UK conductor resigns from Moscow orchestra

UK conductor resigns from Moscow orchestra


norman lebrecht

March 02, 2022

The UK-based Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko, music director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, has stepped aside from his position as Artistic Director of the Evgeny Svetlanov State Symphony Orchestra of Russia.

Petrenko is music director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. He has been associated with the Russian orchestra for just five months. Here is his statement:

The tragedy unfolding in Ukraine is already one of the greatest moral failures and humanitarian disasters of our century. The historic and cultural ties between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples, of which I am proud, can never be used to justify Russia’s invasion.

In response to these terrible events, I have decided to suspend my work in Russia, including all future commitments as Artistic Director of the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia ‘Evgeni Svetlanov’, until peace has been restored. I believe in the promotion of friendship and understanding across all boundaries. Peace must be restored as soon as possible.

In an unrelated development, the Dutch conductor Arthur Arnold has resigned from the privately-funded Moscow Symphony Orchestra, saying: It is with the greatest conviction and with an immense sadness that I resign from my position as music director of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra (MSO) in Russia, effective immediately. The MSO is not state-supported and has never been since its inception in 1989. Nonetheless, I feel that I cannot collaborate with a country whose president chooses war as a solution to conflict and causes incredible human tragedy.


  • Peter says:

    “Quit this job, you can’t be associated with the Jews.” – Germany, 1933

    No, of course the Russian goverment in not the Jews of our time. But oh, how little we have learned from the past.

    • Tamino says:

      Your comparison is deeply flawed. Being a chief conductor in Russia these days means being paid by the Russian government.
      Simply for that reason alone it is the right thing to do for someone residing abroad and not needing the money existentially, to resign from such activities.

      • Peter says:

        Well, I did point out myself that the comparison doesn’t hold water, but thanks for reminding me.

        Art is an existencial matter for many musicians. It’s now being reduced to a matter of “oh, you can’t do what you love and meet your colleagues and friends anymore, but who cares.” This is mean! Art is a need. It is not entertainment, it’s not like chosing between blue or black socks and thinking it’s equal. It’s an essential part of so many muscians lifes. And you and others expect them to throw it away like it was a broken piece of furniture. This is for me the sign of no empathy whatsoever. Just anger and jealousy.

        I notice you try to reduce this to a question of “needing the money existentially”, which is absurd. Let me put it another way. If a musician has a valuable violin on loan from a government-owned Russian bank, should he then deliver it back and stand with no instrument?

        • Tamino says:

          I understand your sentiment, but you have your priorities upside down.
          An artist living securely abroad, taking, or continuing, a job with the Russian government, a government that just started a war against another nation, is making himself a collaborator in war crimes.
          It is different for people living in Russia who have no such choices and must continue making a living (while hopefully finding the courage to act against the regime).

          • Peter says:

            So a person who gets money from the Russian government is, in your words, “making himself a collaborator in war crimes.”

            Does that include pensioners as well?

    • Hugo Preuß says:

      This comparison is, I’m sorry, crazy. The proper comparison would be Toscanini, who refused to conduct in Germany anymore after 1933. The Russian government and Putin are not a persecuted minority – they *are* the persecutors and war criminals!

      Putin is not Hitler. But if Hitler is the only measurement one can use, *nobody* rises to that level of evil (with the possible exception of Pol Pot). You can be “not Hitler” and still be a murderous war criminal. As Putin amply demonstrates. Therefore, anyone who takes money from his government is a morally bankrupt willful collaborator.

      Cheers to Maestro Petrenko!

      • V.Lind says:

        Hitler was not “Hitler” at the beginning. I am not entirely comfortable with the mad glint I see in Putin’s eye when he utters to us all. There is some speculation that he is already off the rails.

        This is a guy who came up and was trained in the bad old days when the KGB was a lot more sinister than a blockbuster villain.

        His grip on power has been iron, and his building up of his power base corrupt and cynical and tyrannical. People the world over — look at Salisbury alone — know what happens if you oppose him.

        This is a cold warrior from the old Soviet empire, and he looks around at neighbouring countries that no longer cower when Moscow bellows and he doesn’t like it. If he is allowed to run over Ukraine, who’s next? Poland and Estonia cannot be any too sanguine.

