THERE are two international conductors called Petrenko – one is music director designate of the Berlin Philharmonic and until recently hardly known outside Russia and Germany: he’s Kirill Petrenko.
The other is closer to home. He’s Vasily Petrenko, lives on the Wirral, and is the dynamic young maestro of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. He’s overseen a revival in its reputation, and brought it to the Bridgewater Hall before.
More recently he’s also become chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic, one of Denmark’s best – a relationship just extended until at least 2020 – and they’re beginning a UK tour at the Bridgewater Hall on Monday, March 7.
He was born in Leningrad in 1976. His parents were musical, but not professionally so. “My dad played double bass with a group of young people who tried to reproduce traditional jazz,” he says. “My mother was a teacher.”
But he was gifted: he sang, and learned the piano and other instruments. He joined a top boys’ choir and was educated at music school, followed by the St Petersburg Conservatoire.
“Under the Soviet system, I would have been qualified to be a choir conductor. But then the whole system collapsed, and I knew there was no future for me in that direction. I had to learn to be an opera and orchestral conductor.”
He studied with the best – Ilya Musin, Mariss Jansons, Temirkanov and Salonen among them – and at the age of 18 was conducting classical opera for children.
He started winning international competitions and in 2009 became chief conductor of the RLPO.
If they were taking a bit of a punt on him, it’s been spectacularly successful. His recordings have been enthusiastically received, he’s got honours from all three Merseyside universities, and been made an ‘Honorary Scouser’ by the Lord Mayor of Liverpool.
“I have the right to cross the Mersey for free, as long as I use my own transport,” he says. “I still haven’t discovered what it will cost to buy a boat ...”
What’s special about the Oslo sound, I asked? “It’s very rich. I think the Scandinavians have more fire in them than other people, but the trick is to let the fire out.
“Last year we sold more tickets than ever, and we hope to build a new concert hall. We have appeared at the Edinburgh Festival – next we hope to visit Asia, Europe and America, and make new recordings.”