Simon Rattle: This is now normal. We will all be more local

The conductor took a train this week from Berlin to Munich for his first meeting with an orchestra since lockdown. The date was fixed in a matter of days – rather than the years it normally takes to set up a concert.

Among other things he says:

 I think a lot will change. I assume that intensive tours around the world will no longer be possible in the next five years. The London Symphony Orchestra should be on an incredible 99 days on tour next year. And I haven’t counted the national guest concerts yet. This is by no means sustainable, even if the orchestra can only survive in this way. In the long run, I don’t expect orchestras to continue flying around the world.

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  • I don’t agree. For awhile, touring will be difficult, but once it’s deemed safe to have 100 musicians on stage and 1000-2000 people in the audience, touring should be able to continue as it has in the past. The orchestras that can afford to tour and/or are in enough demand, will do so as they have in the past. Orchestras that can’t afford to tour, or aren’t in-demand, will not. Perhaps Mr. Rattle is trying to set the bar low in order to reduce expectations, but I do not see Coronavirus ending international touring for many years to come.

    • But it will probably become more expensive to fly musicians, instruments and audiences around the World if airlines are to survive.

      The lack of budget for orchestras could put the dampers on plans to tour.

  • Great he came by train to Munich!

    It’s far safer than driving a car. You can study scores or simply shut your eyes while en route.

    At last a sustainable conductor! Herzlich Willkommen!

    Quite different from the old Karajan jet-setting model.

      • Yes. And he had a backbone too. Pretty impressive run considering the fact that he wasn’t Austrian by ethnicity (he was Greek/Slovene).

        • From his paternal, Greek side, Herbert Ritter von Karajan was Austrian enough, I think: he had a title of nobility that went back five generations. His great-great-grandfather Georg Karajan (Geórgios Karayánnis), an ethnic Greek Ottoman citizen who moved from Kozani (now Greece) to Vienna in 1767 and acquired the title “von” in 1792.

          I am sure there are now many Greeks who recognize the name Herbert von Karajan without knowing of his distant Greek roots. The latter are probably better known in Kozani, which has a Von Karayanni street, also referred to as Von Karajan street!

    • Karajan was commuting between Salzburg and West Berlin. If he wanted to go by anything but airplane, he would have had to deal with East German border police every single time. Can’t blame him for not taking that risk.
      It was also a different time. Matter of fact was that in the 80s there was actually talk about a new ice age coming.
      Not a good subject to voice one’s resentments toward the old master.

      • I met thomas Brandeis and asked him who was the best conductor you
        Worked with in the BPO. He said karajan.

      • Good point about East German border police.

        You are downplaying ignorance about pollution in general and climate change in particular during Karajan’s days. My personal memories go back to the late 60s: “greenhouse effect” was a well known concept, and there were always concerns about pollution. Still, it is unfair to moralize about Karajan’s choices by today’s standards.

        On the other hand, in the 2000s Claudio Abbado bragged about his Toyota Prius and commuted to Lucerne by private jet…

  • It would be better if orchestras would become ‘more local’, that would be a return to the normal situation before air travel. The advantage is that orchestras become less interchangable.

    • It would be wonderful to see orchestras in Berlin serving their audience in Berlin, and those in London serving their audience in London. Perhaps they would even begin to sound different again. Everything is so interchangeable now. Is this a good thing? I don’t know

      • Musicians in the orchestras are from all over the world and are taught by musicians who have played and taught all over. The LSO will continue to hire musicians who have been trained in the US, Berlin and Japan. I don’t really see a future of “French” or “German” sounds, but it is an interesting thought. I know that I would miss touring orchestras terribly. Missed the LSO in May in NY and hoping they will be there next April.

        • I am interested in your analysis of various orchestras recruiting from around the world.
          My late wife was an experienced oboist and she believed that if there was anything which would distinguish an orchestra’s ‘sound/nationality it was the oboe sound. She was very good at identifying ensembles in this way until players began to move from one country/continent to another, at which point they (the orchestras) started to have the same ‘sound’.

      • It’s not a good thing, it’s blandess due to globalisation. The virus of streamlined production of war horses that infects many concert halls all over the world.

        • So we should get rid of the “war horses” and play pieces that are the sonic equivalents of random paint splatter over canvases because it’s the “right thing to do”?

      • A lot of American orchestras sound the same as other American orchestras, and likewise of French orchestras or German orchestras. But I would not say American orchestras sound the same as European orchestras. There are still big differences. I also think that orchestras sounding more similar is not really a result of touring. Rather, it’s a result more and more musicians studying and abroad and, perhaps even more important, internet technology (YouTube, etc.). Cutting out touring will not give orchestras any more or less individuality IMO.

