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Classical music

Simon Rattle to conduct outreach with London orchestra

Simon Rattle, the future music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, has outreach in mind

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 March, 2015, 10:42pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 May, 2015, 11:26am

Simon Rattle has said his return to Britain as music director of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) is not dependent on a new concert hall being built in the capital. After a lengthy courtship, Rattle will take up his new role at the LSO in September 2017, after he completes his tenure in charge of the Berlin Philharmonic.

Rattle had made no secret of his belief that London lacked a truly world-class concert hall, and his appointment came just weeks after chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne commissioned a feasibility study, to be led by the National Theatre's departing director, Nicholas Hytner.

But was a new hall a pre-condition for him accepting the London job? "Honestly, no," says Rattle - although it would be "incredibly important not only for the orchestra but for the city and the country as a whole … to be able to bring a new vision to music, one that can include as many people as possible".

We have to be evangelists, not just high priests … We have to spread the word right across Britain
SIMON RATTLE

Rattle officially leaves Berlin, regarded by many as the finest orchestra in the world, in 2018. "Yes, I'm leaving a world-class orchestra. I'm coming to another very different type of world-class orchestra. Fortunately as a wine lover, there's not only one kind of wine you can drink," he says.

"There are a few great orchestras in the world, thank goodness. Although some people do put them in ranking order, it's not like a snooker match. Each orchestra has different things to offer. In some ways these two orchestras are as different as you can imagine."

Liverpool-born Rattle is following in the footsteps of such LSO principal conductors as André Previn, Michael Tilson Thomas, Colin Davis and the incumbent, Valery Gergiev, who leaves for Munich at the end of this year. Rattle will be the first LSO music director since Claudio Abbado in the 1980s.

The orchestra is resident in the Barbican Centre, which has a concert hall that Rattle previously called "serviceable".

Nevertheless, he says it's wonderful to be returning to Britain and vows to put education at the heart of his leadership at the LSO. "It feels like a group who will not put a ceiling on what they can achieve," he says.

"So many of the things I believe deeply in - including this idea of access for everybody, that education and growth should be at the centre of an orchestra - are exactly what the LSO have been doing.

"The idea of coming home, of actually having a position in this fantastic city which I've never had, is a thrill to me."

Rattle says part of his job will be getting the message across that "what goes on the primary school will be just as important as what goes on the concert hall".

The whole orchestra has to act as cheerleaders for classical music, he says. "One of the most extraordinary and all-encompassing forms of communication is music. It reaches places that all kinds of other things cannot reach. I'll put my cards on the table - I think it is our greatest language.

"We have to be evangelists, not just high priests. We can't expect people are going to come because it is here; we have to spread the word right across the country," the conductor says.

"It may not be for absolutely every person, but every person should have the possibility of experiencing it and seeing what it brings to their lives."

Rattle promises to exploit more vigorously the "extraordinarily vibrant composing scene" as well as looking further back. "I see absolutely no reason why [the LSO] should not be playing Rameau, Bach and Handel as well as Adès, Benjamin and Knussen and everything in between."

Rattle, 60, will keep his family home in Berlin, as his children are at school there. He calls London his "last big job" and one that will initially be a five-year contract.

Members of the Berlin Philharmonic will vote in May on Rattle's successor, with Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel favoured to take over.

Sarah Willis, a horn player with the Berlin Philharmonic, says she's excited for Britain, her home country, knowing that Rattle is going home. "I think it's amazing for London and the whole music scene in general.

"Simon is the most incredible musician and a wonderful boss. We still have him in Berlin for three years and for lots of guesting after that, so I am going to enjoy every minute we have with him!"

Rattle's relationship with the LSO stretches back to when he conducted there as a 22-year-old in 1977. Before taking charge in Berlin in 2002, he spent 18 years as principal conductor and then music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

Kathryn McDowell, managing director of the LSO, says "it's wonderful to be bringing Simon back to Britain. He shares our vision and our passion for music, and he is the embodiment of the 21st-century music director."

Violinist Lennox Mackenzie says he's thrilled at the appointment. "I find myself the chairman of an extremely happy orchestra. I am absolutely delighted to be able to welcome Simon on behalf of all the musicians."

Nicholas Kenyon, managing director of the Barbican Centre, says: "The presence of a world-class orchestra at the heart of this world-class arts centre, serving the widest range of audiences across London and beyond, has been an indispensable part of the Barbican's success.

"We look forward to a period of thrilling development as Simon Rattle takes the LSO to ever greater heights of musical achievement and service to the community."

The Guardian