British music has just lost its most effective voice

British music has just lost its most effective voice


norman lebrecht

January 15, 2021

He has been, for three decades and more, the most successful champion of orchestral music and opera at the summits of politics and media. He was the only conductor most politicians had heard of. Whenever a voice was needed to champion a musical cause, Simon Rattle would get on the phone to Whitehall or sign a letter to the Times and the wheels of redress would start rolling.

He was effective because he was fresh-faced, intelligent, committed to regional issues in an authentic regional accent, charming, persuasive and, above all, one of us. Simon Rattle was British to the roots of his mop of white hair.

No longer.

This week, he left his London orchestra for one in Munich. Today, he became a German citizen.

Like many others, he has been pushed by Brexit into getting a second passport, as is only sensible for a widely-travelled person.

But as a German citizen who lives in Germany and works for a German company he can no longer speak truth to power in Britain.

He can try, of course, but won’t work as it did in the past. They’ll just bat him off with: it’s not your problem, son. You’re a German, now. And he’ll have no comeback to that.

The loss to British music is considerable. Just how great we will see in the coming year as UK musicians struggle for lost rights to perform freely in Europe and London orchestras hit the insolvency buffers.  Sir Simon Rattle, once their knight, now has other priorities, other loyalties. He’s a German Burger now.




  • Rogerio says:

    First David Beckham and … uh … Beckham Spice.
    Now this.
    And, in a few years, all the population of Scotland.
    How much can one Kingdom take?

    • It remind me the 70’s when almost all the Bristish artists were living outside of UK because of the taxman we know in the Beatles song…

    • fflambeau says:

      Yup. Scotland will soon be leaving too. That means a flag change, by the way. Ireland will follow.

      • Iain says:

        “Scotland will soon be leaving too.”

        No it won’t. Do you have any concept of what would be involved? There would be a mass exodus of productive Scottish people to avoid punitive taxation and counties in the N of England would be the main beneficiaries.

  • “for three decades and more the most successful champion of orchestral music and opera ” you exagerate Norman. Rattle is a great artist but he never had the place Abbado had in the 80’s and the 90’s and Chailly has since the begining of the century in the two parts. Anyway it’s very sad for the LSO and the Bristishes who like opera and classical this situation of the LSO and the oher isntitution now.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      I am writing specifically about the UK.

      • Ok Norman no problem! We are agree.

      • Orchestral Player says:

        Norman, Simon did not leave the LSO this week as you well know. He will step down as Music Director in summer 2023 and will carry on working with the LSO as Conductor Emeritus , undertaking a substantial number of weeks every year.
        Never mind what spin you want to put on this, Simon will remain committed to the LSO, much as Colin Davis did long after he was no longer Principal Conductor.
        Unlike a certain Russian maestro ……

      • The Ghost of Karlos Cleiber says:

        For once I am in absolute agreement with every word you write in this piece.

        It says much for the scale of what Brexit is going to (or rather has started to) do to many industries in the UK requiring international input that someone even of Rattle’s level of influence in his sphere has effectively had no choice but to throw in the towel.

        If he’s doing it, you can bet your life that other leaders in other fields, perhaps more under the radar, will be doing the same.

        It’s going to do immeasurable harm to the UK (soon to be the K, when Scotland very wisely jumps ship). And all to enable a small number of people, already rich beyond the dreams of avarice, to make yet more money by short-selling British business and then snapping up distressed assets as those businesses go to the wall.

    • Maria says:

      It is what Simon Rattle did behind the scenes in inner city Birmingham and then in London that was also of vital importance He took the snobbery out of it all for kids, making it all accessible, and Knighted or not, never let it go to his head.
      and wasn’t just there conducting big orchestras. It is a big loss for England.

      • Iain says:

        So far as I’m aware, all UK orchestras have outreach programmes, including the LSO at St Luke’s, started long before Rattle’s return.

