Why Kirill Petrenko gives no interviews

Why Kirill Petrenko gives no interviews


norman lebrecht

January 29, 2020

I think the reason must be he’s so bad at it.

Here’s a respectful conversation the Berlin Phil has just posted with cellist Martin Menking.

Petrenko is slow, ruminative, repetitive, uninteresting – and the interviewer does nothing to hurry him along and extract something worthy of the public attention. The only question is whether he will fall asleep before we do.



  • Qwerty1234 says:

    Some people express themselves much better through music. So what?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed. I remember a TV documentary about and with Vladimir Ashkenazy which could only offer an endless series of domestic little experiences, how he did his washing-up, his shopping with his wife, how he ate, etc. If you did not know this was a truly great musician, you would never guess.

      The difference between musical and intellectual utterance is the background of the notorious french saying ‘Bête comme un musicien’.

  • Jean says:

    I havent watched this one yet but all others Petrenko’s interviews available on the Digital Concert Hall are very interesting. You’re just frustrated because he coldly refused your interview offer a few years ago.

  • erich says:

    Possibly Preferable to the pretentious guff regularly spouted by the last incumbent.

  • When they decided to take him it was clear that it was a big bet. We know already that Petrenko will not be a marketing machine like Karajan for DG in the past.

    • Brian v says:

      When Karajan left the Berlin philharmonic it was never a marketing machine.
      The best cd sellers were Karajan and Bernstein

      • It’s true that at the end of Karajan in the 80’s with the Berliner was chaotic. But DG and Karjan always wanted to make some new records. And when Karajan died it was clear that it will be someone from DG who would be the next musical director of the Berliner. And it was Abbado from DG for some the first choice was Kleiber from DG. But anyway the records of Karajan for DG are excellent I have many at home. But in the same period Decca and Philips with Haitinks made some nice records also with less marketing

    • Calvin says:

      Nobody hopes for great things from Berlin more than I, but I remain skeptical of Petrenko. His interpretations seem ok, but in the B minus grade range. The recent Berlin premier of Suk’s Asrael Symphony was fine programming, but his interpretation, compared to those by Pesek and Talich for example, did not make the best case for the piece.

      While being a mouthpiece is not the most important job of a conductor, it is one of the jobs and it is indisputable that Petrenko does not take naturally to the task. That does seem unfitting for the top orchestra that has perhaps succeeded most in public outreach.

      • John Kelly says:

        Just listen some more, you clearly have experienced ears. Get to Youtube, there are some interesting things there. I’ve heard him live 3 times (2 Proms, once at Carnegie) – no doubt in my mind one of the best I’ve ever heard.

        • Calvin says:

          Same here. Three times live plus recordings on the Concert Hall. Again, I remain more hopeful and slightly skeptical than I am thrilled.

        • Tristan says:

          He is by far the most exciting of our days and since Carlos Kleiber we haven’t heard anything like him – forget Rattle who is totally overrated and most others who work in Berlin

    • Tamino says:

      Maybe that‘s the best strategy for the future. For Karajan, the emerging market to conquer was the mass media market. Look at the effort they took, how elaborate Karajan‘s filming was.
      Since today‘s media landscape can not offer that level of quality (just look at the mediocre aesthetical standards of today‘s classical music TV productions) the best strategy to achieve and maintain superiority status is by reclusion, by silence offstage, by exclusivity. Being hard to get is what makes you interesting today. Not availability to the masses…

  • Norbert says:

    They took him when he was the third preference candidate if you recall historical fact! He was never on the original shortlist.

    • They wanted to have someone young but not too young like Nelsons and Dudamel. For them Chailly and Barenboim were too old and Thielmann too old school. Maybe the best choice was Pekka Salonen or Hengelbrock… But it seems that Petrenko was not a choice easy to find for everybody like Gatti when he arrived at gebouw’, there was not a very big majority quickly for Petrenko

      • Tamino says:

        It was split and divided between Thielemann and Barenboim. After no middle ground could be reached in favor of any of both, Petrenko was the next best choice who could get a majority vote. (IMHO a very good choice).
        Just saying for a colleague

  • Gustavo says:

    Do we really need words?

    Kirill should consider the Paavo Järvi body-language type of interview next time.

