Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s new music director on vaccine politicisation

The new music director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) has called for an end to the politicisation of coronavirus vaccinations.

Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko, 45, formerly chief conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, said wider acceptance of the importance of vaccines was needed globally if live music was to return in full.

He also urged governments to work together and accept jabs created in other countries as valid proof for international travel and widespread use.

The RPO at the Royal Albert Hall (Chris Christodoulou/PA)
The RPO at the Royal Albert Hall (Chris Christodoulou/PA)

Petrenko joins the orchestra as it begins its 75th anniversary celebrations and shortly after the Prince of Wales was announced as its new patron following the departure of his brother the Duke of York in the light of his 2019 Newsnight interview.

He told the PA news agency: “One obstacle we should mention is – and it is not just in our industry, it is many other industries – we all hope that the question about vaccinations will stop being political, that there will be wider acceptance of vaccines around the world, which will ease touring regarding quarantine and all the other regulation.

“It is not just vaccination programmes within countries but also their acceptance of vaccination programmes within other countries. We all hope every single vaccine that has been proved to be successful will be accepted in every country.”

Petrenko said he did not believe medical research should be used by “political forces and in the political dimension”.

“I think soon we will all accept the fact that the whole world is in the same boat,” he added.


“Every government should accept it and should try to work together as an orchestra works together – imagine if the bassoons hate first violin, the music will never happen.”

Marking his arrival, Petrenko and the RPO have launched a five-point plan which includes targets for inclusivity, artistic excellence and being an international ambassador for the UK.

He said the RPO, which is based out of London’s Cadogan Hall and regularly tours abroad, will play an important role in promoting the country in a post-Brexit landscape.

Petrenko said: “There are obviously some obstacles and it is more difficult than it used to be.

“I hope that the Government here in the UK and the EU abroad will understand more the issues of the orchestras which travel around.

“Hopefully they will sort out some of the visa questions, some of the technical questions which need to be sorted.”

Royal visit to Wales for Wales Week
The Prince of Wales is the RPO’s new patron (Matthew Horwood/PA)

Despite increased costs prompted by new visa arrangements, Petrenko said he felt “very positive” and sensed an increased demand for culture.

He added: “This moment when you are bringing the culture from London, from the United Kingdom, to other countries, it is probably one of the best instruments for soft power, as they call it now. This is vital nowadays.”

Managing director James Williams suggested the orchestra faced significant obstacles in touring but would be a “leading beacon”.

He told PA: “Inevitably there are going to be challenges in the coming months as we work our way through that, particularly with the layer of Covid restrictions that we are also dealing with it is going to be challenging climate. But it is one that we are determined to find a way through.

“As Vasily says, we see huge value in the orchestra as an international ambassador and music as an international language, and soft power particularly in a post-Brexit world is very, very important for the UK’s performing arts – to be a leading beacon demonstrating that the UK is open for business and wanting to share its culture with the rest of the world.”

Petrenko succeeds Charles Dutoit, from Sweden, at head of the RPO after the principal conductor stepped down early following allegations of sexual assault, which he has repeatedly denied.

– Conductor Vasily Petrenko appears for the first time at the Proms in his new role as music director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Wednesday August 4 at the Royal Albert Hall.