Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker were considered “dream teams” despite the sometimes turbulent collaboration. When Rattle returned to his homeland in 2018 – after 16 years – to take over the London Symphony Orchestra, the British hoped it would give fresh interpretations, bold ideas and, of course, ringing cash registers.
This Sunday Simon Rattle celebrates his 65th birthday with the baton in hand: The London Symphony Orchestra plays Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Christ on the Mount of Olives” and Alban Berg’s violin concerto “The Memory of an Angel” in the Barbican Hall.
Typical for Sir Simon: Interested visitors can already look over the master’s shoulder at the rehearsal in the morning. Since his first post as a conductor, he has been committed to music education. The life of an orchestra in the 21st century is not just about “giving great concerts”, he said in the “Guardian” web chat, but also about “working for the cause as evangelists”.
The Liverpool native was considered a child prodigy at the conductor’s desk: he read scores in public libraries, played percussion in the National Youth Orchestra and founded his own band at the age of 14. Two years later, he studied at the renowned Royal Academy of Music and, at 19, won the post of assistant conductor in an international competition in Bournemouth.
In 1980, the 25-year-old took over the then decaying City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. An unusual starting point: “We were able to experiment and grow together,” Rattle described to the “Telegraph”. “Like taking over a wonderful house that was not maintained and needed a lot of care and flossing, so to speak.” Rattle campaigned for a new concert hall, initiated music projects for disabled children and young composers. After 18 years he had won the former provincial orchestra a place on the international stage.
In 2002 he inherited Claudio Abbado with the Berlin Philharmonic. A challenge, even for the high-flyer: the orchestra is considered one of the best in the world; Chancellor Angela Merkel regularly visits concerts in the Philharmonie. He greeted Berlin with the same composer combination with which he had said goodbye to Birmingham: his favorite Gustav Mahler and the British Thomas Adès.
He won over the audience with innovative programs, and with the orchestra he ventured a fresh look at the repertoire – although he was not able to convince everyone. His interpretation, especially of the great works of the 19th century, did not suit some, it neglected the orchestra’s unique sound.
But his enthusiasm and ability to focus the musical energy of the musicians convinced many doubters. The award-winning film “Rhythm Is It” documented his efforts to familiarize socially disadvantaged children and young people from 25 nations in Berlin with classical music.
But in 2013 Simon Rattle announced that he would leave the Berlin Philharmonic in 2018, at the age of 64. “As a boy from Liverpool, it’s impossible not to think of the Beatles’ question: ‘Will you still need me … when I’m 64?'”, He quoted the Beatles song “When I’m Sixty Four” , With an emotional performance, he said goodbye to Gustav Mahler’s fateful Sixth Symphony and received an ovation. Since then he has led the London Symphony Orchestra.
The feeling of coming home to Great Britain is of course important, he told the Guardian. But above all the orchestra’s curiosity and enthusiasm impressed him, “their rhythmic precision and flexibility and energy are incredible.” The Berliner from Wahl spends several months a year in London – his family still lives in Berlin.
In London, too, he is committed to giving the symphony orchestra its own concert hall. It has been at home in the brutalist Barbican cultural center since the 1980s. But as always, Rattle’s plans go far beyond a new hall: he wants to “create a place that is a magnet for people of all ages to learn about music and to be infected by this hopefully incurable virus.”