Conducting star Simon Rattle going home to lead Britain's London Symphony Orchestra

Rattle conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in London, Britain. He is leaving the Berlin Philharmonic to lead the London Symphony Orchestra. -- PHOTO: EPA
Rattle conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in London, Britain. He is leaving the Berlin Philharmonic to lead the London Symphony Orchestra. -- PHOTO: EPA

LONDON (AFP) - One of classical music's biggest names, British conductor Simon Rattle, is going home to lead the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), he said on Tuesday, following news of his departure from the Berlin Philharmonic.

The shaggy-haired 60-year-old will become music director at the LSO in September 2017, succeeding Russia's Valery Gergiev, who is currently principal conductor.

Critics said the move would shake up the often stuffy world of classical music in Britain - and may even lead to the construction of a new concert hall in London.

During a critically acclaimed series of shows in the British capital with the Berlin Philharmonic last month, Rattle complained that it lacked a hall with acoustics good enough for world-class performances.

"You have no idea how great the London Symphony Orchestra can sound in a great concert hall," he told the BBC in an interview.

That prompted British finance minister George Osborne to launch a feasibility study into building a new venue which will issue its findings later this year.

The LSO is the resident orchestra at London's Barbican Centre, which Rattle described as merely "serviceable", while the capital also has a string of older venues such as the Royal Albert Hall, home of the annual Proms concert season.

Rattle stressed that his move was not dependent on London getting a new symphony hall at a press conference where his move was confirmed.

"The feasibility study has been announced which is a wonderful thing because what I wanted to do was at least be able to kickstart the conversation about the possibility of a change," he said. "We wait with real interest."

Rattle first performed with the LSO when he was 22 and conducted the orchestra at the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics, accompanied by comedian Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean on keyboards.

The LSO has an august pedigree, boasting figures such as Edward Elgar and Andre Previn as previous principal conductors. But critics are hopeful that his arrival could breathe new life into the often conservative world of orchestras and concert halls in Britain.

"Rattle's appointment is precisely the seismic, creative shock that classical music needs," wrote critic Tom Service in the Guardian. "His presence at the top of Britain's most acclaimed ensemble has the potential to be the catalyst for a revitalisation of classical music, from schools and music hubs to conservatoires and concert halls."

The conductor himself said he hoped to make the genre more accessible during his time at the LSO by creating a situation in which "performing, teaching and learning are indivisible".

"I cannot imagine a more inspiring way to spend my next years," he added in a statement.

His contract at the Berlin Philharmonic, where he has been chief conductor since 2002, ends in 2018, the year after he is due to move to London. The Liverpudlian intends to work with both orchestras during the overlapping year.