        No, he may not be Hitler, not yet, but I would not like to see him get too far. it is a great pity that there is no instinct for democracy in Russia, though hardly surprising. What is frightening for leaders around the world is that this campaign cannot be allowed to succeed. And with a 40-mile convoy closing on Kiev, can we count on Ukraine to withstand them?

        • Hugo Preuß says:

          I mostly agree. But my main point was: even if you are not a genocidal madman, you can still be utterly horrible. But “Hitler” sets the bar so high that almost anyone looks relatively “good” compared to him.

          And Hitler *was* Hitler from the beginning, minus the later genocide and World War. The first concentration camps are installed as early as March 1933, and all non-complying state officials are sacked within a few weeks. It is truly amazing how quickly all of this happened.

          So, Putin is not Hitler. But he is Putin, and that is terrible enough!

    • Herbie says:

      Yes, of course very little…..interesting circular logic there…..

    • James Weiss says:

      Wow. At least the current situation has clearly identified the dictator lovers and anti-Semites among us.

    • music lover says:

      As a jew,whose families were persecuted,lost their jobs,belongings,their home,and finally,partly,their lives,in Germany under the Nazis…..I find no words to express my disgust for your tastless,and perversely contorted have certainly learned nothing from the past!

      • Peter says:

        I can explain to you what I mean.

        People like Petrenko are given three choices:

        1) Quit your job on the day. This is drastic for most people. I believe SD readers are often freelancers, all therecan can not or will not understand this.

        2) Distance yourself from Putin, or we’ll put dirt on your name and make you a persona non grata before the day is over.

        3) Lie, and say you condemn Putins actions, we might believe you, but most likely not.

        Are these three signs of a healthy world? No. They’re three signs of a deeply immoral and immature world, with angry, bitter people in it.

        I would suggest another way of meeting many of these Russians:

        4) You are entitled to have your own views. Totally. (What’s the alternative?) We don’t know what it is like to live in a dictatorship. Maybe you need to show public support to protect yourself, or even to get money for your orchestra. We don’t know, we’d wish you told us. But we also realize that your political views make up perhaps 0,00001% of your personality. We are deeply troubled by the last week’s action, but we will do our best and try to remember that Russians are not synonymous with Putin.

  • Zachariah Jones says:

    Still waiting to hear from Teddy Currentzis.

    After all, he is the foreign conductor who has benefited the most from Putin’s regime, remains a resident of Russia because of its low taxes, and is still the head of the now Moscow-based ensemble, Musica Æterna. He certainly has dirty Putin money lining his pockets.

    • Fiery angel says:

      Currentzis has been living in Russia since 1994, when he came to Saint Petersburg to study with Ilya Musin. There was yet no talk about the 13 % flat tax and Putin was a name known virtually to nobody outside his private circle.
      MusicAeterna is now based not in Moscow, but in Saint Petersburg. The ensemble has been financed privately latest since 2019. The main reason why he and his ensemble left Perm is because the regional politicians didn’t want to finance a new production of Berg’s “Lulu” that he had planned.

      Also, it seems that you are confusing “dirty Putin money” with the money of Russian tax-payers.

  • The View from America says:


  • James Weiss says:

    Vasily Petrenko is one of the most talented young conductors today. It’s nice to see that he’s also honorable unlike people like Gergiev and Netrebko.

  • MacroV says:

    It’s the right move and hats off to Petrenko, but it’s unfortunate as the Svetlanov State Symphony is a fabulous orchestra, and surely its members don’t support this invasion, either.

  • Tomasso Walter says:

    Does he actually condemn the war or Putin though? And says he’ll resume as soon as peace is restored. Which, let’s be honest, will likely be when Russia has won.

  • IP says:

    You cannot conduct Shostakovich the way he does and have to do with Mr. Evil.

  • Musician says:

    Glad to see he will be on the right side of History.

  • Tim Robson says:

    Petrenko’s statement above comes across as one of the most thoughtful and sincere ones I’ve seen since this whole mess started.

  • Rob Keeley says:

    One classy dude and a fantastic conductor. Well done, Vasilly.