several places, during which process they may well bore their players rather than the audience. As for boring the Hull audience, IF an orchestra WERE to give a one off programme in Hull’s City Hall, (what on earth IS a ‘one-off programme’ ?) the chances are that there would be very high turn-out.
    I happen to have recently moved to the Hull area, where incidentally there is a University with a quite busy music department, boasting several eminent musicians who either studied there or currently are employed there. There is an admittedly limited, programme of orchestral concerts, however we are obviously extremely fortunate to be treated to visits from Halle, BBC Philharmonic, RPO, CBSO and most years there is an overseas guest orchestra, this year from Novosibirsk. There is also a series of concerts given by the local semi-professional Hull Philharmonic Orchestra and their programmes are certainly not all Beethoven and Brahms!!
    So you see dear Saxon Broken, the people of my adopted home city are not quite as philistine are you suppose. Perhaps you would ‘honour us’ with aa visit to see for yourself?