Simon Rattle embraces Munich

Simon Rattle embraces Munich


norman lebrecht

December 01, 2020

Rumours are raging again that Sir Simon Rattle will  be named music director of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in succession to the late Mariss Jansons.

The orchestra’s management says there will be no statement on the vacancy before the new year, but it is widely suggested that Rattle has been offered the post and is weighing his options.

If he accepted the Munich offer, it would mean the end of his present job at the London Symphony Orchestra.

Doing nothing to dampen the rumours, Rattle has given this interview today to BR about maestros past and present:

BR-KLASSIK : When you think of Mariss Jansons, what do you miss most?

Sir Simon Rattle : When I think back to Mariss performances, I see the extraordinary pieces and composers, and then I keep realizing that Mariss found a way to disappear into the music. And by that I don’t mean that you couldn’t feel a personality – it was more like you could hear the character of the composer yourself. Mariss Jansons really served music. And the ego that every conductor has, dissolved in it.

BR-KLASSIK : Do you have an example of this?

Sir Simon Rattle : I remember a concert in Berlin where he conducted Brahms’ Second Symphony. After the first sentence I tapped his wonderful wife on the shoulder and say: “Irina, that was simply perfect.” And I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anything that I can say, without exception, was perfect. So maybe I miss this self-surrender and humility the most.

BR-KLASSIK : If you stand in front of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra yourself – have you ever thought: If he could watch me now, what would he do?

Sir Simon Rattle : No, luckily I didn’t have moments like that. But of course a chief conductor leaves his fingerprint on the orchestra. It was the same with Rafael Kubelik, who can still be felt. But they miss Mariss Jansons very much in Munich, which is hardly surprising, because it was really a symbiotic relationship.

BR-KLASSIK : How can you hear these fingerprints of the former conductors?

Sir Simon Rattle : Kubelik combined humanity and character in an extraordinary way, which you can still feel in the orchestra today. He formed the body of sound with his personality. What Mariss leaves behind is his incredible feeling for refinement and the unconditional focus on the beauty of a round sound. You can feel that in every moment, which is very moving. Then when I conduct the orchestra I can feel how my friend is among us.




  • AngloGerman says:

    Let us hope these are just rumours. He has ruined enough orchestras in Germany with his dreary conducting, and his LSO concerts pre-lockdown were awful.

  • I don’t see why it would be impossible for Rattle to be in the same year director at London and at the Rundkunf if he feels it’s possible. Mariss did that 15 years with the Rundkunf and the RCO. But if he leaves London it would be I suppose a reaction to the Brexit and to the fact that the Barbican will stay the house of the LSO during the 20 next years. But in going in Munich he will work at Gasteig a place maybe worst and not so popular… before the new concert hall

    • Dan says:

      The Gasteig will be under extreme renovation from next year onwards. Therefore the BRSO will mainly perform in Herkulessaal which has fine acoustics. Some concerts will probably also take place in the interims hall that is currently under construction from fall of 2021 on.

      • I dream to go the Herkulessaal when there’s on the Internet a concert of the two orchestras based in Munich I always hope that it would be at the Herkulessaal. But maybe it’s a little bit too small for some kind of shows like Eine Alpensinfonie… Concerning the Gasteig a very ugly building it’s stupid that they didn”t put some seats behind the orchestra like in Koln and like in the Gewandhaus the only masterpice made in DDR…

        • Petros Linardos says:

          The Gasteig Philharmonie does have some seats behind the orchestra, though not at the center. I once sat there at Munich Philharmonic concert, and regretted it: the acoustics favored the lower strings that were near me.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    I dislike of most interviews with conductors or soloists. Those who are really good usually don’t have anything to say, others have some kind of non-musical agenda that they want so much talk about, and just a few are or were genuinely entertaining for intelligent people. Rafael Kubelik finished his tenure as MD of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1979. Can one really say that his “fingerprints” can still be heard and felt?

    • Herkules says:

      Yes, those comments about Kubelík are nonsense. Perhaps he is trying to say ‘I’ll be bringing some of my own personality to each score, as RK did, so don’t expect another Mariss.’ Of course, the players know all this!

    • Don Ciccio says:

      Correct. I detect little of Kubelik’s warmth and enthusiasm (perhaps not the most correct words to describe his art, but I can’t find better ones for now) in today’s orchestra. It does sound like that well oiled German machine, and is just as cold in its perfection and facelessness – facelessness was definitely not the case when Kubelik lead.

      In fact I generally gather much more enjoyment from the Munich Philharmonic, especially when playing Bruckner. Not to mention the Staatskapelle Berlin (but not the Dresden Staatskapelle with its now karajanized sound that is favored by Thielemenn). Even though yes, the BRSO is technically better orchestra than any of these.

      • MezzoLover says:

        Facelessness? Not what I experienced when I last heard it live, in a May 2019 concert at the Gasteig Philharmonie with Herbert Blomstedt on the podium.