        It’s the inverted snobbery that needs attention in the UK, not the conventional kind.

  • Allen says:

    For Heaven’s sake give it a rest. He was away for 16 years and came back AFTER the Brexit vote. He’ll be nearly 70 when he moves back to Germany where his family is.

    He never won the widespread acclaim that Previn did, although much of the blame for that must be laid at the door of the BBC.

  • Mark (London) says:

    “authentic regional accent, charming, persuasive and, above all, one of us.”. What utter nonsense rather overplayed your Rattle fawning Mr Lebrecht!

  • Rob says:

    I feel sorry for the BRSO.

  • M McAlpine says:

    I would have thought that this is quite logical as his family live in Germany and he has a job there

  • Dennis says:

    Amazing the way people act as if orchestras never toured, musicians never performed abroad, or that those who did so had immense and innordinate difficulty traveling and working before the UK joined the EU. I guess orchestras and musicians from other places than the UK outside of the EU must never travel and work within the EU either, eh? That never happens, since there are invincible walls between the EU and overseas orchestras and musicians of all kinds, right? And don’t forget also that the EU is not synonymous or coterminous with “Europe” as such.

    If anything is likely to kill UK orchestras and musicians ability to tour, it’s the ongoing Covid paranoia and insanity, not lack of EU membership.

  • Anonymous says:

    Sir Simon giving two fingers to the UK. What a delightful man.

  • Eduardo says:

    why do you say that he was pushed by Brexit to get a second passport? I am married to a german and get to come and go without problem without having a german passport… it is a simple administrative process which takes no time at all. Please do not bring Brexit into it, he is an ambitious person who does not care a fig about people or institutions unless they favour him. OK?

  • IC225 says:

    If he’s effectively resident in Germany – as he has been for at least 15 years – dual nationality makes sense; there are doubtless tax benefits as well.

    However I suspect he lost much of his credibility in the corridors of power after he publicly misrepresented a private meeting with a government minister (who was obliged to issue a rebuttal) last year. Not a great moment either for his reputation, or that of the sector. Prior to that, he wasn’t so much an effective spokesman, as literally the only classical conductor most non-specialist UK journalists could name. Certainly, all his supposed clout wasn’t sufficient to get London any closer to the adequate concert hall it so badly needs: certainly not against a chorus of mixed messages from the rest of the sector, and sniping about “vanity projects” from journalists who should know – in fact, do know – a lot better. Well done everyone!

  • MacroV says:

    Sir Simon got German citizenship so he could work and more easily move around the EU. And because he has lived there primarily for the past 20 years and will for the foreseeable future.

    But lots of British performers have multiple passports – among John Oliver, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Ricky Gervais, and countless others, I suspect most also are U.S. citizens now – for convenience or tax purposes, but loved no less in their native land.

    I never saw his move to the LSO as a good one; fine orchestra that it is, their business model just seems to be the opposite of the way he has always preferred to work. In Berlin he had an amazing situation – great orchestra, great hall, an innovative corporate culture, and a country that loves music. He won’t have all of that at the BRSO, but he’s entering the Elder Statesman part of his career and their way of working is probably a good fit now.

    • Bill says:

      No one with a brain becomes a US citizen for tax purposes! US taxes you on worldwide income, a practice which is about as unique as its refusal to use the metric system.

  • microview says:

    There’s only so many pictures of Simon Rattle we can take in one week at Slipped Disc.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    He hasn’t left the LSO yet; he has two more years as music director, and the promise of a continuing relationship thereafter. And with two passports, is he not a dual citizen? And with his cultural standing in Britain, could he not continue to champion the musical arts effectively?

  • Colin says:

    “This week, he left his London orchestra for one in Munich.”

    Your previous article on this subject said that he will remain with the LSO until 2023. Please resolve these conflicting statements.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    Danny H. needs to get off that plane and step up….

  • Opera lover says:

    Does that mean we need to listen to more Pappano! Good God!

