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Vasily Petrenko was born in 1976 and started his music education at the St Petersburg Capella Boys Music School – the oldest music school in Russia. He then studied at the St Petersburg Conservatoire and has also participated in masterclasses with such major figures as Ilya Musin, Mariss Jansons, Yuri Temirkanov and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Following considerable success in a number of international conducting competitions including the Fourth Prokofiev Conducting Competition in St Petersburg (2003), First Prize in the Shostakovich Choral Conducting Competition in St Petersburg (1997) and First Prize in the Sixth Cadaques International Conducting Competition in Spain, he was appointed Chief Conductor of the St Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra from 2004 to 2007. He commenced his position as Principal Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in September 2006 and six months into his first season this contract was extended to 2012. In 2009, the contract was again extended to 2015, and he also assumed the title of Chief Conductor. Also in 2009 he was appointed Principal Conductor the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. In February 2011 it was announced that Petrenko will take up the position of Chief Conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra from the 2013/14 season, and in July 2012 he was appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Mikhailovsky Theatre (formerly the Mussorgsky Memorial Theatre of the St Petersburg State Opera and Ballet) where he began his career as Resident Conductor from 1994 to 1997.

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Vasily Petrenko was born in 1976 and started his music education at the St Petersburg Capella Boys Music School – the oldest music school in Russia. He then studied at the St Petersburg Conservatoire and has also participated in masterclasses with such major figures as Ilya Musin, Mariss Jansons, Yuri Temirkanov and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Following considerable success in a number of international conducting competitions including the Fourth Prokofiev Conducting Competition in St Petersburg (2003), First Prize in the Shostakovich Choral Conducting Competition in St Petersburg (1997) and First Prize in the Sixth Cadaques International Conducting Competition in Spain, he was appointed Chief Conductor of the St Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra from 2004 to 2007. 


The 2013/14 season marks his first as Chief Conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, alongside which he maintains his positions as Chief Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (a position he adopted in 2009 as a continuation of his period as Principal Conductor which commenced in 2006), Principal Conductor of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Mikhailovsky Theatre (formerly the Mussorgsky Memorial Theatre of the St Petersburg State Opera and Ballet) where he began his career as Resident Conductor from 1994 to 1997. 


In recent seasons, Petrenko has made numerous critically acclaimed debuts with major orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia, Russian National Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Orchestre National de France, Czech Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony, Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, NHK Symphony Tokyo, Sydney Symphony and Accademia di Santa Cecilia.

He has made frequent appearances at the BBC Proms, and toured with the European Union Youth Orchestra. Recent years have seen a series of highly successful North American debuts, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and St Louis Symphony Orchestras. Highlights of the 2013/14 season and beyond include return visits to the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin, London Philharmonic and Philharmonia, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Finnish Radio Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony, tour periods in Europe and Asia with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic and Russian National Orchestra, and his debut performances with the WDR Sinfonieorchester Cologne.


Equally at home in opera house, and with over thirty operas in his repertoire, Petrenko made his debuts in 2010 at Glyndebourne Festival Opera (Macbeth) and the Opera de Paris (Eugen Onegin), and in recent seasons has also conducted Pique Dame at Hamburg State Opera, Boris Godunov at the National Reisopera, La Bohème and Carmen at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, and Parsifal with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. Plans for 2013/14 include his debut at the Zurich Opera (Carmen) and performances of Tosca with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and Der fliegende Holländer with the Oslo Philharmonic and at the Mikhailovsky Theatre.


Recordings with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra include a rare double bill of Fleishman’s Rothschild’s Violin and Shostakovich’s The Gamblers, Rachmaninov’s Second and Third Symphonies (winner of the 2012 ECHO Klassik German Music Award for Newcoming Conductor of the Year), the complete piano concertos, Symphonic Dances and Isle of the Dead, and a critically acclaimed series of recordings for Naxos including Tchaikovsky’s Manfred (winner of the 2009 Gramophone Award for Best Orchestral Recording), the Liszt piano concertos, and an ongoing Shostakovich symphony cycle. In October 2007 Vasily Petrenko was named Young Artist of the Year at the annual Gramophone Awards, and in 2010 he won the Male Artist of the Year at the Classical Brit Awards. He is only the second person to have been awarded Honorary Doctorates by both the University of Liverpool and Liverpool Hope University (in 2009), and an Honorary Fellowship of the Liverpool John Moores University (in 2012), awards which recognise the immense impact he has had on the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the city’s cultural scene.

