Israel Philharmonic welcomes Vasily Petrenko

Russian maestro takes time out from packed schedule to conduct concerts in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa.

 VASILY PETRENKO: We are playing incredible music during these concerts. (photo credit: MARK MCNULTY)
VASILY PETRENKO: We are playing incredible music during these concerts.
(photo credit: MARK MCNULTY)

Celebrated conductor Vasily Petrenko is in Israel for a flurry of music making this month. Petrenko will lead the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in a series of three programs in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem with pianist and international gold medal winner Behzod Abduraimov.

Petrenko puts in regular appearances with the IPO, and says that being in Israel is almost like coming home. Although not Jewish, he points out he has Jewish relatives on his father’s side, some distant relatives living in Israel, in addition to many Russian-Israeli musician friends. 

Moreover, he opines, Russians and Israelis have a similar mindset regarding family, attitude to culture, and work ethics, placing him on a similar wavelength as the Israeli public.

Petrenko was born and began his music education in Russia. However, home base for the 45-year-old conductor and his family has been England, where he was music director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Liverpool for 15 years, and where he will remain in the role of laureate conductor of the orchestra.

This is his first season as the music director of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He also holds the position of chief conductor of the European Union Youth Orchestra, and in 2021 was appointed artistic director of the State Academic Symphonic Orchestra of Russia.

 THE ISRAEL Philharmonic Orchestra (credit: ODED ANTMAN) THE ISRAEL Philharmonic Orchestra (credit: ODED ANTMAN)

However, because he vehemently opposes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling it one of the greatest moral failures of the century, he decided to suspend all work in Russia until peace is restored.

“The historic ties between Russia and the Ukrainian people, of which I am so proud, can never be used to justify Russia’s invasion,” he told The Jerusalem Post in a recent phone interview.

His schedule is full, and he carefully balances his permanent commitments with invitations to serve as guest conductor with orchestras all over the world. The only way to do this, he said, is with the skill of mindfulness, which is being present in the moment. He believes his goal is the same, whether he is with family or working with the orchestra at hand. It is to be in the now. In addition, he applies a constant mantra to everything he does.

“If you want to succeed, you must put forth effort. Although one’s efforts do not always result in success, it is achieved only through one’s efforts. Success and fame are not instantaneous.”

One can clearly see his efforts at work in scheduling three different, closely spaced concert series with the IPO. He says this has given him the chance to widen his horizons, which he dearly loves.

“I am always looking to broaden my repertoire and delighted to be able to choose from a tremendous storehouse of music spanning centuries, both well-known selections as well as those less frequently performed. We are playing incredible music during these concerts, combining Beethoven and Tchaikovsky piano concertos and the Schubert Symphony No. 2 with pieces infrequently played but which are absolute gems.”

For example, in the first concert series, the Shoshtakovich Symphony No.7, “Leningrad,” takes the audience into the pathos and fear that great city suffered during World War II when under siege.

During the Intermezzo series of concerts, hosted by Dr. Michael Wolpe, Petrenko and the IPO will be joined by the young and prizewinning Uzbek pianist Abduraimov, who received critical acclaim after a London concert as “an example of one of the perfectly accomplished pianists of his generation.”

Abduraimov will perform the first movement of “Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude” from Harmonies poetiques et religieuses for piano solo, by Franz Liszt, and “Fantasie Negre No. 1 in E minor” by American composer Ellen Price.

“These are two rarely played selections which deserve to be heard,” points out Petrenko. “It is a joy to program them and then complete the evening with the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1.”

Strong body language

A DYNAMIC conductor with strong body language, Petrenko points out he does not think about what he looks like on stage.

“My goal is to communicate with the orchestra and be very precise and clear, both musically and stylistically. I want to unite the orchestra, and in so doing, they are able to convey the composer’s message to the audience.”

Petrenko is a people person, who cares about the musicians in his orchestras. “I want them to reach heights they never dreamed of.”

Moreover, he is an educator par excellence who has received three honorary doctorate degrees, and enthusiastically relates that a priority in his professional life is his role as chief conductor of the Youth Orchestra of the European Union. This is a position, he says, of great value, one he wishes to continue for many years.

“These young people come from countries all over Europe, who merge their different nationalities to be together and make music. We have performed some incredible concerts, and, if I can help them play their best and prepare for their futures, this is a fantastic bonus.

Music is an incredible unifying experience. I believe it enables the promotion of peace and understanding across all boundaries.”

For more information on the IPO concerts, call *3766.