        The program included the achingly beautiful Intermezzo from Wilhelm Stenhammar’s symphonic cantata “Sången” and a perfectly executed “Scottish” symphony by Mendelssohn, a Blomstedt specialty. The BRSO’s playing throughout was phenomenal, with plenty of the “warmth” that is instantly recognizable from Kubelik’s many live recordings with the orchestra.

        So Rattle is right – and he might even choose to keep Kubelik’s fingerprint in place if/when he takes over the BRSO (even though his BPO tenure does not exactly inspire confidence).

    • Herr Doktor says:

      I had the same reaction, Pianofortissimo, when I heard Rattle blabber on about Kubelik’s “fingerprints” on the BRSO. His comments are as insightful and serious (cough cough) as his equally ridiculous comments critical of Karajan’s conducting and being “appalled” by the results Karajan achieved in Berlin with his eyes closed.

      With all due respect to Simon Rattle, who I respected as a conductor prior to his Berlin tenure, he would be best off to pontificate less and speak from the podium. I’ve heard greatness from Rattle with the BSO in Boston, and incompetence from Rattle during his Berlin tenure. Hopefully the greatness shows up in Munich. It sure didn’t in Berlin.

    • CarlD says:

      The Paavo Jarvi interview in the November issue of Gramophone was quite good, if you get a chance. He’s very open throughout and at one point names conductors whose work he does and doesn’t enjoy.

    • MacroV says:

      Of course you can. Years ago but probably still relevant today is Christoph von Dohnanyi’s comment when he was in Cleveland: “We do a good concert…and George Szell gets a great review.”

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Coming next: the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra leaving the concert hall dancing some kind of salsa.

  • Schoenberglover says:

    Rattle definitely isn’t the best conductor for the great romantic repertoire like Brahms, Mahler & Bruckner but he’s fantastic in Stravinsky, Janacek & other 20th / 21st century works he’s championed.
    He’s definitely done a lot of good to the LSO – their standards of playing have gone up significantly to when Gergiev used to phone into concerts & Rattle’s programming has always been innovative & exciting.
    It’ll be a massive shame if he left the LSO because of Brexit, Covid & the lack of a new concert hall…

    • Rattle arrived at a moment very difficult for the LSO after what we have to say the failure of Gergiev with the orchestra. But London didn’t give him what he wanted a new concert hall excellent like in Paris but bad surprises with the brexit and the Covid with the british politic to don’t protect the artists. The departure of Rattle will be a failure and shame for the Brtish cultural culture.

    • E says:

      having worked with gergiev i can confirm this. he literally answered his phone in rehearsals. it was ridiculous.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Not being the best in core German 19th century repertoire while excelling in 20th and 21st century music is said about other famous conductors too.

      Has anybody ever heard the reverse about anyone? Is there any conductor who excelled or excells in the 18th-19th century canon while falling short in more recent music?

      • Schoenberglover says:


        • Petros Linardos says:

          I am not so sure. To my knowledge Thielemann is not criticized for poor delivery of modern music, but for not conducting enough of it. After all, he has no shortage of detractors for his perfomances of romantic music, the focus of his repertoire.

  • Patrick says:

    Had the distinct impression that Rattle was committed to the LSO!

    • Alexander Hall says:

      If we accept the argument that it’s better post-Covid for conductors to stay in fewer places and not jet around the world so much, I fail to see why Rattle couldn’t remain at the LSO and take on the Bavarians as well. He would simply have far less time to do anything else.

  • A.L. says:

    If his disastrous new Die Walküre on cd with the BRSO is any indication, please don’t.

  • Ed says:

    Good for him. Not so good for the orchestra.

  • how lucky for Sir Simon. Munich is, next to Venice and Jerusalem, the most appealing city in the world for me.

  • QA says:

    My dream is that Rattle would be the new chief conductor of BRSO. They have a special chemistry and in my opinion – he would be the best possible successor of Jansons

  • Gustavo says:

    Let the post-Brexit appeasement politics begin!

    May I suggest Thielemann for London?

  • Allen says:

    Brexit Brexit Brexit – give it a rest. Arts people!

    Gloomy predictions of consequences immediately following the referendum have turned out to be baseless.

    Not many comments here about the attitude of the Visegrád Group towards the EU, I see.

    • Gustavo says:

      But the best is still to come.

      Gloomy Corona-Brexit interactions ahead.

      Pray for a rest, people!

    • Orchestral Player says:

      Allen ! Are you living on another planet or are you another denier of facts ? Brexit will cause an awful lot of harm to the Arts in the UK . Please get informed before you write more stupidities.

  • MacroV says:

    How could he not do both the LSO and the BRSO? Your whole site is devoted to raging about conductors having multiple jobs many kilometers apart. London and Munich (while living in Berlin) seems quite manageable.