Season 2013/2014

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Reviews

"No previous recording of the 14th Symphony lays greater claim to beauty. Five stars, no question. - Shostakovich Symphony No. 14 Recording / Royal Liverpool Philharmonic / Naxos"

Norman Lebrecht, Sinfini Music, April 21st 2014

"The miracle of this performance is the thoughtfulness and sense of inner repose that Petrenko hears in the quieter music [of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7], […] The young maestro wields magisterial control over the overarching shape of this once despised, now rehabilitated and thrillingly dramatic symphony, with sensational results. Petrenko presides over a golden age of music-making in Liverpool. "

Hugh Canning, Sunday Times, May 5th 2013

"Petrenko has re-thought the symphony from the ground up; and there is not a second-hand thought in his concept and realisation. The precise word for this flawless and seamlessly sustained interpretation is "epic": in its tempos (unhurried) and particularly in its depth and extremely long-range view. It is both gripping and shattering, mellifluous and volcanic, unfolding like a landscape of the soul. "

Michael Tumelty, Herald Scotland | New RLPO Naxos Recording of Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 'Leningrad'

"[Petrenko] inspired the orchestra to go well beyond its normal megawatt virtuosity, and this made for a blistering account of the Shostakovich. [...] He built the brooding melancholy of the first movement slowly and purposefully, scaling each climax so it registered even more intensely than the one before. [...] Seldom has the trajectory to the hollow triumph of the final pages been more exactingly plotted, or more excitingly conveyed. The orchestra gave Petrenko everything he asked for, and more. "

John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

"[This] was a remarkable account of a great British symphony – Elgar’s First. We know how gifted Vasily Petrenko is from his sterling work in Liverpool but I could not have predicted how sensitively and instinctively he would embrace the character of this tremendous work, how excitingly he would grasp the sweep and volatility of it. For want of a more elegant phrase, Petrenko knew precisely how the music went. And that’s something you don’t learn but feel. [...] Undoubtedly one of the great symphonic performances of 2012."

Edward Seckerson, October 2012

"We’re all aware that the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic has advanced to new levels under Vasily Petrenko’s rule. [...] With [Stravinsky's] complete [Firebird] ballet before him, Petrenko had extra room to dwell on the score’s niceties of colour and texture; extra time to shape climaxes too, and make us tremble at the ogre Kashchei’s diabolical games. This was an incandescent performance of real beauty and power. I’m surprised someone didn’t call Liverpool’s fire brigade."

Geoff Brown, The Times, September 2012

"This was Petrenko's third appearance with the [San Francisco] Symphony, and each visit only confirms his stature as a conductor of crisp technical assurance and interpretive depth. His leadership style is understated but authoritative, with a podium manner that suggests quiet mastery and elicits rich, rhythmically cohesive playing from the orchestra. "

Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

"Schubert's Unfinished gripped from first note to last. Petrenko and his musicians conveyed its emotional kaleidoscope with care and flair, building genuine fire and tension during the first movement's peaks, decorating the andante's sunshine and shadow with the most heart-tugging woodwind solos. Cannily, Petrenko broadened the speed for the final bars, as if we were reaching the symphony's grand ending, not the torso's half-way point. "

Geoff Brown, The Times

"The other unifying feature of the evening was the unfailingly admirable precision and musical discretion of Petrenko's direction […] his attention to detail and string balance was gripping at all times, and he drew playing of exceptional beauty throughout."

Martin Kettle, The Guardian

"Vasily Petrenko's ranting, brutal interpretation of [Mahler's] Sixth was driven by a strong sense of the prophetic: political as well as aesthetic. Throughout, Petrenko gave Mahler qualities of terror and protest more usually associated with Shostakovich. The opening march, flung out with militaristic exactitude, peered beyond intimations of impending war towards the totalitarian rigidities of the mid-20th century. The so-called fate motif, with its slide from major to minor, was implacable and crushing at every appearance; the orchestral textures had the harsh greyness of gun metal. The pervasive sense of violence served as a reminder of the fragility of the work's counterbalancing lyricism. The first movement's impetuous second theme, usually associated with Mahler's love for his wife, Alma, sounded lurching and unstable here. The Andante meandered with a weird pallor, while the finale's eventual collapse was all the more horrid for the desperation of its earlier strivings. [...] I doubt whether anything so provocative has been done with the piece for ages."

