London gets absentee music director

London gets absentee music director


norman lebrecht

March 03, 2015

Simon Rattle signed on today as music director of the London Symphony Orchestra. He succeeds Valery Gergiev.

Rattle, 60, will work harder than Gergiev in rehearsal and will diversify the repertoire. He has launched a campaign for London to have a new concert hall. He has made clear, however, that he will continue to live with his family in Berlin.

More thoughts here on absenteeism and the LSO.

Press release follows.



The London Symphony Orchestra announced today the appointment of Sir Simon Rattle as its Music Director.

He will take up his appointment in September 2017, following in the footsteps of previous Principal Conductors including André Previn, Michael Tilson Thomas, Sir Colin Davis and Valery Gergiev. As Music Director he will be involved in every aspect of the LSO’s work as well as championing the importance of music and music education.

At the announcement of his appointment, Simon Rattle said: “During my work with the LSO over the last years, I noticed that despite the Orchestra’s long and illustrious history, they almost never refer to it. Instead, refreshingly, they talk about the future, what can they make anew, what can they improve, how can they reach further into the community. In terms of musical excellence, it is clear that the sky’s the limit, but equally important, in terms of philosophy, they constantly strive to be a twenty-first century orchestra. We share a dream in which performing, teaching and learning are indivisible, with wider dissemination of our art at its centre. I cannot imagine a better or more inspiring way to spend my next years, and feel immensely fortunate to have the LSO as my musical family and co-conspirators.”

Simon Rattle outlined his vision for universal access to music, with children and young people at its heart.  He called for new standards in making world-class music available to all. He stated his aim that every musician should be engaged in composing, improvising, mentoring and performing; that the creation of new music will be central to the process, working with leading composers and teachers; and that his appointment will generate new partnerships between London and the whole country to confirm the UK as a world leader in the arts.

Simon Rattle is currently Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Berliner Philharmoniker, where he was appointed in 2002. His first appearance with the London Symphony Orchestra was in October 1977, at the age of 22. He conducted the LSO at the opening ceremony of London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, memorably performing Chariots of Fire with Rowan Atkinson. Most recently, in January this year, he was acclaimed for his two concerts with the LSO of Schumann, Stravinsky, Webern, Berg and Ligeti at the Barbican Centre.

Lennox Mackenzie, Chairman of the LSO, said: “I am thrilled that Sir Simon Rattle has accepted our invitation to lead the Orchestra into the future. On behalf of our whole Orchestra, we welcome him as our Music Director at this hugely important moment in the LSO’s history. I would also like to offer the Orchestra’s sincere thanks to Valery Gergiev who has been the LSO’s Principal Conductor since 2007 and who steps down from his position at the end of this year.”

Kathryn McDowell, Managing Director of the LSO, said: “This is the realisation of a dream, to bring Simon Rattle back to his home country to lead the extraordinary musicians of the LSO. We look forward to a new chapter of ambitious music-making that reaches deep into the communities we serve and touches people’s lives with the power of music.”

Sir Nicholas Kenyon, Managing Director of the Barbican Centre, said: “We are delighted to welcome Sir Simon Rattle to the LSO, our resident orchestra since the Centre opened. The presence of a world-class orchestra at the heart of this world-class arts centre, serving the widest range of audiences across London and beyond, has been an indispensable part of the Barbican’s success. We look forward to a period of thrilling development as Simon Rattle takes the LSO to ever greater heights of musical achievement and service to the community.”

Professor Barry Ife, Principal of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, said: “Sir Simon Rattle’s commitment to the next generation of musicians and to music education is world renowned. His appointment as Music Director of the LSO is an exciting opportunity, particularly for the students of the Guildhall School who regularly perform alongside the LSO’s musicians.”



  • Cardiff Dave says:

    Didn’t see that coming 😉

  • Pete Parker says:

    a bit negative? I think this is one of the best things to happen to the Lonson orchestral scene in years…

  • MacroV says:

    That was about the worst-kept secret in the business.

    What I find a little surprising is that the Sir Simon of old seemed to hate the way orchestras work in London: Not enough rehearsal time, one-off performances, constant personnel turnover, uninterested audiences. The LSO is a great orchestra, but the environment is so different from what he had in Birmingham and Berlin. Well, I hope that he can change the LSO model more than it will change him.

  • Jenny B says:

    That is great news for the orchestra.

    I do hope that he will set something up like the Digital Concert Hall with the LSO.

    I like the dig at the Berliners, who I suppose are constantly harking back to their golden past.

    I bet he gets his new concert hall too!

  • Mark Stratford says:

    I think ‘absentee’ is a bit of a dramatic headline. Berlin is only a couple of hours away

    • John Borstlap says:

      Mentally and culturally it is a very long distance indeed.

    • John Kelly says:

      Fritz Reiner lived in Connecticut and commuted to Chicago. No-one called him an absentee…………….

