June 17, 2008 by Norman Lebrecht
The BBC are running a bought-in film tonight in Alan Yentob’s Imagine series on Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. It offers ‘intimate’ insights into the workings of the crack band and its fabulous maestro as they are cheered to the rafters on a Far East tour.
Well, believe that if you like. Rattle was recently re-elected chief conductor by a political manoeuvre and a narrow margin that some of his opponents in the orchestra are continuing to question. As for the Far East raves, did anyone look at the ticket prices? They were ten times above the means of ordinary Japanese, Korean and Chinese working people, even more expensive than in Berlin.
A tour by the Berlin Phil in the Far East is an occasion for Asian corporate society to congratulate itself on cultural refinment, and for the orchestra to augment its copper-bottomed salaries and expense account.
These issues will understandably not be raised in Alan Yentob’s egregious series, a corner of television that is notorious for soft-focus, cuddly profiles of ‘Al’s Pals’ and is the BBC’s only documentary insight into the arts.
Notwithstanding all these reservations, the inclusion of Rattle and Berlin at this stage seems strangely off the pace, given that their progress has stagnated while a new conducting generation is striking sparks in London, Liverpool, L.A., Birmingham, Toulouse and Paris. That’s where the current action is. The BBC has lost its nose for cultural reporting.
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