    • Tristan says:

      He is definitely much better with opera – all this nonsense with Rattle who is so overrated

      • MacroV says:

        Yes, what are these world-leading orchestras like the Berlin Phil, the LSO, and now the BRSO thinking? And opera houses like the Berlin Staatsoper, the Weiner Staatsoper, Covent Garden, and the MET. Not to mention every other orchestra in the world that would kill to have him guest-conduct.

        • BruceB says:

          Clearly none of them have the discernment, insight, or fineness of perception that is Tristan’s.

          If only these leading orchestras of the world had any idea what good conducting was… sigh.

  • Hmus says:

    Musically speaking, Rattle’s mind&heart was always in Germany. I personally begged him, twice, in person and face-to-face, to bring a Vaughan Williams symphony to Philadelphia, but he brought us nothing but Mahler – coals to Newcastle here if ever there were. As an outsider in this affair therefore, it seems far less a loss to “British music,” than to “standard-repertoire music performance within Britain in a general sense.”

  • Harald says:

    Why so dramatic….
    If Rattle feels more senang in Munich…so be it…
    Thats life and thats the music-business.
    And when he chooses for a second passport is his good right.
    The LSO will survive as it always did .

  • Fernandel says:

    A step Rattle made as a last resort.

  • Elizabeth Lloyd-Davies says:

    Simon has been in Berlin for nearly twenty years and conducted the VPO whever they would have him…..he will earn more with the Bayerischer Rundfunk and his 3rd wife won’t live in London..maybe the tax situation is easier if he becomes German…….his decision to leave the LSO gives someone else the opportunity to sort out the problems
    ‘After Covid’ !
    Lets hope the hassle of a new concert hall will die a natural death.

  • Douglas says:

    I find that over many years I have attended more performances by – and have more recordings by – Sir Mark Elder than by Sir Simon Rattle.

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    Mr. Lebrecht writes: “Sir Simon Rattle, once their knight, now has other priorities, other loyalties.”

    On the subject of such loyalties, an author who spent a lifetime reflecting on them wrote as long ago as 1974:

    »He saw with painful clarity an ambitious man born to the big canvas, brought up to rule, divide and conquer, whose visions and vanities all were fixed, like Percy’s, upon the world’s game; for whom the reality was a poor island with scarcely a voice that would carry across the water. Thus Smiley felt not only disgust, but, despite all that the moment meant to him, a surge of resentment against the institutions he was supposed to be protecting: “The social contract cuts both ways, you know,” said Lacon. The Minister’s lolling mendacity, Lacon’s tight-lipped moral complacency, the bludgeoning greed of Percy Alleline: such men invalidated any contract — why should anyone be loyal to them?«
    ———John le Carré, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, 1974

    The Minister’s lolling mendacity, a mandarin’s tight-lipped moral complacency, the bludgeoning greed of another: Le Carré describes Britain’s, or should I say Little England’s, ruling class. Loyalty to that bunch is unwarranted; moral reproach, from that corner, has no standing. Simon Rattle did the right thing: he behaved responsibly towards those to whom his responsibility is due.

  • Paul C says:

    Not sure I agree with all of these superlatives. As far as I can tell he is a fine interpreter of the likes of “Gruppen” and the masterworks of Turnage (though how would anyone tell if he wasn’t?). Although he claims to love Haydn, I think his John Williams is much better than his Haydn.

  • fflambeau says:

    This was written by a provinicial: “He can try, of course, but won’t work as it did in the past. They’ll just bat him off with: it’s not your problem, son. You’re a German, now. And he’ll have no comeback to that.”

    Wrong. He will be hugely influential and Germans will listen to him more than they did before.

  • AllesMahler says:

    Most musicians in the UK see themselves as European citizen – and many have a British & a EU passport. What’s the problem?