    • Maria Brewin says:

      My thoughts exactly.

      Berlin is absent but, presumably, Manchester or Newcastle wouldn’t be?

    • herrera says:

      “Absentee” is correct. I agree with Mr. Lebrecht.

      If Rattle’s sole aim for the LSO were to parachute in every week to conduct, that’d be one thing, but it’s quite another when his aim is much more ambitious, to transform musical education in London, to build a concert hall. But his social and private lives will be centered in Berlin, and since he will no doubt continue conducting gigs with the BPO, so will his professional life. So what does that leave London?

      To compare Berlin to Connecticut, Manchester or Newcastle is ridiculous. Berlin is the cultural equivalent of a massive black hole, it is a powerful gravitational force that sucks you in. How can Rattle pull himself from the politics and culture of Berlin and devote 110% to London’s politics and culture?

      • DLowe says:

        Easily. He’s living there, not working there.

      • Kit says:

        Where is this gravitational black hole you speak of? I lived in Berlin for two years and never experienced anything of the kind.

        Also, when I lived in London, I flew out to visit my girlfriend in Berlin regularly – it was easier and more relaxing than my two hour-long daily commute.

        If I were Sir Simon, I would do exactly the same. Berlin is a very calm, livable city. London is a problematic one, expensive, draining, full of hassles. London will get a fresher musical leader for it.

  • DLowe says:

    I suppose it depends on how you define absentee. He’s said he’ll have a home in London. I suspect he’ll be around a lot more than Gergiev was. Perhaps non-dom might be a better term, Norman?

  • Malcolm James says:

    I imagine he will be able to get to London from Berlin in roughly the same time as it takes for a London-based conductor to get to Manchester or Cardiff.

  • Daniel says:

    Good news! His living arrangements shouldn’t matter. I don’t think Salonen or Jurowski have their main homes in London, nor Nelsons in Birmingham, nor Karabits in Bournemouth…

    • aimere46 says:

      Indeed, his living arrangements are none of our business and won’t have any impact on his work. Jansons has NEVER lived in Amsterdam or Munich (he didn’t have a flat there, always preferred to stay in hotels), still he has done a wonderful job in both cities.

  • Patrick says:

    Re: “every musician should be engaged in composing, improvising, mentoring and performing”: Improvising is returning as a standard tool in the ‘classical’ musicians toolbox?!? Really?? Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, all reported-to-be great improvisers, would be glad to here that (as am I).

  • John Chen says:

    The timing for Rattle to take over LSO in 2017 is odd, which means it will overlap with Rattle’s last year in BPO. Which one will be his part-time job in 2017? BPO or LSO? Or will Rattle simply leave BPO one year early?

  • Alan says:

    In any case, Rattle lived in London (Islington, I believe) while he was working with the CBSO. That didn’t limit his commitment to the orchestra or the city.

  • John Chen says:

    That means Rattle will take over LSO during his last year with BPO in 2017? That is odd. That makes me wonder which one will be his part-time job? Or will Rattle simply leave BPO one year earlier than expect?

  • Anon says:

    Another awful, dramatic, typical headline from Lebrecht. Don’t worry Norman, we all get it…you obviously don’t like Rattle or the appointment. Point made. Moving on now…

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    Whatever is the world coming to- Simon Rattle returning to London and Charles Dutoit to Montreal. In the music world the maxim ‘Never say never again’ holds true.

    The LSO is a good appointment for Simon- now in his late middle career. They are a very fine, virtuoso orchestra, but totally indistinguishable from the Chicago or Cleveland for example. The Berlin Phil they certainly ain’t however and he will no doubt miss that special magic, play as one quality of the Berliners.

  • herrera says:

    Idea: Rattle should relocate to NY and take over the NY Philharmonic too. He’d rule the Atlantic.

  • Robert Kenchington says:

    Surely this was the appointment Rattle should have had BEFORE the Berlin Philharmonic. How many times have London orchestras been stepping stones to European ensembles? (Karajan with the Philharmonia, Abbado with the LSO, etc.) It’s an odd development in Rattle’s career, especially as for years he bleated on about the problems of the London orchestral scene and once vowed never to conduct the LSO again. In some ways, I feel he’s on the backfoot here…time will tell. However, continuing to live in Berlin shouldn’t make much difference to his work with the LSO (Karajan stayed at the Kempinski for most of his 35 years with the BPO). I expect he may simply do what Klemperer did during his years with the Philharmonia, stay at the Hyde Park Hotel!

  • Brian b says:

    Does taxation enter into Rattle’s decision to continue to live in Berlin? I’d really like to know. The reason I ask is because I’m reminded that Britain deprived itself of Beecham’s presence for half of each year because of onerous taxation–and that was in the 1950s! But I’ve no idea what the situation is today.