Tim Ashley, The Guardian

"Superb conducting distinguished Glyndebourne’s fine revival of Verdi’s Macbeth. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s maestro Vasily Petrenko may look like an innocent teenager, but in his UK opera debut, he demonstrated that he knows Verdi’s score inside out: rhythms were crisp, the pacing was spot-on, the detail as clean as a whistle."

Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph

"What many consider the Soviet master's greatest symphony gets its finest digital-era recording to date under the young Russian maestro, whose Shostakovich symphony cycle gets better with each new release."

John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

"For a virtuoso display of what conducting is all about, you need look no further than Wednesday's magnificent concert in Davies Symphony Hall by the San Francisco Symphony, led with almost frightening ease and assurance by the young Russian maestro Vasily Petrenko. [...] Petrenko's physical technique is so crisp and graceful - a combination of a clear rhythmic beat and simple but expressive gestures - that you feel you could play along with him from your seat in the audience. His ear for balance and sonority is obviously superb, as evidenced by long and varied passages of perfectly judged orchestral textures. And whether the repertoire is something as buoyant as Shostakovich's "Festive Overture" - which got the program off to an exuberantly winning start - or as weighty and demanding as the Elgar, Petrenko produces an affecting and deeply considered interpretation."

Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

"Petrenko's Shostakovich cycle goes from strength to strength. [The Tenth] is a symphony that places a high premium on a conductor's ability to shape long lines with subtle inflections of tempo and structural accent, especially in the epic first movement's journey from mystery to tragic climax and back. In this respect Petrenko lives up to, I venture to say even surpasses, the greatest of his compatriots, joining the earlier Karajan account as the most satisfying I could name. The denunciatory Scherzo is as hefty and as furious as any, [and] the third movement casts its spell, with the perfect watchful tentativeness at the opening and some inspired pointing of colour and accent in the first statement of the theme. Here and in the finale Petrenko's instinct for pacing enables the power of Shostakovich's symphonic design to register to maximum effect. If there has been a finer account of the Tenth in recent years, I confess I must have missed it; and I would be surprised."

David Fanning, Gramophone Magazine

"Tall, teenager-thin and fawn-faced, Petrenko might well get carded in a bar. But if there were any misgivings about his artistic maturity, they were swept away by a fearless, deeply felt and magnificently constructed performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 8. From the exquisitely tense opening Adagio, a brimmingly full piece in its own right, to the hushed string benediction of the final movement, Petrenko navigated the deep and turbulent waters of this remarkable piece with unwavering mastery. [...] Composed on the heels of his defiant "Leningrad" Symphony No. 7, this 1943 work defied expectations of more homeland heroism from Shostakovich. Instead of a paean to Stalin's wartime deeds, this consistently confounding composer spilled out a C-minor work of wrenching tonalities, fierce outbursts, shrouded lyricism and grim-faced humor. Rebuked by the Russian culture czars, the piece was deemed wanting for its "unhealthy individualism." And that, to striking effect, was precisely what Petrenko and the Symphony mined in Shostakovich's anguished assertion of the soul. The sum effect was at once alarming and exhilarating, alien and sublime."

Steven Winn, San Francisco Chronicle

"The CSO can be tough on young conductors but Petrenko clearly knows what he is doing in this repertoire and the orchestra responded Thursday night. From the slow tread of cellos and basses that open the symphony, Petrenko skillfully charted the gradual ascent out of the darkness of the vast opening Moderato, with a patient yet firm hand. The conductor built up to the explosive climaxes—strident and jarring yet not overdone—as surely as the ensuing descent, eliciting a searching, unmoored expression with the closing section and piccolo solo almost Impressionistic. The driving violence of the second movement—said to be Shostakovich’s musical portrait of Stalin—was duly unsettling in its taut malevolent fury. So too, Petrenko and the CSO conveyed the fleeting rays of sunshine in the equivocal light-stepping Allegretto. The suddenly dynamism and confidence of the closing movement—launched by a little rooster-like clarinet figure like a new day dawning—sealed the performance with a bristling and hectic headlong confidence, and Shostakovich’s musical motif blasting out leaves no doubt of the composer’s triumph at the coda. [...] This was an auspicious debut for the young Russian conductor. "

Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review

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Discography