    • Dr. Z says:

      Also, there is nothing wrong with his interview; he just does not fit into a particular form of ‘PR interview theatre’ so prevalent in North America and now becoming so in Europe. Think sports interviews before/after games.

    • Calvin says:

      Thanks for that link. Good info and potentially relevant to the topic at hand, but let’s pray that the press generally can be expected to do better than the hideous sentiments and standards of NDR and Welt Online.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:


  • Rob says:

    He’s very talented, no doubt about that – a student of the GREAT Edward Downes! However, there appears to be a reluctance to do something interpretively dangerous/adventurous with the music, think Fricsay’s Tchaikovsky 6 or Mengleberg’s Mahler 4. Many of the big name conductors, in the US, elsewhere are coming up short.

  • Jack Burt says:

    Disagree. Face it, you and your peers just feel left out.

  • Willymh says:

    I’m confused – once again – was he hired to conduct or shill for the orchestra? We see jibes if a conductor runs after publicity or does a publicity shoot (pax Muti) and complaints if they aren’t articulate enough in an interview. What exactly is that is expected?

    • Monsoon says:

      The role of the music director is obviously much more expansive than simply conducting. The job does entail being a spokesperson and fundraiser.

      And to not do this is simply silly. People want to hear from the music director. They have a unique ability to connect with audiences outside the concert hall, get people excited an interested in the music, and raise money.

      Despite Petrenko’s stated reluctance to do interviews, I’m certain that his contract does in fact require him to do some amount of PR work.

      I can certainly appreciate if he’s an introvert and is uncomfortable doing these kinds of things. But it is part of the job.

      • Max Grimm says:

        Some of what you touch on is actually not part of the job or even an expectation for most orchestras here in Germany. If I recall correctly, Petrenko actually stipulated before accepting the position that the orchestra not expect him to give interviews and do publicity work to the same extent Rattle did.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Monsson writes: “The job does entail being a spokesperson and fundraiser.”

        That is a requirement in the US rather than in Europe, where orchestras are largely funded by the government. It is why many very good conductors do not really thrive as MD in the US (and don’t want to do the job).

  • stuart cawthorn says:

    Just let him get on with the job.
    Why must people look up at everybody’s nose.
    The most important thing is that the orchestra chose him for his musical abilaties.
    Stop being so damn nosey

    • norman lebrecht says:

      He is a public servant, receiving large amounts of public money and responsible for much more. He needs to be open to public questioning.

      • Greg Bottini says:

        Wit respect, Norman, he does not need to be open to public questioning. He’s a musician. Major orchestras have publicity departments for that kind of thing.

        • Bone says:

          He needs to be available for whatever he contractually agreed to. If his contract stipulates he must give interviews and/or public appearances, then he should be compelled. Otherwise, he should work to make the BPO sound great again. Maybe Trump could give him some lessons…

          • John Kelly says:

            ………….very very doubtful, but funny

          • Max Grimm says:

            Although I’m certain that the last sentence of your comment was solely intended to get a rise out of some readers, I’ll take the bait….What lessons could Trump give Petrenko that would ‘make the Berliner Philharmoniker sound great again’ or otherwise benefit his work with them?
            (Cogent arguments please, and “Signing up for Twitter” is out)

      • Bruce says:

        “He is a public servant, receiving large amounts of public money and responsible for much more.”

        Wouldn’t that actually be the executive director (or whatever the head of management is called over there)? Surely Petrenko is not in charge of salaries and soloist fees, and anyway conductors are never asked about that kind of thing in interviews.

        Granted, his repertoire choices would have some impact on the budget, but surely an organization like the BPO could afford to do Mahler 8 or Gurrelieder without having to scrimp.

  • MacroV says:

    I haven’t seen this interview but have seen a few others on the DCH, including one in English (which he speaks much better than I was expecting). I found them all very thoughtful and interesting.

    I continue to think they made a great choice, based on the few performances I’ve seen him conduct with the Bavarian SO (a wondrous Symphonia Domestica in the Philharmonie and Rosenkavalier in Carnegie Hall in 2018).

    I liked Sir Simon’s interviews/lectures on the DCH, too; what kind of a wet blanket must one be not to find charm in those?

  • Mozart says:

    He’s a great conductor, great and modest. I think we should respect his wish to let him express himself solely through the music.

  • Bloom says:

    The presentation of the quasi-monastic, educative (a conventry seen as a learning environment) side of the project and the analogy he makes between opera’s characters and the young musicians involved in the project are interesting though.

