Vasily Petrenko casts fresh light on familiar repertoire and explores little-known and new works across fascinating 2023-24 season

Conductor’s acclaimed partnership with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra continues to grow with Icons Rediscovered series at London’s Royal Albert Hall and Royal Festival Hall

Season highlights include 150th anniversary celebration of Verdi’s Requiem, a Tchaikovsky double-bill of The Nutcracker (Act II) and Iolanta, and guest engagements in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dresden, Hamburg, Seoul, Hong Kong, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Liverpool, Oslo and Valladolid

‘Petrenko’s left hand was hypnotic to watch, shaping phrases, highly expressive and fluid. The players responded by giving it their all, thrillingly, elementally,’ The Arts Desk, 25 March 2022

Variety and versatility are among the hallmarks of Vasily Petrenko’s concert programmes throughout the coming year. He is set to launch his third season as Music Director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Icons Rediscovered, a series of eight concerts that offer fresh perspectives on the music of Elgar, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Wagner, and lead the ensemble on tour to Italy, the United States, Germany and Austria. His well-stocked schedule also includes guest conducting engagements with, among others, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Oslo and Hong Kong Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh and Dallas Symphony orchestras, and debut performances with the NDR-Elbphilharmonie Orchester, the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra and the Berner Symphonieorchester.

Under Vasily Petrenko’s direction, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has received critical acclaim and audience ovations for their performances of grand choral works such as Britten’s War Requiem and Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius and for Mahler’s monumental Second and Eighth Symphonies. “We are enjoying each other’s company,” he notes. “The orchestra is in such great shape already, so it’s aways a joy to be there. We will precede our 2023-24 season with a concert on 15 August at the BBC Proms, which will include Ligeti’s Lontano, rarely performed today, Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Alexandre Kantorow and Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony. I firmly believe that music can be a tool to unify people, to bring them together and share the same emotions regardless of their nationalities, or political, ethical or religious backgrounds. These concerts are accessible for everyone to enjoy together. This is so important for increasing mutual respect and trust in the world.”

Icons Rediscovered includes three landmark projects at the Royal Albert Hall. The first, scheduled for 8 November, pairs the second act of Tchaikovsky’s final ballet The Nutcracker with Iolanta, the composer’s last finished opera. Iolanta is based on a one-act Danish play about a king’s blind daughter and the miraculous, magical restoration of her sight. Both works were staged together for the first time in December 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg. “Tchaikovsky intended both works to be performed on the same bill,” notes Petrenko. “But it appears that the director of the Imperial Theatres realised there was more money to be made from playing them on separate evenings, so that connection was soon broken. We have an excellent cast, with Maria Motolygina as Iolanta, Alexander Tsymbalyuk, with whom I have just performed Boris Godunov at the Bavarian State Opera, as King René, Alexey Dolgov as Count Vaudémont and Andrei Kymach as Robert, and will do somewhat more than a semi-staged version. Both Iolanta and The Nutcracker are, in a way, about a teenage girl becoming a woman in the psychological sense. It will be fascinating to put them together again.”

Petrenko and the RPO return to the Royal Albert Hall on 13 March with an all-Wagner bill. The evening recalls the Grand Wagner Festival held at the Royal Albert Hall in May 1877, arranged to help offset the dire financial losses accrued by the first Bayreuth Festival eight months earlier. Wagner conducted during the first halves of eight Albert Hall concerts before taking his place onstage in a large armchair to listen to his music being conducted by the young Hans Richter. “In some ways this will be a reconstruction of what Wagner himself conducted,” notes Vasily Petrenko. “He heard that Queen Victoria was a big fan of his music and knew about this new royal concert hall in London. Wagner, who organised the concerts to raise money for Bayreuth, usually conducted the opening overture and then sat down facing the audience, accepting the admiration! We will begin with his Huldigungsmarsch, which he wrote for the birthday of Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1864, and then perform fragments from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Wotan’s “Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge” from Das Rheingold with Matthew Rose, and selections from Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung including ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ and ‘Wotan’s Farewell’ from the former and ‘Siegfried’s Funeral Music’ from the latter.”

The third of the RPO’s Albert Hall concerts, on 23 April 2024, marks the 150th anniversary of Verdi’s Requiem. The work was first performed in Milan in May 1874. It received its UK premiere exactly a year later at the Royal Albert Hall under Verdi’s direction, complete with the first performance of the composer’s new setting of the ‘Liber scriptus’ for mezzo-soprano. “Verdi’s Requiem is ideally suited to the Royal Albert Hall,” says Vasily Petrenko. “We have a terrific solo quartet in Miah Persson, Jennifer Johnston, Stefano La Colla and Alexander Vinogradov, and we will be joined again by the Philharmonia Chorus.”

