“Words cannot express my feelings – everything from euphoria and great joy to awe and disbelief. I am aware of the responsibility and high expectations of me, and I will do everything in my power to be a worthy conductor of this outstanding orchestra.” With these moving words Kirill Petrenko responded to his election as the new chief conductor designate of the Berliner Philharmoniker and artistic director of the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation. On 21 June 2015, the orchestra voted for the native Russian by a large majority.
Even at his debut with the Philharmoniker in February 2006, Petrenko impressed the orchestra with his personality and his way of making music which is meticulous, scrupulous, yet passionate and rousing. “When you stand before an orchestra, so many sonic possibilities come to a conductor. Anyone who does not have their own point of view about the sound falls through the cracks,” Petrenko said in an interview for the Digital Concert Hall. At that time, he was already known to Berlin audiences – as general music director of the Komische Oper. He took up this office in the 2002/2003 season, and since then it has been said that there at the desk stands a conductor whose interest lies not in showmanship but in the music. Modestly, but tenaciously and tirelessly, Petrenko led his orchestra to the highest musical heights. The Komische Oper was his springboard to the world: Petrenko now conducts at the Vienna State Opera, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera and in Bayreuth, where he conducted the Ring des Nibelungen, staged by Frank Castorf. Since the 2013/2014 season, Petrenko has been music director of the Bavarian State Opera. In the short time he has worked there, he has celebrated one triumph after another. The Bavarian State Orchestra, one of Germany’s outstanding opera orchestras, has – according to the tenor of the press – become even better, more slimmed-down in tone and more precise in its intonation. The magazine Opernwelt has named Petrenko “Conductor of the Year” several times, most recently in 2014.
A pleasure and a challenge
A native of Omsk, the artist who studied in both his home town and Vienna, initially learned his craft in smaller houses: at the Vorarlberger Landestheater, the Vienna Volksoper and the Meininger Theater, where he conducted a much-admired Ring des Nibelungen directed by Christine Mielitz. In concerts with the Philharmoniker, Petrenko – who still feels very much at home in Berlin – has portrayed himself since his debut as an interpreter of the Russian masters as well as of works by Béla Bartók, Edward Elgar and Ludwig van Beethoven. In addition to Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Alexander Scriabin’s Le Poème de l’extase, his last concerts with the orchestra included two works by the composer Rudi Stephan, a genius who died young. An unusual but exciting programme which reflects the various aspects of Petrenko’s artistic work. As the conductor says, a concert programme is successful when the musicians play something where they have some fun, and the audience hears something from which they can learn, but at the same time moves them. Standing in front of the Berliner Philharmoniker is both a pleasure and a challenge for Petrenko: “I hope for many moments of artistic happiness in our music-making together which will reward our hard work and fill our lives as artists with meaning.”