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Simon Rattle

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Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.

Sir Simon Denis Rattle, CBE, FRSA, (born 19 January 1955) is an English conductor. He rose to international prominence as conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and since 2002 has been principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic (BPO).

Early life

Rattle was born in Liverpool, the son of Pauline Lila Violet (Greening) and Denis Guttridge Rattle, a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves. He was educated at Liverpool College. Although Rattle studied piano and violin, his early work with orchestras was as a percussionist. He entered the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1971. There, his teachers included John Carewe. In 1974, his graduation year, Rattle won the John Player Conductor Competition. After organising and conducting a performance of Mahler's Second Symphony whilst still at the Academy, he was talent-spotted by the music agent Martin Campell-White, of Harold Holt Ltd. (now Askonas Holt Ltd.), who has since managed Rattle's career. He spent the academic year 1980/81 at St Anne's College, Oxford studying English Language and Literature. He had been attracted to the college by the reputation of Dorothy Bednarowska, Fellow and Tutor in English. He was elected an Honorary Fellow of St Anne's in 1991. He was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Music honoris causa of the University of Oxford in 1999.

UK career

In 1974, he was made assistant conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and in 1977 assistant conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

His time with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) from 1980 to 1998 drew him to the attention of critics and the public. In 1980, Simon Rattle became the CBSO's Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser, and in 1990, Music Director. Rattle increased both his profile and that of the orchestra over his tenure. One of his long-term concert projects was the series of concerts of 20th century music titled "Towards the Millennium". One other major achievement during his time was the move of the CBSO from its former venue, Birmingham Town Hall, to a newly built concert hall, Symphony Hall, in 1991. The BBC commissioned film director Jaine Green to follow him in his final year with the CBSO to make Simon Rattle—Moving On.

Rattle was awarded a CBE in 1987 and made a Knight Bachelor in 1994. In 1992, Rattle was named a Principal Guest Conductor of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE), along with Frans Brüggen. Rattle now has the title of Principal Artist with the OAE. In 2001, Rattle conducted the OAE at Glyndebourne in their first production of Fidelio with a period-instrument orchestra.

Rattle was very supportive of youth music. He led two attempts at gaining the record for the World's Largest Orchestra, both designed to raise awareness of youth music in schools. The first, in 1996, was unfortunately unsuccessful. The second, in 1998 did succeed and the record held at nearly 4000 musicians until it was broken in 2000 by a group in Vancouver.

In May 2006 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Arts.

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Rattle made his conducting debut with the Berlin Philharmonic (BPO) in 1987, in a performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 6. In 1999, Rattle was appointed as successor to Claudio Abbado as the orchestra's principal conductor. The appointment, decided on in a 23 June vote by the orchestra's members, was somewhat controversial, as several members of the orchestra were earlier reported to have preferred Daniel Barenboim for the post. Nevertheless, Rattle won the post and proceeded to win over his detractors by refusing to sign the contract until he had ensured that every member of the orchestra was paid fairly, and also that the orchestra would gain artistic independence from the Berlin Senate.

Before leaving for Germany and on his arrival, Rattle controversially attacked the British attitude to culture in general, and in particular the artists of the Britart movement, together with the state funding of culture in the UK.

Since his appointment, Rattle has reorganised the Berlin Philharmonic into a foundation, meaning its activities are more under the control of the members rather than politicians. He has also ensured that orchestra members' wages have increased quite dramatically, having fallen over the past few years. He gave his first concert as principal conductor of the BPO on 7 September 2002, leading performances of Thomas Adès' Asyla and Mahler's Symphony No. 5, performances which received rave reviews from the press worldwide and were recorded for CD and DVD release by EMI. Early collaborative projects in the Berlin community with Rattle and the BPO involved a choreographed performance of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring and a film project with Mark-Anthony Turnage's Blood on the Floor. He has also continued to champion contemporary music in Berlin. The orchestra has established its first education department during Rattle's tenure.

Criticism of Rattle's tenure with the Berlin Philharmonic began to appear after their first season together, and continued in their second season. The German critic Klaus Geitel was reported in 2004 to have described Rattle as "the weakest musical director of the Berlin Philharmonic he's ever seen". Rattle himself stated in 2005 that his relationship with the BPO musicians could sometimes be "turbulent", but also "never destructively so".