  • Gustavo says:

    Rattle in the Rathaus

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Good grief, you’d think he’s getting on Elon Musk’s rocket and taking a one way trip to Zeta Reticula, or something. England will survive – it always does. Just relax.

  • He has not given up his UK citizenship, has he? If not, he can still speak truth to power. Also, he could have kept his new citizenship quiet.

  • CJ says:

    IMHO, the guilt of the Brexit lies mainly on the British press, even the so-called serious one (e.g. The Daily Telegraph and its anti-European columns by Boris Johnson), who has been publishing, day after day, for years, flat lies on the European Union, with false numbers. (You would call them fake news nowadays). Every time I was in Britain, I couldn’t believe what I was reading.
    Alas, too many people believed those lies.
    And now, it’s a lose-lose situation, a great pity for everyone, UK and EU (and musicians).

    • Iain says:

      And were people in Ireland, Denmark, France and the Netherlands fed “fake news” when they voted the “wrong” way and were, in the case of Ireland and Denmark, asked to vote again?

      And Norway, of course, rejected the EU twice – 1972 and 1994. A result of Norwegian “fake news”, presumably?

  • pianoguy says:

    Agreed, Rattle has shot his bolt in the UK, with no recourse. His disregard for the country that gave him every early opportunity and helped him get where he is today is astounding, if hardly surprising. From a mediocre percussionist to the world. He’s always played both sides off against one another and, rather like Boris, made decisions based on what he believes will benefit him most personally. An honest expose of Rattle for what he really is needs to be made public – the evidence is out there if one looks for it, and has been for many years. The trouble is that no one, including Norman, has the guts to write it.

    • Dave Payn says:

      It’s a bit pointless talking about having the guts to write stuff when you publish this under an alias….

    • MacroV says:

      You’re sounding like a soon-to-be-former head of state talking about the search for Obama’s birth certificate: “I’ve got people looking into this; they can’t believe what they’re finding…”

  • sam says:

    “the most successful champion of orchestral music and opera”

    You mean the most successful champion of himself, with orchestral music and opera as a byproduct of his self promotion.

    Was his loyalty ever to country? Even his much ballyhooed ejection from Berlin to London was a face-saving move: he had to land somewhere, and “home” in order to “build a concert hall” was a plausible fig leave for essentially being homeless until he got a better job, and a better job.

    And once again, “home” in order to “build a concert hall” is again offered as a reason.

    “Home” is a very relative, very flexible term for Sir Simon Herr Rattle.

    • MacroV says:

      He wasn’t “ejected” from Berlin. He left after a very successful 16-year tenure. And could have gone anywhere from there. There’s not an orchestra or opera house in the world that wouldn’t sell their first-born to book him.

  • John Nelson says:

    As a Brit-Finn, following the Brexit agreement (or is it dis-agreement) the UK policies related to musicians will result in the UK moving down into the 2ns tier in the arts field!! Sorry Boris you got that wrong as well!!!

  • Micaelo Cassetti says:

    To use a Viennese phrase, So angstlich bin ich nichts!

  • Peter says:

    You may mourn Brexit all you want. It’s better for the country—independence always is.

    Rattle is bailing out of self-interest. I don’t blame him, but he is NOT looking out for his home land.

    • fflambeau says:

      Peter, you will see far more terrible results of Brexit. Like the banks leaving London with their high paying jobs and relocating in Belgium, Germany and yes, France. Like Scotland breaking away and becoming independent. After all, “independence always is” better. But maybe you can help design a new flag?

  • christopher storey says:

    Good Riddance. I just hope he surrenders his British Passport

  • Ed says:

    I´m waiting for an article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung: Meine wahre Meinung zur englischen Musik.

  • Skippy says:

    Oh, who cares.

    I’m so tired of conductor worship. It’s the instrumentalists do the real work.

    Put a metronome on the podium and call it day.

  • Sheila Lupton. says:

    He will always be a Liverpudlian at heart,