Simon Rattle bids Berlin Philharmonic farewell as chief conductor


Simon Rattle has already started a new job as music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, but will continue to live in Berlin with his family.
Simon Rattle has already started a new job as music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, but will continue to live in Berlin with his family.PHOTO: NYTIMES

BERLIN (Reuters) - Simon Rattle conducted his final concert in charge of the Berlin Philharmonic on Sunday (June 24) after 16 years that have revamped the image of the prestigious orchestra.

Rattle was joined by his Czech-born wife, the mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena, in a programme at Berlin's wooded outdoor amphitheatre, the Waldbuehne, that included works by George Gershwin, Joseph Cantaloube, and Aram Khachaturian.

The day before, thousands of people had braved driving rain to attend a full dress rehearsal, instead of watching the German team play in the World Cup.

The British-born maestro, now 63, has already started a new job as music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, but will continue to live in Berlin with his family. His position at the Berlin Philharmonic will be filled by Russian-born conductor Kirill Petrenko next year.

The Berlin orchestra was "born in struggle and will always be in that state", Rattle said in an interview published on the Philharmonic's website.

He said the orchestra was unlike any other he had worked with, more like "an absolutely gigantic string quartet, with all the arguments and verbal violence and frustrations".

Even after a decade-and-a-half in charge, Rattle said it was still a mystery to him how the orchestra worked, but it had ultimately embraced more educational outreach, a wider repertoire and new programming.

In his first season, Rattle invited 250 Berlin schoolchildren from different backgrounds to dance Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring with the Philharmonic at Berlin's Treptow Arena. Such educational initiatives were not common at the time in Germany. It was tied to his vision for reaching out to communities that had previously had little to do with the orchestra, which some players feared was seen as a "chilly diva" by many in the vibrant city it served.

With live streaming and an appeal to students, the orchestra had shed its elite image and opened itself to be "more cosmopolitan and diverse", Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper said.

"The world has changed an enormous amount. And they are in an incredibly privileged position, whether they realise it or not. I think they are now more part of the beating heart of the city," Rattle said of the Philharmonic.

The conductor thanked "my wonderful orchestra" and "my dear Berlin public" at a performance on Wednesday at the orchestra's concert hall.

With 34 performances, Symphony No. 2 by Johannes Brahms was the most played work of Rattle's tenure, followed by Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which was performed 26 times.

During his years as conductor, 53 new musicians joined the orchestra, and it performed 40 world premieres.

The Berlin Philharmonic's debut appearance in Singapore in 2010, led by Rattle, set a new record for ticket prices for classical music concerts here, with top-tier seats selling at $680 each.

Additional reporting from NYTimes