As Liverpool bids a fond farewell to adopted scouser Vasily Petrenko, Head of UNESCO City of Music, Kevin McManus, reflects on the mark this ambassador has left on the place he called home for 15 years.
Vasily Petrenko has just ended his glorious 15 year reign as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s Chief Conductor after a final trio of concerts last week. Of course the loss of such a major talent is a sad moment for the Phil and for the city generally but it is also a time to reflect on a magnificent period when we have been lucky enough to enjoy such a singular talent.
As well as being a giant of the conducting world Vasily is also a hugely charismatic individual and has served as a brilliant ambassador not just for the Phil but for the city itself. He has taken the city to his heart, embraced its people, moved his family here and most significant of all he has shown his incredible taste by becoming a loyal supporter of LFC. Importantly he takes this love for the city with him wherever he is working and having such a prominent and respected figure acting as an advocate for the city is priceless.
His love for Liverpool is evidenced in so many ways. Firstly his initial stint as Principal Conductor for the Phil was meant to be for a three year period only from 2006/7 but this kept being extended because he was enjoying his work with the Orchestra and obviously felt at home here. The Phil and its audience was delighted to have him stay and on a bigger scale Vasily loved being in the city and the city loved him back.
I’m not a classical music expert by any stretch of the imagination but seeing Vasily at work, even a novice like myself could recognise I was witnessing something special and during the course of his tenure the reputation of the RLPO and Vasily himself have both been notably enhanced.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with Vasily at close quarters a couple of times and he was brilliant on both occasions. For the first of these somebody was stupid enough to give me a kind of stage management/artist liaison role for a big event at St George’s Hall. My role on paper wasn’t actually too hard — Vasily was doing an In Conversation session in front of a large audience and my job was to collect him from his dressing room and bring him down to the main hall. Sounds simple doesn’t it? But this overlooks the fact that a) I’m an idiot and b) St George’s Hall is vast and easy to get lost in. I also wasn’t sure what sort of person Vasily was at that stage: would he realise I was an idiot and demand someone who knew what they were doing ? Would he throw a tantrum and refuse to leave the dressing room if I couldn’t get him a bowl of green jelly babies and a jar of the finest caviar?
Thankfully Vasily was lovely and was kind enough to overlook the fact that he been assigned an idiot to take care of him. He was definitely not a diva and was far to nice to point out that he didn’t really need me at all because he was actually a grown adult who could find his own way around a building thank you very much. He was charm personified and his In Conversation session had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand as he proved himself to be an intelligent, humble and decent man who just happened to be blessed with a great talent. But my stand out memory of that day is a short stunning performance he conducted later that day with a section of the orchestra in the beautiful surrounds of the Concert Room. I felt privileged to have been there and it’s a performance I will never forget.
The second occasion was when I was lucky enough to be working on the ‘He Ain’t Heavy’ single released in support of the Hillsborough families and masterminded by Steve Rotheram. The single was produced by music industry legend Guy Chambers who did most of the work in his own studio. However for one part of the record Guy came down to Liverpool to record the Philharmonic Orchestra’s string section, conducted by Vasily, at our own Parr St Studios. It was fascinating to watch: these two titanic talents, both with richly deserved reputations in their respective fields, putting all ego aside to work beautifully alongside each other.
It has been a memorable 15 years for Vasily, the RLPO, and the city itself encompassing landmark moments such as Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2008 and the designation of the city as a UNESCO City of Music In 2015. Vasily and the Phil have played a hugely significant role in both of these achievements and the city’s cultural life throughout.
We should acknowledge Vasily’s important contribution during this time and wish him well in the next phase of his career, while giving a big Liverpool welcome to the incoming Domingo Hindoyam, the RLPO’s new Chief Conductor.”
Kev McManus, Head of UNESCO City of Music, Culture Liverpool
Vasily Petrenko’s final concert with the Phil will be available via their On Demand service from 20th July.