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Simon Rattle

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Simon Rattle

Sir Simon Rattle
Conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 2006
Born (1955-01-19) 19 January 1955
Liverpool, Lancashire, England, UK
Alma mater Royal Academy of Music, London
Occupation Conductor of classical music
(active 1970–present)
Known for Conductor of Berlin Philharmonic, and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Sir Simon Denis Rattle, OM CBE (born 19 January 1955), is an English conductor. He rose to international prominence during the 1980s and 1990s, while Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (1980-1998). He has been principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic since 2002, and plans to leave his position at the end of his current contract, in 2018. It was announced in March 2015 that Rattle would become Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra from September 2017.

Early life

Rattle was born in Liverpool, the son of Pauline Lila Violet (Greening) and Denis Guttridge Rattle, a Commander in the Royal Navy.[1] 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, University of London, in 1971. There, his teachers included John Carewe. In 1974, his graduation year, Rattle won the John Player International Conducting 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 Campbell-White, of Harold Holt Ltd (now Askonas Holt Ltd), who has since managed Rattle's career.[2] He spent the academic year 1980/81 at St Anne's College, Oxford studying English Language and Literature.[3] He had been attracted to the college by the reputation of Dorothy Bednarowska, Fellow and Tutor in English.[4] He was elected an Honorary Fellow of St Anne's in 1991.[5] He was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Music honoris causa of the University of Oxford in 1999.[6]

Early career and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

In 1974, he was made assistant conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. His first Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, conducting the London Sinfonietta, was, according to the BBC Proms Archive web-site, on 9 August 1976. The programme included Harrison Birtwistle's Meridian and Arnold Schoenberg's First Chamber Symphony. In 1977 he became 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, he conducted the OAE at Glyndebourne in their first production of Fidelio with a period-instrument orchestra.[7]

Rattle strongly supported 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 unsuccessful. The second, in 1998, did succeed and the record held at nearly 4,000 musicians[8] until it was broken in 2000 by a group in Vancouver.[9]

In May 2006 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Arts. In 2011, the Royal Academy of Music presented him with an Honorary Doctorate. He was appointed Member of the Order of Merit (OM) in the 2014 New Year Honours.[10]

Rattle conducted the London Symphony Orchestra at the Opening of the London Olympics 2012.

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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]

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,[14] together with the state funding of culture in the UK.[15]

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, after falling over the previous few years.[16] 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[17] 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.[18] He has also continued to champion contemporary music in Berlin.[19] The orchestra has established its first education department during Rattle's tenure.[20]

Criticism of Rattle's tenure with the Berlin Philharmonic began to appear after their first season together,[21] and continued in their second season.[22] Rattle himself stated in 2005 that his relationship with the BPO musicians could sometimes be "turbulent", but also "never destructively so".[23]

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.[24] One musician who wrote to the press to defend Rattle was the pianist Alfred Brendel.[25] In 2007, the BPO/Rattle recording of Brahms's Ein deutsches Requiem received the Classic FM Gramophone best choral disc award.[26]

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.[27] In January 2013, he announced that he will not extend his contract beyond the 2018 season.[28]

UNICEF appointed Rattle and the BPO as Goodwill Ambassadors in November 2007.[29] He is a patron of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.[30]

Conducting in the United States

Rattle made his North American debut in 1976, conducting the London Schools Symphony Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. He first conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic (LA Phil) in 1979 during the music directorship of Carlo Maria Giulini, and was their Principal Guest Conductor from 1981–1994.[31] 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 LA Phil in 1985.

In 2000, Rattle was the Music Director of the esteemed Ojai Music Festival.

In 1993, Rattle made his conducting debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra.[32] He returned for guest conducting engagements in 1999[33] and 2000.[34] 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.[35] However, Rattle continues to guest-conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra, including appearances in 2006[36] and the Philadelphia Orchestra's first performances of Robert Schumann's cantata Das Paradies und die Peri in November 2007.[37][38]

London Symphony Orchestra

It was revealed and confirmed in March 2015 that Rattle had accepted the post of Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), a position which he will take up in September 2017.[39][40]

Musical styles and recordings

Rattle has conducted a wide variety of music, including some with period instruments (either modern 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 Gustav 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 1996 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 Johannes Brahms's 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 Anton Bruckner's Fourth Symphony (Romantic), and Joseph Haydn's Symphonies Nos. 88, 89, 90, 91, 92 and Sinfonia Concertante.

Rattle's recording of Brahms's 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.[44] The government of France made him a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in 2010.

He was voted into the inaugural Gramophone Hall of Fame in 2012.[45]

Personal life

Rattle's first marriage was to Elise Ross, an American soprano, with whom he had two sons: Sacha, who is a clarinettist, and Eliot, who is a painter.[46] They were divorced in 1995 after 15 years of marriage. In 1996 he married his second wife,[47] Candace Allen, a Boston-born writer.[48] This second marriage ended in 2004, and in 2008 Rattle married the Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená.[49] The couple have two sons, Jonas (2005) and Milos (2008), and a daughter Anežka (June 2014).

Rattle is a member of the Incorporated Society of Musicians and a fan of Liverpool Football Club.[50]


  • Kenyon, Nicholas (1987), Simon Rattle: The Making of a Conductor, Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-14670-8.
  • Hartwig, Angela: Rattle at the Door - Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic 2002 to 2008, published by Evrei, 2009, ISBN 978-3-0002-8093-1 or: Kindle Edition by Amazon, ASIN: B00K001W6G



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  29. ^ UNICEF: UNICEF appoints Berliner Philharmoniker Goodwill Ambassador 17 November 2007.
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External links

  • Simon Rattle official website
  • Berliner Philharmoniker website
  • Simon Rattle Recordings on EMI Classics
  • Website of the film and education project "Rhythm is it!
  • The Planets microsite
  • Simon Rattle collected news and commentary at The New York Times
  • Works by or about Simon Rattle in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • , 19 June 2006.The GuardianPhillipa Ibbotson, "He won't play the game". Essay from
  • , 23 August 2006.La Scena MusicaleNorman Lebrecht, "Rattle has a battle on his hands".
  • The Observer, 31 August 2008Simon Rattle: bringing Berlin home to Liverpool,Ed Vulliamy,
  • Television Interview with Simon Rattle from C Music TV.
  • theartsdesk Q&A interview, 30 July 2010
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