« Peabody Trio program offers youthful and mature Mahler | Main | Guest blogger: Logan K. Young reviews UMBC's Livewire fest »

October 30, 2011

Petrenko makes energetic return to Baltimore Symphony podium

Vasily Petrenko's guest-conducting debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in early 2009 made a very strong impression. You just knew he would be invited back.

Something about the young Russian's totally in-charge demeanor and personality-filled music-making provided good reason to believe that he was more than the latest bright new thing in classical music. (He's principal conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.)

Petrenko's looks do give him an immediate marketing advantage, but it's hard to hold onto a podium for very long with photogenic attributes alone. He's the real deal where it counts. His technique is sure, his instincts sound.

If there was a bit of a let-down about Petrenko's return to Baltimore this weekend, the program was perhaps the main drawback. Shostakovich's stunning Symphony No. 8 gave the conductor opportunities for showing off his skills two years ago in a way that the rather diffuse Symphony No. 3 by Rachmaninoff could not this time around.

On Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall, Petrenko ...

generated plenty of vivid, expressive moments in his account of the Rachmaninoff work, but didn't quite bring everything together to make a compelling statement. He didn't always hold the orchestra tightly together, either; the scherzo-within-the-adagio, in particular, sounded a bit dodgy.

The rest of the concert clicked very well. Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 moved engagingly along, benefiting as much from the muscular, yet sensitive, solo work of Barry Douglas as from the way Petrenko highlighted the vivid orchestral details.

The real gem of the evening, though, turned out to be a grand old chestnut: Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnole." It hasn't been played on a BSO subscription program since 1997, which may be partly why the musicians seemed so freshly energized by the music. But Petrenko's conducting had a huge role here. He masterfully unleashed the sensual quality of the score, shaping phrases with compelling personality and adding extra spark to the rhythmic vitality.

The result was one of the most deliciously virtuosic, infectiously high-spirited performances the BSO has given in years. The tight bond between Petrenko and the players could not have been clearer than in the breathless coda, which had an arresting, incendiary impact.

The final performance of the program is Sunday afternoon.

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:59 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes


Sorry for the late comment, but I do agree that this was a less than stellar - though still very good - outing from Petrenko. The problem - especially in Rachmaninoff - seemed to be the reduced number of strings of the BSO, an issue about which you wrote in the past, but which has become clearer to me with this concert.

Because Petrenko can extract a marvelous string sound when he works with a fuller section. I did miss his first BSO outing, but I caught him this past spring with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The slow part of Tchaikovsky's 2nd piano concerto (Stephen Hough was soloist) with the marvelous solos from Juliette Kang and Efe Baltacigil (alas, now to Seattle) and with Petrenko's magic phrasing was something dreams were made of. My thought after the concert was: wow, and they could have had this guy as music director; talk about missed opportunity (and yes, I know there are zillions of factors for a music director.)

I do hope either Boston or Cincinatti snap Petrenko.

Never too late for a comment. Thanks. TIM

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected