Petr Popelka appointed new Chief Conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra

Vienna/Bregenz, 9.6.23. The Czech conductor Petr Popelka has been appointed as the new chief conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. He was chosen by an overwhelming majority of the orchestra’s musicians. As chief conductor designate, Petr Popelka will already be taking on some conducting duties during the 2023/24 season. He will take up his new post at the beginning of the orchestra’s anniversary season, 2024/2025, for an initial period of five years.

“I am particularly pleased about the decision, which the orchestra made in an internal ballot,” said the Vienna Symphony Orchestra’s artistic director, Jan Nast. “After Andrés Orozco-Estrada unexpectedly left us the previous year, it was important for the orchestra to take time to deliberate over exactly which person best suits the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. What mattered in the selection was not so much names as art and the possibility of making shared visions reality. The performance of Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony with Petr Popelka was memorable for many musicians – and indeed for me personally. Suddenly we all had the feeling something unique was in the air. Working with him is inspiring, stimulating, characterised by dialogue and by a collective creative enthusiasm. I’m very happy that Petr Popelka will accompany the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, going forward very much as equals, and I’m firmly convinced that we have found, in him, an exceptional artist with whom we as an orchestra can continue to develop the orchestra’s unmistakable spirit in the long term.”

Born in Prague in 1986, Petr Popelka studied the double bass in Prague and Freiburg and was double bass in the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, playing under chief conductor Christian Thielemann among others. Popelka is chief conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Oslo, and of the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra. Alongside conducting he is also a keen composer.

“Becoming chief conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra is a dream come true for me,” Popelka stated. “As a teenager I already travelled regularly from Prague to Vienna with my parents to listen to the greatest orchestras in the world in this city. To me, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra is the musical embodiment of Vienna, an orchestra that captures and evokes the spirit of the city, an ensemble with a great tradition, and above all an orchestra that has always encapsulated a modern pioneering spirit – both in terms of repertoire and the role of an orchestra within society. When asked what I imagine my journey with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra will be like, I think of my own little son. What kind of orchestra do we want to pass on to the next generation? How does a modern orchestra in which we play together and on an equal footing function? How can we work together to maintain and strengthen the virtues of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra? In my conducting engagements with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra to date, I have always felt the profound passion of the musicians, the possibility of immersing ourselves collectively in the music in the moment, fuelled by a burning dedication to the cause and to the music! Together, we have the opportunity to invigorate a modern orchestra that stands at the heart of the world.”

Vienna’s municipal councillor for culture Veronica Kaup-Hasler is equally happy about the newly appointed chief conductor, saying: “In Petr Popelka we have been able to win, for Vienna, an artist who always understands an orchestra as a medium of and for people. And that’s exactly what the Vienna Symphony Orchestra stands for, too: the orchestra of the city, the echo of the city, the sound of the city of Vienna. I am looking forward to the path and the development followed by Petr Popelka and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, and am certain that the audience will be taken on an exciting journey, too.”

Dr. Alexander Wrabetz, president of the supervisory board of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, declared: “As the 17th chief conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Petr Popelka will take up his appointment in time for the start of the anniversary season 2024/25. He stands in a long and fine tradition in which the orchestra has always shown itself to be a cultural innovative force. I am very glad that Petr Popelka brings a young spirit with him, has an awareness of the challenges and the radical changes of the present time, and that his declared aim is to define the Vienna Symphony Orchestra as a modern orchestra. I am looking forward to our journey together and the many musical discoveries.”

Chair of the work council of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Schindl, also welcomed the news, saying: “In the person of Petr Popelka we have decided on a conductor for whom music and people come first, so to speak. A musician with exciting ideas and great musicality and – as a former double bassist – with a deep understanding of the orchestra. I am certain that in Petr Popelka we have elected a chief conductor who will develop a distinctive musical language with the orchestra.”

Further reactions to the appointment:
“I congratulate Petr Popelka and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra with all my heart on his appointment as new chief conductor. An important partner orchestra of MusikTheater an der Wien thereby acquires not only one of the most inspiring conductors of his generation, but also a passionate, full-blooded musician who can draw on a rich store of international experience. From 18 November he will take over as the music director of our new production of his compatriot Jaromír Weinberger’s popular opera Schwanda the Bagpiper, which makes us look forward eagerly to the coming season.”
Stefan Herheim, artistic director of MusikTheater an der Wien

“I warmly congratulate the Vienna Symphony Orchestra on the choice of Petr Popelka as chief conductor, and equally warmly I congratulate Petr Popelka on acceding to this position of great responsibility with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Thus a new era begins in the 2024/25 season, one which will be defined by the enthralling musicality of Petr Popelka. That is important for the whole city as well as for the Vienna Konzerthaus! With a long tradition, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra forms the foundation of Vienna’s orchestral culture and – in interplay with the other ensembles – keeps it alive and accessible for many people. The Vienna Konzerthaus will support and gladly accompany the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Petr Popelka on their journey.”
Matthias Naske, artistic director of the Konzerthaus, Vienna

“I am delighted that the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, which is one of our most important partners, has been able to win Petr Popelka, one of the most exciting conductors of the younger generation. In the Golden Hall of the Musikverein last season, he proved in a performance of Mahler’s First Symphony that he can captivate the orchestra and the audience alike. This winning way of his is a great asset for the future of classical music. I congratulate the Vienna Symphony Orchestra on an excellent chief conductor – and Petr Popelka on a magnificent orchestra.”
Dr. Stephan Pauly, artistic director of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde

“We are very happy about Petr Popelka being designated chief conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and about his festival debut in summer 2024 in an orchestral concert.”
Elisabeth Sobotka, artistic director of the Bregenz Festival

(Wiener Symphoniker)