Berlin Philharmonic chief reaches a critical midpoint

Berlin Philharmonic chief reaches a critical midpoint


norman lebrecht

February 11, 2022

The conductor Kirill Petrenko turns 50 today.

He is intentionally an unknown commodity, virtually unrecorded, unmarried, unwilling to engage with public life, although his relations with musicians are intense and mutually supportive.

He is being wooed by two US orchestras.

Petrenko, up to this point, has chosen to be an enigma (it so happens that he is an Elgar fan). Russian born, raised in Austria, he made his name as music director of the Komische Oper Berlin and the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. He is a vigorous podium presence, inclined to leaps and bounds between long meditative periods.

What the next half century will hold is chiefly up to him.

Happy birthday, Kirill Petrenko!


  • Alviano says:

    Why do we care that he is unmarried? Does that make him suspicious?

    • henry williams says:

      so what if he is unmarried.
      lewis hamilton is the best racing
      driver in the world and he is 37 and not married.

    • Rudy says:

      I agree. This comment was poor traste. Nobody should care if he is het, bi, gay, single and/or having many partners…
      It is Venom, pure and simple.

  • RW2013 says:

    How can one not be an Elgar fan?

    • Gustavo says:

      Because the last movement of his 2nd symphony just dawdles along.

    • John Kelly says:

      Mariss Jansons wasn’t one, so they are out there………..

    • J Barcelo says:

      I don’t know how, either, but there are sure a lot of non-fans out there. Performances of either symphony are very rare in the USA; all we get are the Enigma Variations, the Cello Concerto, Pomp & Circumstance #1, and that’s about it. Such beautiful, powerful music that is ignored.

      • Jim C. says:

        Previn would program Elgar in Los Angeles, but always to much flak from the critics.

        • Sidelius says:

          I suspect you are referring mainly to the late Martin Bernheimer, who would often spend over half of a concert review ridiculing the conductor’s choice of music in a pompous and peevish manner
          having nothing to do with the character of the performance. Previn was only one of his many regular victims. He represented the worst type of criticism as self-indulgent sarcasm.

    • EWM says:

      He asked enigmatically.

    • opus30 says:

      I’m an Elgar fan, but at the same time hope I’ve heard his violin concerto for the last time.

      • Robin Smith says:

        I disagree. I have heard it played poorly – Kremer with the LSO/Davis was awful (his head glued into the score the entire performance) but I recollect superb performances from Hillary Hahn (also with the LSO/Davis), Nicola Benedetti, James Ehnes, and some time ago Julia Fischer. It is worth your reassessment.

        • opus30 says:

          I appreciate your comment, but live or recorded it is just a work that does not hold my interest. A work by Elgar I DO really like is The Black Knight, but the odds of hearing it performed live in the U.S. during the rest of my lifetime is probably .0001%.

      • Thomas M. says:

        The Elgar VC is a great piece until that last movement, which seems to go on forever.

    • Don Ciccio says:

      Because outside UK Elgar is an acquired taste. personally I have only partly acquired it, and not for lack of trying. But I will keep trying.

      • Nydo says:

        I’m from the USA, and certainly have acquired it. I wouldn’t place Elgar on the level of the highest masters, but I do consider him rewarding to listen to on multiple levels.

    • Paul Carlile says:

      One could be, for example, Sir Thomas Beecham!
      Not to be considered on the same level, but i find it easy not to be an Elgar fan, and that leaves more time for much better music!

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Very easy.

  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    Happy birthday. I had chance to see him last summer in concert and to be just behind the BPO and in front of him. I like very much his technic and the emotion he showed especially for a Schubert symphony, the best composer for me for the BPO. I know I will suprise a lot a people but his technic and what he showed remind me Geroge Pretre.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    I think he arrived in Austria when he was about fourteen. His German is still very heavily accented.

  • Paul Johnson says:

    Happy Birthday to a fabulous conductor!

