Petrenko / Berlin Phil

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John F
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Petrenko / Berlin Phil

Post by John F » Tue Sep 10, 2019 11:07 am

Petrenko's conservative programming is more or less what was expected and presumably what the players of the Philharmonic want.

Kirill Petrenko’s Unadventurous Début at the Berlin Philharmonic
By Alex Ross
September 9, 2019


When, back in 2002, Simon Rattle began his seventeen-year tenure as the music director of the Berlin Philharmonic, he opened his inaugural program with Thomas Adès’s 1997 work “Asyla,” which mixes grand Romantic gestures with four-on-the-floor dance beats. Rattle thus announced his intention to modernize an ensemble famed for its almost occult command of the core repertory. That night’s performance of “Asyla” was only fitfully persuasive; the players seemed less than convinced by the music. Throughout his term, Rattle met with resistance from the orchestra—even from younger musicians who had pushed for his appointment. He succeeded in his mission all the same.

Kirill Petrenko, the forty-seven-year-old Russian-born conductor, who replaced Rattle in August, shows no interest in picking up where his predecessor left off. The main work in his first concert was Beethoven’s unavoidable Ninth Symphony. A short tour of European festivals also included Tchaikovsky’s inevitable Fifth. Marginally more modern repertory fleshed out the programs, in the form of Berg’s “Lulu Suite” and Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto. New music was conspicuously absent, and none appears in Petrenko’s remaining concerts during his first season. Conservatives in the orchestra and in the audience may be reassured, but this retrenchment is a troubling signal from a historically great orchestra that ought to be assuming a leadership role in global classical music.

Petrenko, a native of Omsk, Siberia, immigrated to Austria with his family when he was eighteen. He made his reputation primarily at German opera houses: first at the Meiningen Opera, then at the Komische Opera, in Berlin, and, most recently, at the Bavarian State Opera, in Munich, where he will remain the music director until 2021. Because of his avoidance of publicity and his reportedly monkish immersion in the music, Petrenko has acquired a cultish mystique. A German critic has described him as a “maestro without myth,” whatever that might mean. In fact, classical music has no older or hardier myth than the notion of rising above worldly concerns and letting eternal beauty speak for itself.

There is no doubt of Petrenko’s inborn mastery of the art of conducting. He is a compact, lithe man who exudes tremendous physical vitality. He conducts not only with his hands and his arms but also with his shoulders, his torso, his legs, his feet. One moment he is caressing the air with painterly strokes; the next he is all but jitterbugging on the podium. All this energy is channelled into a thoughtful, unmannered projection of the score. His Beethoven may have raced a little ahead of the standard tempos; his Tchaikovsky may have fallen on the slow side. But the interpretations had a straight-ahead rightness: there was nothing wayward or eccentric.

Perhaps Petrenko’s greatest strength is the devotion that he elicits from orchestras. Last year, when he finished a run of Wagner’s “Parsifal,” in Munich, he was showered with roses from the musicians—something that I had never seen in an opera house or a concert hall. The Berlin players are a notoriously hard-to-please bunch, but at the concerts I saw last month—one at the Philharmonie in Berlin, two at the Lucerne Festival—they had the eager alertness of a happy orchestra. The sublime monster of the Beethoven Ninth came together in a reading of rare focus: crisply articulated fury in the first movement, prankish wit in the Scherzo, singing sadness in the Adagio, a disciplined and headlong “Ode to Joy.” The slow movement of the Tchaikovsky began with a tableau of jaw-dropping beauty: an immaculate horn solo, by Stefan Dohr, emerging from a thick morning mist of strings.

The downside to Petrenko’s supremely confident control of musical flow is, paradoxically or not, his supremely confident control. His performances have struck me as too tightly worked and lacking in spontaneity. His “Ring” at Bayreuth in 2013 had a hammering insistence reminiscent, at times, of Georg Solti’s overbearing approach to the cycle. A “Parsifal” in Munich last year featured episodes of astonishing orchestral finesse, but they drew attention to themselves instead of propelling the drama. Likewise, with Petrenko’s Beethoven and Tchaikovsky in Berlin and Lucerne, I felt too aware of his expert management of each passing moment. I could never lose myself entirely in the music, even when I averted my eyes from the conductor’s ostentatious gesturing.

The missing element became clear when, on another night in Lucerne, Andris Nelsons led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony. Nelsons, who is said to have been in competition with Petrenko for the Berlin post, is himself no minimalist with the baton, but his grip is not as tight: he luxuriates in certain stretches, almost to the point of losing focus. Precisely at such moments, his Eighth achieved the unpredictability of a natural event unfolding within a vast landscape. The Gewandhaus players lacked the fiendish exactitude of their Berlin colleagues, but the performance took on human complexity as a result. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the flawed genius who led the Berlin Philharmonic in the early and mid-twentieth century, used to say that American orchestras had the soulless perfection of machines. He might make the same complaint about his own ensemble today.

Petrenko is a skilled manager of demanding modernist scores, as he showed in his renditions of the “Lulu Suite” (with Marlis Petersen singing the soprano part) and the Schoenberg concerto (with Patricia Kopatchinskaja as the soloist). The Schoenberg was, in fact, the best offering in Petrenko’s first week of concerts. Kopatchinskaja’s intensely rhapsodic, half-wild approach counterbalanced Petrenko’s penchant for control. The performance became ever more powerful as it approached the brink of chaos, without once going over the line.

