Simon Rattle: Berlin Phil is Chateuneuf, LSO is Pinot Noir

Simon Rattle: Berlin Phil is Chateuneuf, LSO is Pinot Noir


norman lebrecht

April 06, 2015

The conductor appears to be suffering from advanced foot-in-mouth syndrome.

In one interview , he assesses his likely successors, in the next he downgrades his new orchestra against his old.

He also tells the FAZ how he will balance the 2017/18 season when he is music director in both London and Berlin.

Read here (auf Deutsch).

rattle waldbuhne


  • Max Grimm says:

    The Oxford Companion to Wine describes Pinot Noir as producing some of the finest wines in the world, but also as a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into wine…not all that far-fetched a comparison.

  • Ed says:

    Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He is right.

  • Halldor says:

    But he didn’t assess his likely successors, did he? He carefully avoided any meaningful comment.

  • Alexander says:

    I’m not sure what the problem is. My German could be at fault, but I don’t think it is. Sir Simon is asked why he is moving to the LSO rather than remaining with the better orchestra. He replies that there are not simply “better” orchestras and “worse”. Since Ms Büning is a wine-drinker he suggests that the Berlin Philharmonic is perhaps more like a Châteauneuf[-du-Pape], while the LSO is perhaps more like a Pinot noir. I’m not sure how felicitous the analogy is, since Châteauneuf-du-Pape is an appellation d’origine contrôlée, whereas Pinot noir is a grape variety. Perhaps the analogy would have read better if he had compared two AOCs or two grape varieties. However, I think the point was supposed to be that orchestras cannot be compared in overly simplistic terms of “better” and “worse”. The finest Châteauneuf-du-Pape is not any better than the finest Pinot noir: they are, rather, completely different.

    • rambonito says:

      It tells a lot about his knowledge about great wines and great orchestras. Not a surprise for someone telling the BPH is like a germanic truck

  • hyprocritesgalore says:

    Perhaps Berlin has had “eauneuf” of Sir Simon’s “Chât”…

  • Len says:

    Norman, a careful reading of the article indicates no such judgments as “downgrading” one and “elevating” the other. He is merely commenting on the relative strengths of each ensemble – true, Berlin occupies a special place in the orchestral world, but he also credits the LSO with being forward looking and eager to enter into new directions, and presumably, repertoire with him. Where is the downgrade in this assessment?

  • Marc-Antoine Hamet says:

    Viewed from Paris, one can wonder if Sir Simon has not committed a faux pas!
    Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a region specific wine, and one of the great wines of the world.
    Pinot Noir is a wine grape variety, that is grown in many places, from France to Chili, via New Zealand!
    So is the LSO, a symbol of the “international sound”, compared to the Berlin Philharmonic, a true connaisseur destination?

    • Simon S. says:

      Why not read it this way: Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a safe bet. Pinot Noir is a much higher risk, but if the pre-conditions allow for it and the work is done accordingly, it can also produce excellent results (just consider Burgundy). So maybe the comparison ins’t that bad.

  • Simon S. says:

    If you read the quote in its context, it looks rather like a diplomatic answer to an undiplomatic question. The interviewer states that BPhil is better than the LSO. What do you expect Rattle to answer? That this is not true, that the LSO is at least as good as the BPhil? Nobody would take this seriously.

    Here’s a translation. Apologies for the shortcomings:

    Question: Sir Simon, two years ago you spoke about retirement: “When I’m sixty-four.” Now you have announced that you will continue working. Without interruption [translator’s note: Anybody got a good and idimatic translation for “fliegender Wechsel”?] you will move from the Berlin Philharmonic to the London Symphony Orchestra. Why don’t you just stay with the better orchestra?

    Answer: But there isn’t just “better” and “worse”! Being a wine conoisseur, you should know that ther’s a lot of different qualities on the scale. Maybe the Berlin Philharmonic is rather like a Chateauneuf, and the LSO is rather like a Pinot Noir?

    Question: A culinary comparison?

    Answer: Let’s put it in a sports way: There is now other orchestra in the world which brings together so many astonishing characters as the Berlin Philharmonic. Everybody plays in a unique way. This is phantastic: The Philharmonic is the only All Stars team I know in the world of music. But even the All stars don’t win every match.

  • Mark Stratford says:

    I don’t think it’s ‘foot-in-mouth syndrome’ at all. Just a clever answer to a rather dumb question.

