Mu­si­cal side of diplo­macy

Vasily Pe­trenko keeps Bowl pro­gram in­tact as he re­places Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla. Still, he can’t re­sist drama.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - MARK SWED MU­SIC CRITIC mark.swed@la­times.com

Vasily Pe­trenko, above, fills in for ailing con­duc­tor at Bowl.

How­ever un­likely to budge the Dooms­day Clock a nanosec­ond away from the present 2½ min­utes-to-mid­night brink-of-nu­clear-war mark, an in­stance of in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl on Tues­day night meant that Rus­sian re­la­tions don’t have to evoke only mis­trust, sanc­tions and reprisals.

On short no­tice, Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla can­celed her ea­gerly awaited last ap­pear­ance as as­so­ci­ate con­duc­tor of the Los An­ge­les Phil­har­monic be­cause of ill­ness. Her re­place­ment was the Rus­sian con­duc­tor Vasily Pe­trenko, who was sched­uled to con­duct on Thursday and who gra­ciously re­tained the orig­i­nal Tues­day pro­gram.

There are some in­ter­est­ing ca­reer par­al­lels between the two con­duc­tors. Last year at age 30, the Lithua­nian Grazinyte-Tyla be­came the first fe­male mu­sic direc­tor of the City of Birm­ing­ham Sym­phony Orches­tra. Eleven years ear­lier and just 100 miles away, Pe­trenko was an equally dash­ing 30year-old who rose quickly from ob­scu­rity when he be­came the youngest-ever prin­ci­pal con­duc­tor of the Liver­pool Phil­har­monic.

Co­in­ci­den­tally, Pe­trenko, who is now also chief con­duc­tor of the Oslo Phil­har­monic, got him­self in trou­ble a few years ago when he offhand­edly noted to a Nor­we­gian news­pa­per that “a cute girl on a podium means that mu­si­cians think about other things.” He quickly took back the re­mark, ex­plain­ing about some­thing get­ting lost in trans­la­tion and that he was speak­ing about Rus­sia. Pre­sum­ably, he knows from whence he speaks, his wife hav­ing, like him, been trained as a con­duc­tor in St. Peters­burg.

Although there were mo­men­tary calls from fem­i­nists for Pe­trenko to re­sign in Liver­pool, he proved far too pop­u­lar for that. His ca­reer has other­wise been go­ing nowhere but up. The Liver­pool Phil­har­monic had been in the dol­drums when he ar­rived, and he made it special again. He has be­come a goto con­duc­tor for record­ing Rus­sian reper­tory, with his Shostakovich sym­phony cy­cle with Liver­pool on Naxos a de­servedly special fa­vorite. He has had fine re­sults with the L.A. Phil since his de­but with the orches­tra in 2010.

Still, on Tues­day Pe­trenko found him­self fac­ing a siz­able Bowl au­di­ence that had hoped to see to­day’s most-talked-about fe­male con­duc­tor lead a pro­gram of au­di­ence fa­vorites on a balmy night. In­deed, the main work, Tchaikovsky’s First Pi­ano Con­certo, is likely the most played con­certo through­out the Bowl’s 95-year his­tory.

Last year, the L.A. Phil opened its Bowl sea­son with Lang Lang play­ing Tchaikovsky’s score as though fas­ci­nat­ingly flashy putty in his hands (and Gus­tavo Du­damel giv­ing him li­cense to do so). This time the soloist was Beatrice Rana, a 24-year-old Ital­ian pi­anist who asks for no li­cense what­so­ever. She al­ready has a sub­stan­tial record­ing ca­reer, and her im­pres­sive and beau­ti­ful new re­lease of Bach’s “Gold­berg” Vari­a­tions has got­ten a lot of at­ten­tion for its se­ri­ous­ness and depth.

She is in­tently se­ri­ous in the Tchaikovsky, as well, du­ti­fully so were it not for her in­nate mu­si­cal­ity. Her tone is com­mand­ing. She strives to make each phrase sound im­por­tant, whether it is or not. She es­chews play­ful­ness and grandios­ity. Her only showi­ness is in show­ing how the mu­sic works, its in­ner lines and struc­ture. She is not a ro­man­tic and places her­self at the op­po­site end of the ex­pres­sive spec­trum of such other young star pi­anists as Yuja Wang and Kha­tia Bu­ni­atishvili.

Pe­trenko may not have seen eye-to-eye with her. With a broad stick tech­nique and lack of shy­ness about show­ing a lit­tle flair, he can be a sweeper-up of big ef­fects. He went in for oomph and se­duc­tive lyri­cism. The com­mon mid­dle ground between the two was com­pro­mise that maybe didn’t al­ways ex­cite but that did show that com­mon ground is of­ten bet­ter than the al­ter­na­tive.

The pro­gram was book­ended by De­bussy — “Pre­lude to the After­noon of the Faun” as the warmup, “La Mer” to con­clude. In nei­ther did Pe­trenko seem quite com­fort­able damp­ing down drama. “La Mer” felt less like a sea shown in its mys­tery than a dan­ger­ous place, with the con­duc­tor as cap­tain of a cruise ship nav­i­gat­ing new glob­ally warmed ice­bergs. It was rough go­ing.

In­stead, two lit­tle Si­belius pieces right af­ter in­ter­mis­sion sur­pris­ingly best re­vealed what all the Pe­trenko fuss is about. “Scene With Cranes” did have a quiet mys­tery, pro­duc­ing a rare hush over the Bowl, while “Valse Triste” had just the right melan­choly lilt.

Pe­trenko re­turns Thursday with his own pro­gram of Strauss, Hum­mel and Brahms.

Wally Skalij L.A. Times

Pho­to­graphs by Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

VASILY PE­TRENKO was a late re­place­ment for Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla at Tues­day’s clas­si­cal Bowl con­cert.

BEATRICE RANA sat with the L.A. Phil­har­monic Tues­day to play Tchaikovsky’s First Pi­ano Con­certo. The 24-year-old Ital­ian has a sub­stan­tial record­ing ca­reer.

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