Icons Rediscovered includes five Royal Festival Hall concerts built around works by Elgar and Rachmaninov. The series opens on 29 October with Lera Auerbach’s surging symphonic poem Icarus from 2006, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 with Nikolai Lugansky as soloist and Elgar’s Symphony No.1. Petrenko has also programmed the second symphonies of Elgar and Rachmaninov, the latter’s Piano Concerto No.3 and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, with 2022 Van Cliburn Competition Gold Medallist Yunchan Lim as Alexander Malofeev as respective soloists, Elgar’s Falstaff and Cockaigne (In London Town), Ethel Smyth’s Overture to The Wreckers and Richard Strauss’s ‘Brentano Lieder’ with Jennifer France as soprano soloist. The series includes the compelling combination of Elgar’s concert overture In the South (Alassio), Mieczysław Weinberg’s Cello Concerto, with Sheku-Kanneh Mason as soloist, and Rachmaninov’s choral symphony The Bells (11 April). “Although Elgar was sixteen years older than Rachmaninov, their careers both took off in the early 1900s,” observes Vasily Petrenko. “There’s a certain nostalgia in their music, about their epoch and the century which has just ended. Elgar’s music reflects Britain’s great Edwardian era but also a sense of its sunset; Rachmaninov was always looking to this old, golden Russia of the 19th century. Of course their musical language is entirely different, but it will be fascinating to place them side by side and explore those contrasts as well as the feelings they share in common.”

In addition to their work together at home, Petrenko and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will undertake three major international tours as the season unfolds, starting with five concerts in Italy (12-16 September). Their overseas itinerary continues with twelve concerts in the United States (16-30 January), complete with the RPO’s first Music Academy in Costa Mesa, California, and embraces six concerts in Germany and Austria (13-18 April). “Our big tour of the States will include a mini-residency in Costa Mesa and, I hope, it will help us to nurture young musicians in the area,” comments Petrenko. “Some players from the RPO will coach the local teenagers and I will do some work with their youth orchestra. As well as our tours to Italy, Germany and Austria, we have several short visits to territories such as Abu Dhabi. We have a lot of projects together and the orchestra is in high demand. I am now doing around 15 weeks a year with the RPO, which is what you need to build an orchestra and raise its reputation.”

Vasily Petrenko’s 2023-24 season is rich in its share of guest dates. “I’m particularly looking forward to working for the first time with the Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in Lübeck and in the amazing acoustics of the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg (9 & 10 March),” he comments. “And I am delighted to be making my debut with the Berner Symphonieorchester (21 & 22 September) and, after many times of being invited but unable to accept because of other commitments, to have the chance to conduct the Sofia Philharmonic for the first time (21 December).”

Other season highlights of Petrenko’s 2023-24 season include a programme with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra (28 & 29 September) comprising songs by Alma Mahler, with Karen Cargill as the mezzo-soprano soloist, and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.5; the world premiere of Korean composer Jaejun Ryu’s new trumpet concerto with the Seoul International Music Festival Orchestra (14 October); and, following rapidly after an acclaimed debut last season, two projects with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the first including Ravel’s complete Daphnis et Chloé ballet (1 & 2 December), the second pairing Richard Strauss’s Serenade for 13 wind instruments Op.7 and a group of five songs, with Elizabeth Watts as soloist, with Mahler’s Symphony No.4 (8 & 9 December).

“There’s a good deal of diversity in my guest programmes this season, which is something I now insist upon. With the Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León, for example, we will give the first performance of a new arrangement for orchestra of Falla’s piano piece Fantasia Bætica together with Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto and Sibelius’ First Symphony (15 & 16 February). I have conducted well over 90 concerts with the orchestra in Valladolid over the past twenty years, which is more than any of its music directors have done since the orchestra was founded in 1991.”

As the orchestra’s Conductor Laureate, Vasily Petrenko will return to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic twice in the coming season, for Shostakovich’s Symphony No.11 together with Liadov’s tone poem Kikimora and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, with the young soloist Chistian Li (19 October), and the complete version of Stravinsky’s The Firebird, paired with Martinů’s La bagarre, a symphonic evocation of the jubilant crowd that greeted Charles Lindbergh at Le Bourget airfield outside Paris following the completion of the aviator’s pioneering solo transatlantic flight in May 1927, and Grieg’s Piano Concerto with Simon Trpčeski (22 February). The conductor is set to open his subsequent programme with the Oslo Philharmonic with Øyvind Torvund’s two Symphonic Poems and includes Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony (28 & 29 February).