How much has the LSO given up for Simon Rattle?

How much has the LSO given up for Simon Rattle?


norman lebrecht

March 05, 2015

The implications have started to sink in. In their eagerness to land Simon Rattle before he responded to an American vacancy, the London Symphony Orchestra have awarded him the title of Music Director. He is the first to hold it. All past chiefs of the LSO have been Principal Conductor, with essential powers remaining in players’ hands.

The official list:

Principal Conductor

Hans Richter
Sir Edward Elgar

Arthur Nikisch
Sir Thomas Beecham*

Albert Coates

Willem Mengelberg*

Sir Hamilton Harty

Josef Krips
Pierre Monteux
Istvan Kertesz
Andre Previn
Claudio Abbado

Michael Tilson Thomas

Sir Colin Davis
Valery Gergiev

What’s the difference?

In modern parlance, the music director is responsible for every programme, every guest conductor, every artistic decision. He also has the power to hire and fire players. The LSO players who own the company, have guarded this power fiercely to themselves, firing past chiefs over such differences.

If they have now given Rattle the ultimate say on personnel, they will have surrendered their virtue on the first date and will begin the relationship from a position of disadvantage. This is not the LSO we know. We await the details of the deal, but it’s starting to look as if they have given away a lot in the heat of passion.



  • Raymond says:

    Abbado was LSO Music Director 1984-87.

    From LSO website:

    Claudio Abbado, 1933-2014

    LSO Principal Guest Conductor 1975-79
    LSO Principal Conductor 1979-87
    LSO Music Director 1984-87

  • Dennis Marks says:

    I would expect nothing less. Simon made radical personnel changes in Berlin even though they have total authority on hiring and firing. If he is accountable for the orchestra’s sound then he must be responsible for those who produce it. The crucial issue is rehearsal times and conditions. The LSO is much better here than all its London rivals and most evenings it sounds like it, even under Gergiev’s eccentric rehearsal conditions. More strength to his elbow.

  • Halldor says:

    Have you read the contract then? I’ve worked with at least four Music Directors at various orchestras – Rattle amongst them – who emphatically did not have the powers you describe, legally or in practice.

    This absolute determination to find a cloud to match the silver lining is starting to look a little desperate, you know.

  • Mark Stratford says:

    ===the music director is responsible for every programme, every guest conductor, every artistic decision

    I’ve followed the Berlin Phil concert listings these last 15+ years and it’s been striking the range of programmes the guest conductors have been doing. LSO are going to lose nothing by having Sir S leading it. WIll be exciting times

  • Simon Funnell says:

    Norman Lebrecht: the only man who can make the best classical music news for a decade sound terrible . Just extraordinary.

  • Luciano says:

    Why all the Rattle bashing? It’s a fantastic appointment for the orchestra, for Simon, and for the concert-going public of London.

    • Anon says:

      Mr. Lebrecht feels hurt in his narcissistic ego, because Rattle didn’t grant him the access and respect Mr. Lebrecht desires. Now he barks up the tree.

  • Stuart says:

    I don’t understand the negative tone of the original post – envy?

  • MacroV says:

    You can assume Sir Simon is interested in presenting compelling music with the LSO, and he probably negotiated conditions that would make that possible. Maybe the title signifies a deeper level of involvement and support from Sir Simon than from his predecessors. If so, the LSO, a great orchestra that still seems to lack a truly distinctive profile and consequence compared to some of its supposed peers, is only gaining in the deal.

  • Erich says:

    It is really deeply depressing that Mr.Lebrecht seems to find it more productive to bring out the negative rather the positive sides of many important stories in the arts world. Playing Madame Doom is so counterproductive – but I suppose it earns him more Attention. That should not be the Raison d’etre of this blog…..

  • Robert Kenchington says:

    On the contrary, Norman Lebrecht is simply trying to get things into perspective. The LSO is – and always has been – a self-governing orchestra fiercely proud of its independence.