        • Probably that is all true.

          But since group dynamics have their own momentum, it is possible that concentration on location will contribute to more character.

      • Dear Neil Pye,
        The LSO gives over 50 concerts in London every season. I would say that qualifies as serving our London audience, wouldn’t you ?

      • I don’t agree. Sure, there is some homogenization based on a number of factors, but I’ve heard a lot of orchestras over the years (upwards of 50, I think) all over the world. The Czech Philharmonic does not sound the same as the Montreal Symphony. Even in the I-95 corridor, the Baltimore Symphony does not sound like the National Symphony, and neither sounds like the Philadelphia Orchestra up the road. There are a lot of factors behind an orchestra’s sound and style – the local conservatory (for Philly or Cleveland), organizational culture and tradition (same), music director proclivities, etc..

  • It would be nice if he took the LSO to Leeds in the near future when we can gather again in the great Victoria Hall where Elgar conducted in 1917.

  • What a pessimist. Just wait until he’s touring all over again in 2022 and forgets this nonsense. The world is reopening and there will be a vaccine by 2021. All of these naysayers are only depressing the industry. Nonsense.

  • Coronavirus is only the latest pandemic, and the most disruptive since 1918-19, or possibly 1957 (which killed 116,000 people in the US, but which is largely forgotten). The issue is that the rate at which new zoonotic diseases crop up is likely to accelerate. Again, most of them will (let us hope) not be as infectious and as debilitating as SARS-CoV-2, but the interval between serious epidemics may well decrease, leading to more frequent disruptions of society, economics and the arts in the future.

    If we learn how to develop new vaccines more quickly, future disruptions might become less severe.

    • “If we learn how to develop new vaccines more quickly, future disruptions might become less severe.”

      Yes that’s possible and I hope correct.

      But unfortunately vaccines can cause viruses to mutate (which they do very quickly) with potentially dangerous results.

      I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t develop vaccines but I would be cautious about assuming we are safe at any particular time.

  • I thank my lucky stars that Rattle won’t be traveling.
    The unfortunate Englanders are stuck with him.

    • His 16-year tenure of the Berlin Philharmonic would tend to contradict your view, and suggest that London and the ‘Englanders’ are not so ‘unfortunate’ as perhaps you are!

      • Mr. Keith, I’ve heard a number of Rattle’s recordings with the BPO, and have compared them directly with those of the same works by Karajan and Furtwangler, with the same orchestra. The conclusion I drew was obvious. (You may be unaware that many members of the BPO also loathed Rattle.)
        I think I’ll just let my comment stand.
        BTW, my choice of the word “Englander” was intentional; it is the German word (get it? BPO allusion?) for “Englishman”.

    • In retrospect, do you really think that was worth posting, Mr Bottini? Surely it is reasonable to expect some justification for such an unpleasant snipe. I am all for well-thought-out severe criticism being valid, but not without something to back it up.

      • So, it’s “justification” you “expect”, Mr. PD?
        “Something to back it up”?
        I am simply gobsmacked.
        Let me ask YOU, Mr. (hiding behind the anonymous tag) PD, did you even take the time to read my reply to Mr. Keith? If not, let me cut-and-paste it for you:
        “I’ve heard a number of Rattle’s recordings with the BPO, and have compared them directly with those of the same works by Karajan and Furtwangler, with the same orchestra. The conclusion I drew was obvious. (You may be unaware that many members of the BPO also loathed Rattle.)”
        Contrary to your totally UNreasonable expectation, I am not in any way, shape, or form obliged to justify my opinions to you or anyone else.
        Who, may I ask, the hell do you think you are?

  • Looks like Sir Simon has had some work done…

    I don’t understand it – he can afford the best plastic surgeons in the world. When the work is obvious, the work is bad.

    Too fussy! Too much point-making! Rather like Rattle’s conducting, come to think of it!

  • I don’t think the germans need the great american orchestras to hear Brahms properly played… All these orchestral tourings are useless and bad for the climate.

    • Not properly played, perhaps, but useful for Europeans to have the Americans come over and show they can play their music. And, I wish, a bit more American music. Also useful for Europeans to hear orchestras from places like Baltimore, Pittsburgh, or even Salt Lake City and realize those bands can really play.

  • Karajan: You watch him, whilst he conducted with his eyes closed.

    Rattle: you listen to him, with your eyes closed

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