Rattle’s rants sound futile from afar

Rattle’s rants sound futile from afar


norman lebrecht

April 21, 2023

The conductor Sir Simon Rattle occupies page 3 of the Times today, attacking Arts Council England and the BBC for their anti-classical bias.

The thrust of his argument: “So many decisions seem to have been made by people who don’t have a clue how the classical music business works,” Rattle asserts. “So of course many of those decisions are starting to unravel — which may almost be a mercy.”

“It’s certainly strange,” Rattle says. “Nicholas Serota [ACE’s chairman] is an extremely intelligent and cultured person, but it’s very clear he has no idea how the music business operates. But what really puzzles people in the music sector is why we aren’t being consulted and asked for input.”

These barbs are as unfocussed as the anti-classical policies he deplores. Rattle has not lived in England this century. He is just giving up a fly-in post with the London Symphony Orchestra to devote the next stage of his life to Munich. He is a German citizen, with a German family, and it’s no surprise to read that his vision of Albion has become blurred by distance.

To deal briskly with his points. Serota is knowledgeable about music and does consult within the industry (though perhaps not with single-issue conductors). In any event, it is not the ACE chairman who makes the decisions or even the chief exec, Darren Henley, who is a lifelong classical freak. Recommendations come from grassroots boards and are passed upwards by activist executives in London. To reverse ACE policy, Serota and Henley would have to sack senior staff.

Much has changed in arts administration since Rattle last lived here. ACE is just another dumb state bureaucracy, not a nursemaid to the arts. Rattle has clearly not kept up with the pace, nor has his Times interviewer dared to challenge his views.

Rattle, 68, still cares about England but no longer knows where the levers of power lie, or whether a storm phoned in from Berlin will have any effect on the BBC weather forecast. The political lobbying that Rattle once conducted so successfully from Birmingham has lost its cutting edge – as he should have learned when his demand for a new concert hall in London fell on deaf ears. Rattle, sad to say, is a spent force in Britain. He needs now to turn his considerable intelligence and attention to the German future.

Read the Times interview for yourselves here.


  • Will says:

    Hmmm… zero comments so far, at 9.40 on 21/04/2023. Is S S R really and truly a spent force in the UK?

  • Tony Sanderson says:

    The Daily Telegraph have reprinted some of this interview, by permission presumably, acknowledging it comes from the Times. This helps to sound the alarm who are interested into the imminent danger to this art form.

    But it needs someone else to take this on. King Charles is a patron to two London Orchestras. Time to step up to the plate Your Majesty.

  • Gustavo says:

    Oh, these bloody Germans!

    However, I presume Sir Simon has dual nationality like many sensible Europeans, otherwhise it wouldn’t be Sir, would it.

  • Unvaccinated says:

    “It’s the bloody Tories!”

    Rattle’s big mistake was Berlin and now he’s made another mistake.

    I’ve said it all along, he should have gone to the New York Philharmonic.

    • trumpetherald says:

      He hasn´t conducted the NYPO in 30 years…The BRSO likes him,and he likes the BRSO….It´s a bunch off lovely people…The Czech PO also likes him very much..His concerts with those orchestras are often much more relaxed than some of his Berlin performances.

    • Bone says:

      I wouldn’t wish the NYPO on my worst enemy.
      Well, maybe Currentzis (haha)

  • Singeril says:

    So one has to actually live in a certain country in order to have knowledge of the country’s dealings and how things are done? One can’t have knowledge how arts organizations or even performing groups opera unless they are currently associated with them? Just trying to figure out what the ground rules are because this could be so limiting to many in the industry (including journalists and critics).

  • Andrew says:

    They sound more than futile, they sound self-serving. Rattle has been an unparalleled servant of classical music in this country in his CBSO days, but those days were long ago and it now seems more like classical music is the servant of Rattle. Much as I admire his music-making, firing barbs at the deeply flawed funding of classical music in the UK when he (a) hasn’t lived (or made a notable contribution to arts admin) here for a dog’s age and (b) has just given up his only UK-based role because sufficient money for a fabulous new concert hall wasn’t forthcoming in the midst of a cost of living/Brexit/Ukraine war crisis does make him seem a bit out of touch. Which rather helps the ACE argument, frankly.

    • Tim Walton says:

      Rattle is still listed as President of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, not that he’s set foot in the place for year’s!!!

  • Jonathan says:

    I think Rattle is bloody right and taking up the mantle as someone practically untouchable by being outspoken is just the thing to do in his position, anything less would be self-centred.

    I don’t get the comments saying he should keep out of British business – would you like it more if these cuts just went be without criticism by people the press actually listens to and whose words get printed prominently?