    However, Norman raises the question as to whether the LSO has surrendered some of that independence to gain a big name conductor who might bring in large wads of cash via concert audiences and record contracts. The Berlin Philharmonic did as much to get Karajan…but when the father was no longer able to feed the children, they turned on him. Could the same not occur with Rattle? Far from being negative, Norman is issuing a seasoned warning from history…

    • Emil Archambault says:

      Of course, raising questions based on misinformation is not proper journalistic practice. Unless Mr Lebrecht has read the contract and can confirm, with tangible evidence, that the powers he describes are part of Rattle’s contract, all this is empty talk without grounding in anything else than fiction.

      Of course, the fact that Mr Lebrecht, (self-proclaimed) expert on the London music scene, does not know that Abbado was MD is quite telling, especially since he claimed to have led to the firing of Abbado himself.

  • herrera says:

    Mr. L, you missed a major perk of a music director: engaging guest soloists.

    Who wants to place bets on the sudden surge in appearances with the LSO, the mezzo Magdalena Kožená, Sir Simon’s wife?

    Every review I’ve read of her performance with the Berliners and Rattle have been, at best, luke warm, while noting, with a wink, her marital status to the man on the podium.

  • Mark Stratford says:

    ==Rattle didn’t grant him the access and respect Mr. Lebrecht desires

    Sorry, but how do you know this ? Is it guess-work ?

  • Douglas Quigg says:

    Who else better to take charge. Rattle is brilliant. His achievements stand out. Of course he wants good terms (and should) so you should congratulate the wonderful LSO for having the vision to make a bold decision.

  • Milka says:

    All this fuss over a time beater …. here to-day gone to-morrow forgotten the day after. The way he is celebrated one would think he was the composer of the works played. Alas
    he is not ….just a conductor milking the crowd for all it’s worth . A brick layer ,a
    wood carver have more aesthetic honesty .

  • Plus La Change says:

    Many of the above writers seem to be suffering from a condition that Sigmund Freud might have called “Baton Envy”.

  • Andrew R. Barnard says:

    It’s truly extraordinary that Norman can manage to find bad news in Rattle’s appointment, which is the best thing to happen to London in a long time. The idea that London signed too quickly is just ridiculous. The partnership was in the works for at least a year and a half before anything was signed.

    I’ve tried to write a balanced assessment of the situation, taking a reflective look at the news and its challenges:

  • Joe says:

    There are but a few names that garner the respect and good will that Simon Rattle brings to the table. I think that the LSO has done a tremendous job of “running itself”. However, it appears to me that the trust that Sir Simon and the LSO have for each other will allow for a collaborative effort. Much time is devoted to administration by Music Directors, and I don’t know what the mechanics have been for the LSO in directing themselves, but it seems to have worked. It is, perhaps, that the LSO feels that Rattle is not only someone they can trust, but someone who will continue the excellence that he has brought to every institution he has touched. If Rattle were, for example, a tyrant of the old style, then I’d say the LSO would never have come to such an agreement. But Rattle is an excellent Music Director, and this is a no problem situation.

  • John says:

    Naturally neither the LSO nor the BPO nor the VPO nor Mr Rattle nor Mr Thielemann nor anyone else who makes music consults Mr Lebrecht about anything. And why on earth should they? They all run their own ship, have the means to run it their own way, know what is and is not important, name droppers and gossip columnists be damned.

  • MacroV says:

    Do you have anything to back that up? First of all, the Berlin Phil audition process gives only one vote – equal to the 128 members – to the music director in auditions. So he’s not having much of a vote in the hiring. And as for the terminations/retirements, the orchestra decides on tenure (similar process, I believe), maybe with some nudging from the conductor but no absolute authority. Plus tenure. And with a pretty young pension age in Germany, a 65 retirement age, and some players simply opting for early job changes (teaching gigs, solo careers, etc.), the BPO has a fairly high turnover rate, at least compared to American orchestras. Even in the U.S., you can expect about 3 positions to change every year. Assume it’s 4 in Berlin and that would be 50 new players since Sir Simon took over under perfectly normal conditions. Are they far off from that?

  • Mark Barrett says:

    I echo the comments of, in particular, Dennis, above. While it is faintly amusing to see the more extreme ‘groupies’ and the carpers all nail their colours to the mast, the tittle-tattle over this appointment is already becoming irritating and, in many cases elsewhere, vituperative and offensive. Of course, such an appointment is going to provoke a great deal of healthy discussion and I would not expect everyone, including Norman of course, to toe the same line. After all, it does open up fascinating discussions about the future of and the potential for classical music in the capital and the country. (As opposed to armchair air baton wavers!) For my own humble self, while I would not necessarily express my reaction to Rattle’s appointment in quite the seismic terms expressed by Tom Service in The Guardian, I think we should warmly welcome this development and gauge its success by the results which, I have no doubt, will be challenging and exciting.