  • John Kelly says:

    A really excellent conductor, but I don’t see him coming to the US as a Music Director. The Berlin gig is pretty sweet!

    • Peter San Diego says:

      The public relations requirements of a music director in the US make it unlikely that someone of Petrenko’s temperament would be happy in the job.

  • Titurel says:

    After hearing his truly magnificent Ring in Bayreuth in 2014, I immediately put him at the top of the heap- of all time, not just current. An opinion shared by a lot of others. Happy birthday, Maestro

  • Alank says:

    Not true. He recorded the Mahler 7th with the Orchestra of the Bavarian Opera on their own label. I have not heard it, but at least two critics hated it.

    • Nydo says:

      At least one of those critics tends to hate things on a whim, and also has a real disdain for the Berlin Philharmonic, places the Scottish National in his top ten orchestras in the world (as well as the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, which he artfully dodges the demise of 55 years ago), and has a significant number of opinions that are the polar opposite of many other critics. There is no such thing as a 100% approval rating.

  • Allardyce Mallon says:

    He was in Meiningen, where I was working in the early 2000s and he was outstanding. Did a successful Ring cycle there

  • Monsoon says:

    I know he claimed he wouldn’t record, but Berlin’s house label has released recordings of the Mahler 6, Beethoven 7 and 9, Schmidt 4, Tchaikovsky 5, and Berg Violin Concert on streaming. So it seems like they are recording.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      Perhaps it’s studio recording that he dislikes; the released recordings all seem to be of live performances, unless I’m mistaken (which can easily be the case).

      • Barry Guerrero says:

        Even major labels are doing mostly ‘live’ recordings with the few big-name, expensive orchestras they’re working with. It’s a simple matter of cost vs. return on investment.

    • JB says:

      Well, his concerts in Berlin can all be seen on BPO’s Digital Concert Hall. So maybe his reluctance to authorize discs even plays in the hands of Berlin’s commercial strategy, now that CD’ s are now longer a major source of income: People have to come to the concerts or subscribe to DCH if they want to hear Petrenko.

  • he says:

    wooed by 2 orchestras? who and source, please.

    I’d guess NY and Chicago then.

    I’d hardly call him an unknown commodity, I’d put it more this way: unproven for the mythical reputation that seems to be developing. Is he really as good as the hype?

    • Nydo says:

      I have heard him (live) with the Metropolitan Opera twice, and with the Bavarian State Orchestra once. All three performances were exceptionally good, and I would say that about the majority (though not all) of his performances on the Digital Concert Hall as well. I know, small sample size, but so far he has measured up to the hype more than any of the other younger conductors, in my opinion.

    • Drew Barnard says:

      Deciding what you think of him shouldn’t be difficult. He has many concerts available in the archives of the Digital Concert Hall. If you ask me, the hype is justified.

  • e says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Kirill Petrenko, and many more years
    of music!

  • Evan Tucker says:

    He is magnificent, but do not overload him with expectations. Hopefully he will be in Berlin for thirty years, but the honeymoon may last shorter than we know, particularly because he is clearly overhauling their sound in ways to something much leaner. Given the way they treated Rattle’s not particularly strenuous demands, I’d imagine a lot of the musicians find it distasteful.

    A maestro with a technique like that belongs forever in an opera house, and to an opera house he may return sooner than we know. Perhaps even to Unter den Linden….

  • Brandon says:

    Wow he’s single, what dating apps does he use?

  • Nicholas Riddle says:

    Certainly not unrecorded, although much less-recorded than his peers in the business. One can, however, admire this restraint, which it would be healthy to see shared by some of those who have splattered the world with indifferent performances. It seems difficult not to admire someone who focuses on producing music, almost entirely live, and is content for this to speak for itself, rather than participating in a publicity machine to create a reputation based on other things.

  • Donna Pasquale says:

    With friends like this (NL) who needs enemies ?