  • Patrick says:

    Rattle is right of course! Classical music in the UK has been taken over by stealth, in the form of Suits and Clipboard wielding people. The musicians are never consulted. Just because somebody has a huge CD collection/huge music lover/knows the Kochel numbers, DOESN’T HAVE A CLUE about walking onto a stage/studio and playing an instrument! Sadly, it’s prevalent nowadays, compared to twenty years ago. Failed musicians telling the successful ones what to do. Applause for Rattle…

  • samach says:

    The irony, the chutzpah, of it all, because Rattle embodies the very essence of “how the classical music business works”:

    1) You milk your native country for everything it’s go to build you career

    2) You abandon your home country and remake your life abroad where it’s more lucrative

    3) For good measure, you shit on your home country from abroad

    • Hacomblen says:

      2) you move abroad because it’s the only real option to continue your career, thanks to the bureaucrats/government strangling what’s left of the music industry.

      3)point out the truth, while glad still to have the opportunity to work somewhere where music is a real career option.

  • Maria says:

    We need people like Rattle to get rattled over classical music as he gets listened to, unlike the rest of us. He might now live in Germany, and have a convenient EU passport but he is still English, or at least British in character and English is his mother tongue. You don’t suddenly become German just because your home and family is there. Sitting in a garage doesn’t exactly make you into a car! The Arts Council of England need challenging, as well as the lack of serious music and singing missing in our state schools – other than pop songs sung in chest voice. He did an enormous amount for the inner cities and music when in Birmingham.

  • Harry Collier says:

    I am not a Rattle fan. But Berlin and Munich are only around 90 minutes flying time from England. It’s not as if he has emigrated to Australia or Fiji. So he has every right to voice his opinion.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    Rattle has always enjoyed a bit of controversy- he’s equally adept at this as he is with musicians on the podium. Of course- he’s quite right to lambast (and always was) the philistine nature of those making the decisions in the current UK Arts scene, particularly being the most charismatic & high profile English conductor of his generation. But to preach from his pulpit in Germany is rather hypocritical. As a millionaire pound a year maestro in Munich he could so easily have remained loyal to the LSO, rather than taking the money & running or go back to his routes with the CBSO (still the greatest success story of his career). You cannot have your cake and eat it Sir Simon.

    • samach says:

      “CBSO (still the greatest success story of his career)”

      I still can’t for my life figure out what it is that Berlin hoped to get out of Rattle by appointing him music director, and then half way through his tenure, when the local critics were already tired of his routine and went sour on him, still renewed his contract.

      Does anyone think that the Berlin Philharmonic and Simon Rattle were a “success story”? Or just maintaining the status quo, as in, it could’ve been worse with someone worse?

  • trumpetherald says:

    Simon is spot on.

  • Tamino says:

    The sad fact about this blog post is, that there are people in London who think Berlin is “afar” from London…

  • Hacomblen says:

    Not so much disloyalty as despondency at the lack of investment. He took the job on that basis and was probably lied to, although perhaps the funding was coming from the pots of gold in the sunlit uplands. Not unreasonable that he should walk away. Nor indeed that he should continue to fight, even if from elsewhere.

  • Barry says:

    I think criticising Rattle in strong terms is a little unfair but I doubt if his intervention will make any difference. Any comment by someone in his position will be dismissed as another whine from a “luvvie” (a sneer which stopped being witty a long time ago, if it ever was).

    The problem is that these issues are being ignored by mainstream channels and commentators because they are not seen as important compared with football, Kardashian gossip, or the latest Twitter storm-in-a-teacup. Classical music and, heaven forbid, opera, are simply not for “normal” people in the UK.

    Until this changes (teachers, BBC, and others please note), I fear it will only get worse.

  • Alistair Hinton says:

    They “sound futile from afar”? To whom? And how far is “afar” in this context? Would you prefer him to just put up and shut up in the face of what is so very obviously a crisis in UK music making? Good grief!

  • Corno di Caccia says:

    Of course Rattle is right. At least he has the guts to speak his mind and what he says is always very prophetic and precise. It’s worth remembering that the ‘bloody Tories’ made promises to him about building a much-needed new Concert hall in London – as well as Valery Gergiev before him when he was Chief Conductor of the LSO – and this turned out to be a total lie. Rattle spoke up about his fears for the future of musicians and the Arts in a post-pandemic world during the ghastly and cruel Lockdowns.
    Anybody with any sense can see that the new Wokist BBC are a disgrace in the way they treat Classical Music nowadays. Radio 3 has become so wishy-washy these days. Yet again the forthcoming Proms Season will consist of a few televised Concerts that will not even be broadcast Live but put out in neatly-packaged sterile portions presented by the resident array of glittering nobodies, whose corporate ignorance regarding the music on offer will be all too obvious. Rattle’s right on that issue.
    Why should he live in Britain? The country has gone to the Dogs now. An artistic backwater populated by ignoramuses who would rather watch Britain’s Got Talent than a concert of Classical music. This country doesn’t deserve him.

    • Adrienne says:

      A huge generalisation. You’re ignoring the fact that “traditional” TV viewing of the type you describe has been declining for years.

      “Deloitte Global predicts that, in the United Kingdom, 2022 will be the final year that traditional television from broadcasters, whether live, time-shifted, or on demand, collectively makes up more than 50% of video viewing on all screens.”

      And French TV in 2023 leaves much to be desired.