The cooler side of Simon Rattle

The cooler side of Simon Rattle


norman lebrecht

February 10, 2015

The Sunday Telegraph published at the weekend a glorious hagiolatry of ‘Britain’s greatest living conductor’ by one of his cheery old chums, the cricket writer, Michael Henderson.

Today, it balances that effusion with a somewhat more sober assessment of Rattle’s future. Sample: 

Rattle let me know of his resentment when, a dozen years ago, I named him “the Tony Blair of classical music”. Both men now risk being cast as desert-island survivors of a brief age known as Cool Britannia.

What Rattle does next is in his own hands. He is engaged in an intense flirtation with the London Symphony Orchestra and is campaigning for a world-class concert hall, something London has lacked for 75 years. If he signs on with the LSO, replacing the distracted Valery Gergiev, he will bring much-needed charisma to a scene that has lost its lustre. But Rattle insists he will not return to live in London; his third wife, the Czech mezzo Magdalena Kozena and their three small children are based in Berlin.

Rattle, who always scorned “long distance conductors”, risks becoming one himself. At 60, he remains partly undefined, between two stools, uncertain of his place in history.

Read on here.

rattle Berlin Philharmonic Prom 64_CR_BBC Chris Christodoulou_3

photo: Chris Christodoulou/Lebrecht Music&Arts



  • Halldor says:

    Henderson’s piece seems measured and fairly even-handed – surely nothing there with which anyone who’s followed Rattle’s career would disagree (apart from that weird idea, common in the South of England, that anyone from Liverpool must automatically have a Scouse accent: as ridiculous as expecting every Londoner to talk like Chas & Dave).

    I don’t see any ‘hagiolatry’. Why this mean-spiritedness towards a great musician who’s also, taken overall, a pretty decent human being? Is there anyone who doubts that if he took over the LSO, it’d be a good and healthy thing for UK musicsl life?

  • Erich says:

    There is a deafening sound of grinding axes here. Rattle has erected his eternal ‘place in history’ in Birmingham. If anyone can manage a second badly needed one in London, it is him. Give the bloke a chance and stop carping.

  • Tim says:

    Norman – how come you neglect to mention the fact that you are the writer of the second article?!

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Is that a problem? It’s there in the byline.

      • Tim says:

        Not at all, it’s just a bit odd that you refer to the fact that the Sunday Telegraph “balances that effusion with a somewhat more sober assessment of Rattle’s future” without mention that the assessment is by yourself It’s only when you click through to the article at the ST site that you get to see the byline and authorship.

      • CDH says:

        You’re being disingenuous. It is not remotely clear to readers of Slipped Disc that the second article, to which you refer to approvingly as “more sober,” is by you. Maybe you are trying t o be witty.

        • norman lebrecht says:

          You’re being rude.

          • Andrew R. Barnard says:


            If a critic is going to give a critique of a famous musician, shouldn’t they expect some backlash? I’m not here to say that musicians can’t be criticized. But as an amateur critic myself, I just don’t get this idea that you feel any criticism of your criticism is rude and unacceptable. Am I missing something?

            By the way, while I disagree with some element of your article, much of it is very fair and realistic. Certainly Rattle’s problem is that he has climbed Everest and there is nowhere else to go. Agree with you completely there.

  • tone row says:

    Henderson seems to imply he’s accepted the LSO job already – breach of press embargo or have I misread?

    • Andrew R. Barnard says:

      Yeah, I’ve been seeing multiple journalists act like the deal is actually done. Either the British press is overeager or something has developed.

  • Mark Stratford says:

    ==Rattle let me know of his resentment when, a dozen years ago, I named him “the Tony Blair of classical music”.

    OMG – you said it to his face !?

  • Peter Phillips says:

    “A scene that has lost its lustre” in need of charisma? So where does that leave the LPO and Vladimir Jurowski? Of course, he’s not a celeb, just a fine, eclectic musician who elects to stay with his orchestra, rather as Rattle has done in Birmingham and Berlin.

  • David Boxwell says:

    He could stay in Berlin and focus on conducting opera there.

  • Robert Kenchington says:

    I think Norman’s article is perfectly balanced in tone and – as always – eminently readable. Yes, Rattle is a talented conductor and certainly one of the more approachable ones. But there has been far too much mindless adulation of his work without due regard to his occasional shortcomings. The BBC coverage of his life and work coming up this month is so effusive in tone it reminds me of the blinkered media reverence once proffered to Toscanini and Karajan. (The BBC’s ‘Making of a Maestro’ documentary even has Rattle in a classic Karajan pose on Facebook).

    Norman’s article seeks to get behind the hype and provide a more objective assessment of both Rattle’s successes and failures and raises the very real question as to where Sir Simon’s career goes next. Given that Rattle is one of the least egotistical conductors in history, I suspect he might welcome the more sensible tone of that assessment.

  • MacroV says:

    I agree the Henderson’s article is a bit uncritical but hardly hagiographic, and Mr. Lebrecht’s might be correct, but it certainly doesn’t match my perception.

    I’m sure Sir Simon isn’t beloved by 100% of the Berlin Philharmonic players, but no conductor has unanimous (or even majority?) support of his/her band – is there any reason to think he’s any less popular in Berlin than other major conductors are with their orchestras? Anyway, he’s in his 13th season in Berlin and 16 seasons seems a pretty good tenure.

    And in what way is his Berlin tenure a disappointment? Sure, they lost their record contract, but what orchestra has a deal these days? Only the BPO could do the Digital Concert Hall, a tremendous resource, and one that show the orchestra plays magnificently and does some of the most innovative and compelling programming I’ve ever seen; its educational programs are a model that should be ruthlessly copied by other orchestras. The St. Matthew Passion is a thing of wonder.

    And so what if they left the Salzburg Easter Festival? Relationships end; they seem to have settled into a very nice situation in Baden-Baden. And didn’t Mr. Lebrecht rail in the past about the commercial crassness of Salzburg?

    I also watched that long Finnish interview and while Sir Simon did talk about the difficulty of getting the right accelerando out of the BPO in the Sibelius 5th, he also said that it managed difficulties in the 4th and 6th with greater ease than any orchestra he has led; I didn’t perceive anything negative about the BPO or the relationship in that interview.

    Sir Simon isn’t necessarily the greatest interpreter of any part of the repertoire, but his enthusiasm for music and his mission to bring it to everybody – not in the crass Andrea Bocelli or Andre Rieu way, but with great quality, integrity, and creativity – make him one of the most compelling musicians around. I’ll be sorry to see him leave Berlin, as he has been truly a transformative leader for the orchestra.