  • DM says:


    In modern parlance, the music director is responsible for every programme, every guest conductor, every artistic decision. He also has the power to hire and fire players. – See more at:

    In modern parlance by whose standard? Just because Rattle has been named Music Director of the LSO does not mean that he will have the same responsibilities as another Music Director in another organisation. In case Mr Lebrecht hasn’t noticed, it seems the LSO likes to do most things its own way (education, record label, etc.). I don’t imagine this will be any different.

    Once again, this all comes across as idle speculation and provocation for provocation’s sake. And the “Rattle-bashing” is already getting tedious and tiresome. Let’s hope it won’t continue with such regularity for the next 2 and a half years – I suspect the readership of this blog will drop dramatically if that’s all we’re going to get.

    Yes, we get it – you don’t like the man, for whatever reason. However, as he has pretty much single-handedly put classical music on the front pages of the news (especially the London Evening Standard) for the last 2 months, and moved the topics of a new concert hall and music education up the agenda with numerous politicians in that short space of time, such that a feasibility study into a new hall has just been announced (London has been crying out for one for ages, yet previously no one in government has responded), I would respectfully suggest that you might direct your venom elsewhere.

    Given the man’s track record and belief in music education, and that he has managed to inject the subject of classical music into the general public’s consciousness with his short time in the UK thus far in 2015, imagine what he might be able to achieve in 5 years. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is eager to see how he might help to bring impetus and direction to the overall classical music scene in its efforts to remain relevant to an increasingly fickle and uninterested population.

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Since the pudding is not yet served, we will have to wait for the eating, and once we have had a taste, we can pronounce first judgments. I would be most happy if Sir Simon succeeds in getting the much needed new hall built. That would certainly serve both the pudding and the eating well, I’d say.

  • Archaeopteryx says:

    I honestly don’t understand all the Rattle bashing here… what did he do wrong??

    • Kirk says:

      Rattle was exceptionally hyped, particularly in “Gramophone” (he has won more awards than all the previous generation put together), in his early days and perhaps still today so that there is bound to be a certain amount of backlash.

    • David says:

      Prehaps because he has the career…and they don’t.
      Malice and envy are two very plausible human failings.

  • Anon says:

    Music director is just a title. It’s all in the actual contract. It’s completely useless to get your pants in a twist about Rattle’s contract without actually knowing it.

  • Nick says:

    I certainly take some issue with this comment –

    “In modern parlance, the music director is responsible for every programme, every guest conductor, every artistic decision. He also has the power to hire and fire players”

    What’s in a name? As others have noted, it is not what those outside the orchestra think, what matters is the wording in the contract. I for one cannot believe the LSO will have given him a free hand in hiring musicians. No orchestra even in USA permits this. Equally, in my experience Music Directors rarely seek or have control over all programming. They will set the themes for each season and work with the Managing Director and the Artistic Administrator to determine how best this can be achieved. They will certainly finalise their own programmes but will generally let the others get on with fleshing out much of the detail of the rest.

    Thankfully the music world has changed since the days of absolute authority wielded by the Fritz Reiners of the music business.

  • Novagerio says:

    Thankfully the music world has changed since the days of absolute authority wielded by the Fritz Reiners of the music business.
    Well, I wouldn’t be so thankful. Who in this overmediatic and overpolarized world has the imagination, the phantasy and the general tools to redrill or even “improve” a world class orchestra the way a Reiner, a Szell, a Stokie or a Karajan could – especially now the recording industry is practically dead?…. Just wondering….

    • Robert says:

      Recording industry practically dead? Karajan a trainer? Try self-obsessed commercial ringmaster with not a chance today. ‘Just wondering’ if the writer is in touch with new release lists… Novagerio, you have a computer. Find Presto Classical’s monthly supply list — just one site, and they won’t be all by any means. Check the innumerable labels not in your world.