  • sam says:

    Rattle is just playing both sides, using one to leverage a better deal for the other, and he’ll take whichever deal is best for him.

    But what can London realistically offer? There is no money for a hall, there is no money for a hall. There’s a lockdown, there’s a lockdown.

    His home is Germany, he’s a European.

  • Manu says:

    Talking of the BRSO not mentioning the Maszel years is quite frankly ignoring the most brilliant period of this great orchestra. At Maazel’s best years they were the best orchestra in Europe.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    This is SO the wrong move for Rattle. If he thought he was getting drubbed in Berlin, it’s nothing compared to the crucifixion he will get in Munich for not being Jansons. Rattle needs to stay in London where he can help British music get back on its feet. The obvious candidate for the BRSO is Harding, but he seems determined to shoot his career in the foot, but the Bavarian Radio Symphony needs to accept that the first few years will be lacking in relation to Jansons: if not Harding, then perhaps Vladimir Jurowski should have refused the Staatsoper so he could take this post, but if not Jurowski, then there are any number of worthy candidates who are younger than Rattle and underrated enough to stun everybody by rising to the challenge within a few seasons without expectations being too high in the meantime: Paavo Jarvi, Manfred Honeck, Markus Stenz, Andrey Boreyko, Stephane Deneve, Juanjo Mena, Omer Meir Wellber…. But Rattle is already thought of at this point as having an inflated reputation, and is too old to put a foot wrong without screwing up his legacy permanently. If he doesn’t deliver right away (and he won’t), he will be remembered for three disappointing music directorships after Birmingham, and eventually be run out of Munich just as he was out of Berlin.

    • MacroV says:

      “Run out of Berlin?” “Drubbed?” He was there for 16 years. By any standard that’s a highly successful run. Maybe they didn’t want to keep him longer but he didn’t start with a 16-year contract; clearly the players – who decide these things – renewed him a couple times. And he keeps coming back as a guest so it must not have ended too badly.

      BRSO is an orchestra that seems to hire Grand Old Men – Kubelik would have been about 15 when he started. Then Davis, Maazel, Jansons – all took the job in relatively late career. So Sir Simon taking over in his mid/late 60s makes sense.

      • Evan Tucker says:

        I’m generally a huge Rattle fan, but the amount of vitriol he got in Berlin, both in rehearsal and the press, was pretty breathtaking. I don’t even think Rattle deserves the vitriol he gets from Lebrecht. He dragged the Berlin Philharmonic kicking and screaming out of the 19th century, and the LSO is exactly where he needs to be at the moment, and he’s generally done wonderful work with them. But continuity doesn’t take care of itself, and whether he likes it or not, he’s the leader of British classical music for the whole world. If he’s not there to speak for them, if he’s not there to lead, funding becomes that much harder to come by. A critical mass of British musicians will find it that much harder to stay in the profession, orchestras well beyond the LSO will find it much harder to get funding, and Britain won’t recoup their losses whole generation or much longer. He needs to be all in for the British people who rose him so high and look to him for leadership or else he will be partially responsible for the profession’s decline. If he goes to Munich, that’s the move of the kind of musical playboy that Rattle always seemed like he wasn’t: the kind who asks what music can do for him before he asks what he can do for music – the kind of thing Maazel and Dutoit did, and just as they paid for their selfishness with drubbings from critics and musicians well beyond what Rattle’s gotten yet. I believe if he goes to Munich, that will change.

        Also, I’m sure you didn’t mean 15 but both Kubelik and Jochum were roughly 47 when they assumed the position in Munich, which is, i believe, the age both Rattle and Petrenko were when they took over Berlin. It’s an ideal age for a new music director – middle age with the energy of youth and the wisdom of seniority. It’s the current age of Currentzis, it would be the age of Harding if he took over in 2022, Roth, Deneve, V. Petrenko, all roughly the same age, enough time on their hands, and in their differing ways, skilled enough for a top job.

        My own choice to follow Jansons would be Paavo Jarvi, who is quite a bit older than they, but I suspect that the recent LSO concert with Jarvi was a quick fixup to see if Jarvi would be interested in case Rattle leaves London for Munich. As usual, nobody ends up with the right orchestra….

    • fflambeau says:

      I suspect Manfred Honeck will end up in Muti’s position and that is a much better one than this.

  • fflambeau says:

    I used to think he was all show but then I listened to some of his works; he’s talented. I can see him in Bavaria.

  • Novagerio says:

    And as soon as Rattle will conduct Bruckner with the BRSO, he will feel the ghost of Jochum (the founder of the BRSO) “tapping him gently” on the shoulder.

  • John Humphreys says:

    In Birmingham Rattle got the new hall he wanted and the city deserved and utterly transformed the fortunes of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Not a bad record. Oh, so fortunate to have lived through those glorious 18 years in Birmingham. Unforgettable days and, in truth his influence here is still felt.