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Five concerts, four conductors at different stages of their relationship w/ the LA Phil (part 1 of 4): Vasily Petrenko conducts Nielsen and Shostakovich; Trpceski plays Grieg’s Piano Concerto


Based solely on what I saw and heard a couple of weeks ago, I’d guess that Vasily Petrenko and the Los Angeles Philharmonic have a good thing going.

Throw in the fact that Rick Schultz said in the Los Angeles Times that Mr. Petrenko “made a deeply felt, unforgettable impression” at his January 2010 debut with the orchestra and that his two concerts at the Hollywood Bowl in 2011 were also well received, I’d bet that my guess is a pretty good one.

By themselves, a few years’ worth of return engagements certainly do not equate to any kind of long-term relationship (case in point — what the heck happened with Mark Wigglesworth?), but in this case it seems that the chemistry between Mr. Petrenko and the LA Phil is real.  Their combined efforts made for a glorious performance of the Shostakovich 10th Symphony, full of moments that were probing, eerie, and ultimately thrilling.  Mr. Petrenko wasn’t afraid to heighten the tension by pushing tempos a little here and drawing them out a little there, but he never went for cheap effects.  The LA Phil dug into the complex work, giving the conductor all sorts of colors and timbres to work with; the orchestra sounded wonderful, with many of the principals playing beautiful solo parts in the process.

I wish I had a chance to hear this Shosty 10 again.  And again.  In fact, I hope I have a chance to hear Mr. Petrenko and this orchestra again soon.

I thought about some of the other notable younger guest conductors who’ve wandered through Disney Hall over the past few seasons including this one so far, all of them having brought a “big” piece with them:  Pablo Heras-Casado and The Firebird Suite; Susanna Mälkki and Zarathustra; Christoph König and the Brahms 2nd; Robin Ticciati and the Sibelius 2nd; Daniel Harding and the Mahler 5th.  None of them left nearly as strong an impression on me as Mr. Petrenko.  The only other 20- or 30-something year-old guest conductor that I’ve found equally compelling has been Stéphane Denève, and he’s becoming increasingly scarce among these parts (and if he ends up getting the big job at the Boston Symphony, he’ll be that much more scarce).

Mr. Petrenko even got me to enjoy a Nielsen work, something even Esa-Pekka Salonen could never do.  It helped that the Nielsen work in question was the relatively brief Maskarade Overture, but hey, it still counts.

I hope Mr. Petrenko comes back early, often, and perhaps even for that rarest of things — a multi-week stint at Walt Disney Concert Hall.  The announcement for next season is only a month or two away, so it won’t be that long before we’ll see if I get my wish.

Simon TrpceskiIn between overture and symphony, Simon Trpčeski joined the festivities as soloist for the Grieg Piano Concerto.  I’ll say right now that the piece will forever have a soft spot in my heart because it was the first piano concerto I ever learned to play myself.  Granted, it was a solo piano version that was dumbed down a little and I only learned the first five or so pages of the first movement . . .  but hey, it still counts.

Mr. Trpčeski’s rendition was the one I wished I could’ve given it those many years ago:  powerful, precise, and unabashedly romantic without ever being gooey.  On the strength of this performance and the Prokofiev 1st Piano Concerto he played here back in 2008, I wish that he too would come back sooner rather than later.  He and Mr. Petrenko know each other well having recorded two Rachmaninoff discs together, and it was clear with the smoothness and sensitivity that the orchestral accompaniment came across.

Random other thoughts:

  • Ever the romantic, Mr. Trpčeski made a point of kissing Associate Concertmaster Bing Wang’s hand instead of merely shaking it as he did with Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour.
  • For his encore, Mr. Trpčeski played An Evening Tale, a tender little work by Khachaturian.
  • Like an increasing number of conductors, Mr. Petrenko conducted while wearing a black Nehru jacket.  At the beginning of the Nielsen overture, it was buttoned to the top.  By the time intermission began, the jacket was buttoned down about halfway.  For the Shostakovich, it was completely unbuttoned.
  • Sitting in as first chair flute for the Nielsen and Grieg was Philip Dikeman, current Associate Professor of Flute at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music and former Assistant Principal with the Detroit Symphony.


Los Angeles Philharmonic:  November 25, 2012; Walt Disney Concert Hall
Vasily Petrenko, conductor
Simon Trpčeski, piano

Nielsen:  Maskarade Overture
Grieg:  Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16
Shostakovich:  Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93


Photo credits:

  • Vasily Petrenko:  Mark McNulty
  • Simon Trpčeski:  courtesy of EMI Music UK

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