The Berlin Philharmonic remains a magnificent musical beast, from its precisely churning double-bass section to its silken-toned woodwind soloists and on to its darkly shining brass. It cannot, however, retain a position of preëminence simply on the basis of technical virtuosity; it should also be serving living composers, reshaping the repertory, attracting new audiences. Rattle has been a model citizen in this regard—he is an engaged artist who has never adopted the oblivious attitude that music is a self-sufficient world devoid of social responsibility. Petrenko is free to follow his own path, but his predecessor left a substantial legacy that is worth preserving...

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019 ... ilharmonic
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Re: Petrenko / Berlin Phil

Post by Lance » Tue Sep 10, 2019 11:54 am

A most interesting review. With regard to the best of the European orchestras, and the contemporary music scene, I can't imagine that concertgoers support too much music composed today or even late 20th century. Everybody can't like everything, and I hear it so much in orchestral concerts that I attend. When new music is performed, the audience listens but is not enthused and it shows. When more newer music is performed the grey-haired audience is less likely to attend. They want to traditional music of the 18th- and 19th centuries, and a bit into the 20th. Let it be said that, personally, I DO like some of the new music composed today. It just seems that this is the way it is with audiences today. Even the young people don't support live concerts of contemporary music as has been observed even in the music capitals of the world. Why?
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Re: Petrenko / Berlin Phil

Post by maestrob » Wed Sep 11, 2019 10:30 am

Yes, an interesting review. I haven't heard Kirill Petrenko's conducting, so perhaps I shouldn't comment, but as described I would prefer his approach to Nelsons, whose Boston Symphony Shostakovich leaves me dissatisfied in the main.Nelsons also chose his wife to sing Wagner's Liebestod in a recent telecast, an embarrassing moment for all concerned, IMHO.

Rattle was also not my favorite conductor in Romantic music (There is always something I disagree with in his Mahler that I've heard), although he can be quite brilliant in XXth century works. Perhaps that's part of why the orchestra invited Petrenko to be their leader: who knows?

All in all, it looks like I will prefer Petrenko, if he ever gets around to making some recordings I can hear. We'll see. I don't subscribe to Berlin's concert hall online, so I'll have to wait.

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Re: Petrenko / Berlin Phil

Post by THEHORN » Mon Sep 16, 2019 2:00 pm

I've only hear some bits of Petrenko's conducting on youtube, but he seems like an extraordinarily gifted conductor . And I was rather annoyed by the way Ross dismissed Solti's conducting of Wagner's Ring . The way he conducts Decca's classic Ring is absolutely thrilling !

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Re: Petrenko / Berlin Phil

Post by Belle » Mon Sep 16, 2019 3:38 pm

maestrob wrote:
Wed Sep 11, 2019 10:30 am
Yes, an interesting review. I haven't heard Kirill Petrenko's conducting, so perhaps I shouldn't comment, but as described I would prefer his approach to Nelsons, whose Boston Symphony Shostakovich leaves me dissatisfied in the main.Nelsons also chose his wife to sing Wagner's Liebestod in a recent telecast, an embarrassing moment for all concerned, IMHO.

Rattle was also not my favorite conductor in Romantic music (There is always something I disagree with in his Mahler that I've heard), although he can be quite brilliant in XXth century works. Perhaps that's part of why the orchestra invited Petrenko to be their leader: who knows?

All in all, it looks like I will prefer Petrenko, if he ever gets around to making some recordings I can hear. We'll see. I don't subscribe to Berlin's concert hall online, so I'll have to wait.
This kind of nepotism seems to be rife, doesn't it. Nelsons, Rattle. It didn't just start in recent times. I've never thought that Kristina Opolais (the ex-wife of Andris Nelsons) was up to much, thinking her voice feeble and her acting skills questionable.

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Re: Petrenko / Berlin Phil

Post by John F » Mon Sep 16, 2019 6:22 pm

Belle wrote:This kind of nepotism ... didn't just start in recent times.
Quite so. The great conductor Felix Weingartner (1863-1942) featured his wife, the not so great mezzo-soprano Lucille Marcel, in several recordings, including some songs he composed for her. And I'm sure there have been many earlier examples of performers who have married other performers and chosen to perform with them. Why not?
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Re: Petrenko / Berlin Phil

Post by Belle » Tue Sep 17, 2019 10:01 pm

John F wrote:
Mon Sep 16, 2019 6:22 pm
Belle wrote:This kind of nepotism ... didn't just start in recent times.
Quite so. The great conductor Felix Weingartner (1863-1942) featured his wife, the not so great mezzo-soprano Lucille Marcel, in several recordings, including some songs he composed for her. And I'm sure there have been many earlier examples of performers who have married other performers and chosen to perform with them. Why not?
In the case of Kristina Opolais, she's not as a good a singer as many others IMO. That's not to say the same situation existed for Weingartner.

John F
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Re: Petrenko / Berlin Phil

Post by John F » Tue Sep 17, 2019 10:39 pm

Relatives or not, the best singers aren't necessarily chosen for performances and recordings. Bruno Walter's recording of Mahler's 4th symphony and some of the Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit (with him at the piano) featured the soprano Desi Halban, daughter of the Viennese prima donna Selma Kurz but very limited in voice and temperament. Maybe Walter used her for old times' sake, maybe there was something more between them, but there it is. Fortunately his concert performances with the Vienna Philharmonic and Irmgard Seefried, Hilde Güden, and others we get a 4th movement on the same high level as the other three.

Married or related performers have a significant advantage compared with performers who meet for the first time at the rehearsals. They can and doubtless do rehearse together privately at their convenience, work resolvetheir interpretive differences if any, and arrive at the rehearsals with much of the hard work already done. Of course if they hate each other...
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