An alternative view of the Rattle opening

An alternative view of the Rattle opening


norman lebrecht

September 17, 2017

Fiona Maddocks of the Observer sat across the aisle from me, two rows back. We saw the same concert, heard the same notes, formed different opinions.

Fiona’s here:

Loud applause greeted Rattle at the start, a standing ovation at the end. He encouraged no gimmicks. A modest bow, a broad grin, then he raised his baton and got on with it. An all-British programme of quixotic and trepidatious variety launched This Is Rattle, an 11-day festival of 31 events celebrating his arrival. These include concerts programmed by composers to whom he has a particular loyalty….

This was a rigorous, uplifting kick-off for the LSO’s Rattle years, with all to play for.


Mine here.



  • harold braun says:

    She is right.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    The Guardian gave a good review too.

  • Garech de Brún says:

    Rattle, ugh not Knussen et al ugh! Gave it all a miss. Too busy at Bantry.

    I have been reading a translation of the Herzogenberg correspondence, between Brahms and Elisabeth and Heinrich von Herzogenberg, edited by Max Kalbeck 1909, translated by Hannah Bryant. In one letter, Brahms says that he feels like he is the “Last of the Mohicans”, in other words he is the last great composer of the century. I doubt he thought much of what the future had in store! He did not think very much of Mahler or Bruckner.

    On Saturday the 1910 Bösendorfer Imperial I bought at a London auction finally arrived from the restorer in Oxford, I must say they did a marvellous job. This Sunday afternoon, I played through all of Brahms op 118, Klavierstücke, my favourite being op 118 no 2. There is something very singular in these pieces, they have a real Autumnal Fin de Siècle feel about them. You can sense Brahms was reaching the end of what he wanted to say in these chamber pieces for piano.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    If you are eally interested read Jessica Duchene’s classical music blog for a balanced and informed view.

    • David Osborne says:

      Thank you, I took your advice. After waxing lyrical on all the works performed in this concert, Ms Duchene concludes in this way:

      “It’s also intriguing to think that while the idiom of this music was fully current by 1973, that was almost a half-century ago – yet the basic style of what’s thought of today as mainstream British modern music has not changed much. The finest voices within it are individual and distinctive, and produce occasional masterpieces. But now, one could reasonably contend, isn’t it time to move on?”

      Let’s be honest: 1. It was ‘fully current’ well before that, try 1950. 2. Nothing is a masterpiece until it captures the imagination of mainstream audiences. It took the Enigma Variations a lot less than half a century to do that. 3. As long as we continue to deify the likes of Simon Rattle who has been in control for much of this period of creative torpor, as long as there is no one prepared to challenge music’s idiotic top down structure, nothing will change.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I don’t think there is a Rattle control system in the music world, but there are a number of people, too lazy and too incompetent to think for their own, projecting their need of authority upon him. Conformity does the rest.

        With the other points, I can only agree.

        Meanwhile, there has appeared a much more interesting type of new British music, with roots in tonality and prewar artistic standards: David Matthews, James Francis Brown, Peter Fribbins, Sally Beamish and no doubt, a number of others. As long as uninformed and uninterested performers – basically, indifferent to developmens of the art form – simply fall back upon convention and ‘what people say’, i.e. merely lazy thinking and wrapping it in ‘explorative hype’, renewal of music will continue to happen outside of the central performance culture and unknown to audiences who thirst for something new that really enriches the repertoire. R’s choice of repertoire for this concert, which was supposed to be an introduction of a new era of music making, exposes the gap between what he thinks is contemporary music and what is really happening.

        • Campaign4RealMusic says:

          When we have the music of J S Bach, G F Handel and H. Purcell why on earth would we want to hear Beamish etc?

          • John Borstlap says:

            Because there is more than J.S. Bach, G.F. Handel and H. Purcell. Like there is more than an excellent Italian meal. There are also other excellent meals.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    Shall we all try & desist in this sanctification of Simon Rattle.