  • M McAlpine says:

    I must confess I do not remember Karajan conducting too many interviews on his rise to glory. It was done with the power of the baton and skilful marketing of his image. And of course some glorious performances well recorded.
    And did Kleiber give riveting interviews? Not that I remember.

    • Kurwenal says:

      You wouldn’t want to hear Karajan talk much- his speaking voice was like a crow who had just eaten some gravel.

      • Greg Bottini says:

        True that, about Karajan’s speaking voice. But he had a brilliant musical mind, and any speaking I’ve heard from him (subtitled in English; unfortunately I do not speak German), whether in rehearsal or being interviewed, has been quite interesting and enlightening.

  • Jan Piet says:

    When Carlos Kleiber didn’t interview, did you complain as well?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Think before you write.CKleiber was never a music director, a public position that entails public accountability.

      • Jan Piet says:

        Accept your answer. But I actually meant with it that of course it’s a nice extra if a Music Director can interview and speak, but before everything he should know how to conduct and improve the orchestra that he got and and fly with the music. Talking is a nice extra but for sure not the most important..

  • David Boxwell says:

    Why can’t KP do break dancing or, like, snowboarding that would make him, like, interesting?

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    I totally disagree. He is very intelligent in conversation & always has something interesting to say. Claudio Abbado was terrible in interviews to the point it was difficult to believe in his reputation as a widely read man.

  • Edgar says:

    Kirill Petrenko is who he is: a human being who deeply cares about making excellent music together with others. The standard joke in Munich was: “Where is Kirill?” – “In a score.”

    I just watched the clip and can’t disagree with Norman more. Petrenko speaks German with his own accent (everyone does, except perhaps the people of Hannover, where, according to Germany’s national language insititue, the pronunciation is almost flawless), but his use of the language is, to this native German speaker, music in my ears. He speaks in a thoughtful manner, and is perfectly able to express his passion, in spite of what some may perceive as his awkwardness or clumsiness or boring style.

    He does not come across as the glib character whose shallow “brilliance” and lack of intellectual depth is the hallmark of present day (US-dominated western) entertainment industry. Petrenko is not the man for that, thank heavens.

    This clip may not look and sound “inspiring” according to prevailing (and ever sinking) standards. Which makes it the precious and welcome exception in these barbarous times.

    “Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur” – “whatever is received … is received according to the condition of the receiver.” (Thomas Aquinas)

    • Amos says:

      Having just finished watching/listening to the interview and 6 videos of KP leading the BPO my sense, based on that limited sampling, is that the orchestra made an excellent choice. Musically I was struck by the alert and engaging playing which appeared to be in response to the man waving the stick. The playing was appropriately lyrical and visceral in a way I don’t recall with Rattle or Abbado. As for the interview, I didn’t find it route or boring but refreshingly human in an industry famous for arrogance and condescension. I was struck by his diction which might be due to his unique “Russian-influenced” German or perhaps a speech impediment that might explain his reluctance to be interviewed. Regardless, based on my admittedly brief survey I’d pay more than I can afford to come-by a ticket when he leads the BPO at Carnegie Hall.

  • Bruce says:

    Giulini never wanted to be a music director in the US because of the publicity & fundraising aspects of the job. Imagine if Chicago had been able to get him after Solti…

  • Larry L. Lash / Vienna, Austria says:

    For several years I conducted a series of interviews for Musical America of Bayreuth’s conductors under the title of “Invisible Maestro.” Gatti, Jordan, and Sebastian Weigle were all relaxed and actually quite fun. I remember Andris Nelsons as being rather on edge. I was told not to even ask about trying to arrange an interview with Petrenko because he is an extremely shy person. As far as Thielemann, we needn’t go there…

  • Doofus says:

    Gosh, Mr. Lebrecht, you are a tough critic…even of interviews. So it takes him a bit longer to get his thoughts out. Do you ever criticize singers for their mostly vapid, empty verbose interviews?
    Why such the often bitchy tone of this blog? It is packed with such interesting info, it is a shame to be so petty at times.

  • Chia Yin Wu says:

    I have found that the best musicians are often not verbally eloquent, which is absolutely fine. They are admired for their music, not for their ability to give interviews. Also, this is not an article but a bizarre attack on an excellent musician.