In 2006, a new controversy began in the German press as to the quality of Rattle's concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic, with criticism from the German critic Manuel Brug in Die Welt. One musician who wrote to the press to defend Rattle was the pianist Alfred Brendel. In 2007, the BPO/Rattle recording of Brahms's Ein deutsches Requiem received the Classic FM Gramophone best choral disc award.

Rattle was originally contracted to lead the BPO through 2012, but in April 2008 the BPO musicians voted to extend his contract as chief conductor for an additional ten years past the next season, to 2018.

UNICEF appointed Rattle and the BPO as Goodwill Ambassadors in November 2007.

Conducting in North America

Rattle made his North American debut in 1976, conducting the London Schools Symphony Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. He conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic (LAP) in 1979, and was their Principal Guest Conductor from 1981–1994. He also guest-conducted the Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and Boston Symphony Orchestra. His New York City debut was with the LAP in 1985.

In 1993, Rattle made his conducting debut with The Philadelphia Orchestra. He returned for guest conducting engagements in 1999 and 2000. The musical relationship between Rattle and The Philadelphia Orchestra was reported to be such that Philadelphia wanted to hire Rattle as its next music director after Wolfgang Sawallisch, but Rattle declined. However, Rattle continues to guest-conduct with The Philadelphia Orchestra in what is currently his sole North American guest-conducting engagement, including appearances in 2006 and the Philadelphia Orchestra's first performances of Robert Schumann's Das Paradies und die Peri in November 2007.

Musical styles and recordings

Rattle has conducted a wide variety of music, including some with period instruments (musical instruments whose design is similar to that of instruments commonly in use at the time the piece was composed - or the actual historical instrument itself), but he is best known for his interpretations of late-19th and early 20th century composers such as Mahler, with a recording of Mahler's Second Symphony winning several awards on its release and being regarded by some music critics as Rattle's finest recording to date. He has also championed much contemporary music, an example of this being the TV series Leaving Home, where he presents a 7-part survey of musical styles and conductors with excerpts recorded by the CBSO. His newest recordings with the Berlin orchestra (as of 2006) have, on the whole, been favourably received, notably his recordings of the Dvořák tone poems and Debussy's La Mer. The Gramophone Magazine praised the latter as a "magnificent disc" and drew favourable comparisons with interpretations of the piece by Rattle's immediate predecessors, Claudio Abbado and Herbert von Karajan. He has also worked with the Toronto Children's Chorus. Rattle and the BPO also recorded Holst's Planets (EMI), which was the BBC Music Magazine Orchestra Choice. In addition, Rattle's acclaimed complete 1989 recording of George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess was used as the soundtrack for the equally acclaimed 1993 television production of the work. It was the first made-for-television production of Porgy and Bess ever presented. Rattle's 2007 recording of Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem received praise from BBC Music Magazine, as "Disc of the Month" for April 2007, "as probably the best new version of the Requiem I've heard in quite some years." Rattle and the BPO have also released recordings of Bruckner's Fourth Symphony, Romantic, and Haydn's Symphonies Nos. 88-92 and Sinfonia concertante, and Mahler's Ninth Symphony.

Simon Rattle's recording of Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem with the BPO received the Choral Performance Grammy Award in 2008. He has won two other Grammy Awards, one Choral Performance Award for a recording of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms in 2007, and another for Best Orchestral Performance, for a recording of Mahler's unfinished Symphony No. 10 in 2000.

Personal life

Rattle's first marriage was to Elise Ross, an American soprano, with whom he had two sons; Sacha, who is a clarinetist, and Eliot. They were divorced in 1995 after 15 years of marriage. His second wife was Candace Allen, a Boston-born writer. This second marriage ended after Rattle and the Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená began a relationship. Kožená and Rattle have two sons, Jonas and Milos.

Rattle is a fan of Liverpool F.C.


  • Kleinert, Annemarie (2009). Music at its Best: The Berlin Philharmonic. From Karajan to Rattle. Norderstedt: BoD. ISBN  9783837063615.
  • Kenyon, Nicholas (1987) Simon Rattle: The Making of a Conductor. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0571146708.


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