    He’s a very good conductor in some areas of the repertoire & uneven in others- like the rest of his ilk. He’s a very nice guy also who seems to have the respect of the musicians wherever he goes. His tenure in Berlin was not an unqualified success (even he’d probably admit- what can you do to make a Rolls Royce better?) but he did marvels with the CBSO turning them from a very moderate outfit into a world class ensemble.

    Neither is he really the home-grown saviour of the London orchestral scene as hyped. The Philharmonia & LPO do great concerts at the RFH. In truth- the LSO has always been an excellent orchestra but their relationship with Rattle could become a golden era.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Probably more like a thin silver lining of a hughe cloud of mediocrity.

      • Campaign4RealMusic says:

        Mediocrity sums up the last century 100% apart from Busoni.

        • marcus mauger says:

          think your medication is somewhat overdue.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, Mahler, Strauss, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Scriabine, Szymanowski, Hindemith, Britten, Shostakovich, Bartok? Mediocre? Busoni wrote a couple of really good things, but his output was minor in comparison with one single composer of these mentioned.

          But on the other hand, what has been presented of new music after WW II – presented as the ‘truly new’ and thus, ‘avantgarde’, was a break with the art form’s foundation. But many composers continued writing real music, but they were sidelined as ‘outdated’ and ‘not understanding modern times’. Since then, new music suffers from schizophrenia.

          The term ‘avantgarde’ is a military one, I think that says enough.

  • Saxon Broken says:

    Personally I am not too excited about Rattle. While he seems to have an interest in 20th century music, he has little feel for the core 19th century repertoire (at least that is how I respond to his performances). I find him fussy and mannered. Nevertheless, I can but admire the fact he seems to have enthused much of the London audience; and this must be a good thing.

    • John Borstlap says:

      “….. fussy and mannered” – correct. It is a character issue, he is much better at 20C music which does not require some depth of personality. But this is not his own, particular problem, it is a general problem of contemporary performers, developing in a world so different from the pre-1940 world, let alone the pre-1914 world. Technical abilities may have improved (although I have some doubts about that), but the personality problem rattles-on. Performers, like everybody else in the West, are drawn to the outside of things, to the noise of the modern world in which they need to survive. The time and silence required to let a musical work sink-in the subconsciousness and to emotionally identify completely with it, which is a precondition for a truly good performance, has become difficult to create. In a volatile market, performers battle for their career, which requires the opposite frame of mind. The result is a conflict between the type of life of the performer and the music he is supposed to share.

      “…. the repertoire of classical music has been created in a time and place where the rattling of passing carriages was the worst sonic distraction, where none of the raging noises of modernity could even be imagined”.

      • Mark Mortimer says:

        JB-Your point here is an excellent one- beautifully put which nobody else here seems capable of expressing. Simon Rattle is a hard- working, talented musician but part of a machine nonetheless. Classical Music is a dying art form. Hardly surprising considering the current state of humanity- in which most of us are just concerned with getting a bit of cash in the bank to keep us going & perhaps to support our families- understandably perhaps. Immersion in the Classics requires great quiet devotion & does not sit easily with the frenetic & frequently pointless nature of the world we live in. As you say.

        • David Osborne says:

          Mark, if classical music is dying it is mostly from self-inflicted wounds, but I prefer to believe that we have been through a period of decline, from which it is still possible to emerge.

          People do still find the time for culture of some sort in there lives. I was with a family last night, children aged 8, 11 and 14 who sat down together to watch the recent musical film ‘Beauty and the Beast’. They do this kind of thing regularly as do large segments of the population.

          Well crafted, but formulaic, predictable and totally uninspired music- do you think that people would not respond to something better if the classical music world was actually prepared to offer something created in our time that they can relate to?

          This brings me back to my comments on Rattle. When you have a field such as classical music that is structured so heavily top-down and the leadership fails, as it so manifestly has for the past at least two generations, nothing short of radical change can save you. But change, if you pardon the cliché, brings opportunity.

      • David Osborne says:

        That link takes us to some of your very best work John, I haven’t read it to the end yet so I won’t respond in any more detail yet.

        People on this site should read this, that especially includes the haters.