  • Alexander Hall says:

    After listening to Rattle spouting just over an hour of pure guff on Sibelius (available via the Digital Concert Hall), I would say that somebody should gently whisper into his ear that he ought to keep his mouth shut and refrain from all these preening, self-regarding comments. An old joke springs to mind: keeping silent and being thought a fool is considered to be a thousand times better than opening one’s mouth and removing all doubt.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The relationship between orchestras and conductors is too subjective in nature to pin down into ‘better’ and ‘worse’ orchestras. A great orchestra may be so stubborn and self-sufficient that a conductor feels restricted, where a ‘less good’ orchestra may offer stimulating challenges and get better in the process.

    Driving a fully-automated rolls royce may be somewhat less interesting after a while than a car in which you can drive yourself.

    One player to another on entering a rehearsel: ‘What is he doing today again?’ on which the other answers: ‘I don’t know what HE is doing but WE do Brahms two.’

  • Herrera says:

    Hmmm, neither orchestra is compared to the best of wines or grapes…

    Berlin is just a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but no Chateau Margaux or Chateau Lafite Rothschild, etc.

    LSO is just a pinot noir, but no Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, etc.

    Hmmm, does that reflect Rattle’s oenological tastes or his musical judgement of Berlin and LSO?

  • Herrera says:

    What Rattle means is that Berlin, like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, is a finished product, it has achieved a certain level and will always remain there, always tasting about the same, whereas the LSO, like the pinot noir grape, is the raw material, it can taste great, or not, depending on the master wine maker, and Rattle intends to be that wine maker who will crush the grape heads of the musicians at LSO and make pulp of them, and the halls of London will run with the wine-red blood of the musicians until the orchestra can finally be fully appreciated 20, 50, 100 years later…

    Or am I reading too much into it? ; )

  • Derek Castle says:

    Lordy me! Has anyone seen Rattle gurning in the ridiculously drawn out slow movement of the Pastoral? (Europa-Konzert 2013 in Prag) Toe-curlingly embarrassing. I’d love to know what his All Star Team really thinks.

  • MacroV says:

    Really, always the need to gin up controversy? I can’t read the original, but what’s wrong with Sir Simon saying simply that at a certain level, orchestras are close in quality but different? Yes, you can look at moving from Berlin to the LSO as a step down, but nearly anything other than a move to Chicago or the MET would probably be looked at as a step down. So he’s just going to do something different. End of story.

  • Mark Henriksen says:

    The enthrallment with Berlin, so common on this website, is not so common around the world. Orchestras like the NY Phil, Chicago, Cleveland, LSO, have a stylistic flexibility and clarity of sound and ensemble that I don’t always hear in Berlin. Their Mahler/Bruckner recordings are not even state of the art.

    • NYMike says:

      And don’t forget Amsterdam and Philadelphia, two ensembles with blend, intonation and virtuosity.

  • Peter says:

    Rattle’s only achievement is to make a dull machine with limited repertoire sound like a dull machine with a wider repertoire. The LSO is never dull, which has to make it an improvement on the Berliners. As for his Sibelius, help us all, and the audiences in London that went wild. OK Vanska or Berglund never recorded them with such a top name band as the Berliners, but their interpretations knock socks of Rattle any day.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    I never drink and never thought my choice would get in the way of understanding comments about music or musicians.

  • Henry says:

    Pinot Noir shelled is a key ingredient in Champagne… I’m happy with that for a start!

  • Jon H says:

    Time to break open the 1950s Philharmonia….

  • avi kujman says:

    could not we say that this blog appears to suffer greatly from an advanced anti-rattle syndrome?

  • Ben says:

    Don’t read too much into the wine comparison. This sentence says a thousand words: “The Philharmonic is the only All Stars team I know in the world of music. But even the All stars don’t win every match”

  • Tom says:

    Norman – I know you don’t like Simon Rattle, but this is just bonkers. If you could genuinely glean anything from this interview, it’s that Simon Rattle doesn’t know much about French wine classifications. That’s all.

    Perhaps you could save us all a lot of trouble by explaining just why you dislike the guy so much? Personally I don’t think he’s all he’s cracked up to be musically, but he does have his (very considerable) strengths. The degree of anti-Rattle material on this site has reached borderline deranged proportions. Maybe you could just set out your stall and leave it at that, eh?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      You know, do you? I have published plenty about Rattle over 30 years, much of it favourable.

      • Tom says:

        OK then – so why the apparently unending stream of anti-Rattle material which you have chosen to post in recent months? To any reasonable person this looks like a vendetta, the basis for which has never been made apparent.

        I note that you did not make any attempt to answer the question I actually asked; regardless of what you may have written about Rattle over the last thirty years, your recent postings suggest nothing other than a determination to criticise everything he says or does. So – is there any chance that you might perhaps explain what must therefore be a quite significant change of heart?