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Side Notes: The Conductor Trading Game (Vasily Petrenko Succeeds Jukka-Pekka Saraste in Oslo)

For the classically inclined, watching conductors rove on posts and succeed each other and get ousted here and courted there is at least as much fun as following baseball or football deadline trades and rumors. It's fun when your team trades up; depressing when it trades down. Either because it's an opportunity taken/missed, or because it says something about the desirability of your orchestra/team; its status in the world of conducting/sports. Can you snare someone considered out of your league with a bit of cleverness? Are you just getting a name, but no particularly needed skill? Are you discovering the next hot thing? Did you go all out and get stuck with Herschel Walker?

Well, here's the latest news: Vasily Petrenko succeeds Jukka-Pekka Saraste at the helm of the Oslo Philharmonic. (Jukka-Pekka Saraste meanwhile succeeds Semyon Bychkov in Cologne at the WDRSO while Bychkov's next stop is not yet known.) This looks like a trade that has goodness written all over it. At the very latest since Mariss Jansons took the Oslo Philharmonic and turned them into a thus-recognized world class orchestra during his 23 year tenure (1979-2002), the orchestra is one of the very respectable addresses in Europe... but without that sometimes crippling need to present a big name at all cost. André Previn following Mariss Jansons was certainly a prestigious move, but the subsequent tenure of Jukka-Pekka Saraste probably more productive. Now the administration has announced Vasily Petrenko (four years younger and not related to Kirill Petrenko, just announced to take over the Munich Opera from Kent Nagano) and in doing so they fall in line with a recent trend of appointing very young and extremely hopeful and talented conductors to major positions. (A trend that exists even if you don't count the Dudamel appointment in LA on account of being 40% gimmick or the Alan Gilbert appointment in New York on account of him being one of the oldest [sic] new music directors in the history of the New York Philharmonic.)

Petrenko, born in 1976, started out under the wings of Mariss Jansons (as did Andris Nelsons), and studied with Yuri Temirkanov and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Not a bad pedigree. He did his grunt-time at the St. Petersburg Opera and Ballet and the State Academy of St. Petersburg. But after winning a competition and getting to guest conduct the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, he was named Liverpool's principal conductor in 2005 and started in the 2006/07 season. (His title, upon contract renewal, was later changed to Chief Conductor.) Judging from afar, from audience numbers, and mostly from the smashing Shostakovich recordings he's made for Naxos, his success is very considerable.

Odd Gullberg, CEO of the Oslo Philharmonic, suggested the administration--in concert with the orchestra--had picked Petrenko off a long list as the clear choice for a long term run. A true successor to Jansons, one might say. Mr. Gullberg's suggestion that 'the combination of Vasily Petrenko and the Oslo Philharmonic had the makings of a strong international brand' is heavy on PR-BS, but actually true. Yay for Oslo. And an eye on Liverpool, to see who their next pick is. [Usually orchestras go "semi-safe" after bringing a relative nobody to stardom... a talented, neither-young-nor-old conductor with a solid record and experience. At least Liverpool has time to make their choice; Petrenko will remain through the 2014/15 season. Let's stay tuned to find out. ]

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