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Why Simon Rattle decided to leave Berlin

A rebellion had been simmering for months. Leading a great orchestra rarely commands unanimous support and the Berlin Philharmonic are a notably murmurous group, seldom united for long behind one baton – as Claudio Abbado discovered to his dismay in the 1990s.

Mutterings of discontent with Rattle’s leadership began with a couple of section principals who said they were reconsidering their position in 2013*. Others chimed in. Senior orchestra members looked around and saw they were losing ground to their rivals – most rapidly to Dresden where Christian Thielemann is taking the cream of DG recordings that used to be Berlin’s by right. (Rattle’s recording relationship is with dormant EMI Classics.)

batiashvili dg

Thielemann is also selling faster in the Salzburg Easter Festival, which the Berlin Philharmonic rashly vacated for a quick-cash move to Baden-Baden. He outshines the Berliners on New Year’s Eve TV. Barenboim at the Berlin Opera carries more political weight. Chailly in Leipzig and Jansons in Munich are claiming turf that used to be Berlin’s.

The best way for Berlin to recapture its primacy was to make changes at the top. No-one had openly made that suggestion, but it was clear that the discontent could only grow in the months ahead. Rattle, reading the writing on the wall, made a pre-emptive announcement today that portrays his departure as reasoned and well-planned. The initiative is back in his hands. He can look strong and determined during the time that he works out his long notice and arranges how own future.

From the tone of their response, it looks like he caught  the orchestras two commercial chairmen on the hop and sent them rushing to a smoke-free room to discuss the future. Their next move take prolonged deliberation.

simon rattle1


* In an earlier version of this post, we suggested that players’ contracts were up for renewal. This was based on a hasty mistranslation of a German message. We have corrected it in the present version. Apologies for any misapprehension.

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  1. Who will then be the next great leader of this most distinguished of orchestras? Barenboim? I think that would be very wise, as he is a Furtwänglerian conductor. Thielemann? Yes, for he is so brilliant and talented–and a Karajan protègé. For me, these two men are the best choices. (Maazel would be my other, despite his age of 83 years. He is the real “Grand Old Man of Music.”)

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      I think it might be someone between 45 and 55 and the list is long. Andris Nelsons would have my vote in that age group. The “Dude” would be 37 then, but I just don’t see that as match with the Berlin Phil. Thielemann certainly appears to be the insider favorite and he will be 59 then, hardly over the hill. I’m sure they will muddle through somehow.

    • Novagerio says:

      It already says between the lines: If the Berliners want their DGG contract back than means that they are going for Thielemann who by 2018 already will be 59.

      • Lord Montague says:

        DGG of 2018 is not DGG of 1988. DGG contract is less relevant, classical sales of *current* productions not adding much to the revenue of the BPO players. DGG is only small shadow of it’s former self. And without their back catalogue, namely Karajan with BPO, they would not even be there anymore.
        Much more important are big TV contracts and additional festival subsidies and earnings.

  2. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    The last notes I heard as I left my former job in May 2009 were the sounds of Beethoven 5 conducted by student conductors with Sir Simon coaching them in rehearsal. At the end of the session, he led the student orchestra in a hair-raising, blazing account of the first movement. Unforgettable…

    Let’s congratulate him on his advocacy of and his contributions to music and on his good sense concerning his own career. We praise him for learning his art in Birmingham away from the spotlight when offers of music directorships came flying at him fast and furious. Let’s recognize the wisdom of knowing when it’s time to move on before one is asked to vacate the premises (many names come to mind). Today, 10 years is a good run, 20 years is a miracle, 16 years an major accomplishment. At 64, he will still have a few good years of music making left; anyone disagree?

  3. They never sound better when under Rattle. Too bad.

    Doesn’t matter if it’s a local choir, brass band, community band, La Scala or the BPO. After 10 years or more, it’s human nature (sadly) to want to make changes.

    Think Barenboim may get his wish. If not, Thielemann.

  4. I’m interested to know what people think:

    Will Sir Simon go into another music director post (where?) or will he concentrate on guest conducting, or perhaps make a completely unexpected career change – I’m thinking something relating to education and community music making..

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      You have a good point. Where does one go after Berlin Phil? An opera house? The Met? Stranger things have happened. Or he could decide to make a commitment to China, they certainly have the ambition and the money. Perhaps Clive will engage him in some role at Carnegie Hall. Keep those cards and letters comin’ in. We don’t want to see Sir Simon unemployed!

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        Qatar and the UAE will be in fierce competition for his services. He has already performed in Abu Dhabi several times with Berlin.

      • He wanted Boston badly back in the day. Any chance they heal old wounds and make that happen?

        • Elizabeth says:

          Oh I wish Sir Simon would come to the Boston Symphony Orchestra! I think the players like him and I know Boston concert-goers do. And yes, Berlin sounded amazing when they were all here (last year, I think it was).

        • As a Boston Symphony subscriber and big Rattle fan, this sounds too good to be true. How long ago are you talking? Any more information would be much appreciated.

  5. Lord Montague says:

    I hope Berlin Phil is wise enough not to choose any of the above but one of the younger Eastern European conductors who rule their generations, Nelsons or Petrenko for instance. Barenboim is still great, Berlin Phil’s self inflicted loss not to choose him instead of Rattle in 1999, but now clearly too old for the new role. Thielemann is not a good match to the orchestra me thinks, he is too “German”, not in a bad way, but there is just too much non-german repertoire where Thielemann is not good at. A bit like the opposite of Rattle, who excelled at almost anything BUT the german repertoire. Maazel? Maybe if they install oxygen inhalers at the conductor’s desk.

    • Jan Müller says:

      I agree with you: It was their fault not to choose Barenboim which was slightly irresponsible given that Rattle is almost a failure in their core repertoire. In earlier days I was looking forward to the concerts of the chief conductor, today I only attend a few guest conductor concerts.
      Generally I prefer Nelsons who is 10 years too young and they should think about a guest conductor system for some interim period.

    • Novagerio says:

      Forget Maazel! In 2018 he will be 88 already.

  6. Dude?

  7. Both comments, above, are nicely stated. Re: the former, Barenboim would seem to be the natural first choice, with Thielemann still young enough to be a viable successor. As for all of those named, they are not only wonderful musicians, artists, and orchestral leaders, they understand the social, political, and spiritual significance of our music and of our great cultural institutions, and their responsibility to share its values and inspire us to a richer and deeper sense of community.

    • I meant Lloyd Arriola’s comment and Bob Fitzgeralds follow up. Age should not matter if the vision, inspiration, execution and endurance are all there.

  8. Now, how about switching Rattle/Dudamel to L.A./Berlin? I think it would work!

  9. Rattle is a fine conductor. Maybe he SHOULD go into opera, even late in the game. The Metropolitan Opera, or a new opera house in China, the Bastille. And instead of the opera house grind of doing the normal standard rep (ably shouldered by a good staff) he can pick the projects he wants, and have very special casts for a PELLEAS, or the RING, or PORGY. He doesn’t have to try to be Haitink and learn the standard rep in his 60s. He’s Simon Rattle, he would–and should–do what he pleases!

  10. As well as wanting someone who can establish a good relationship with the orchestra, the BPO will want someone commercial who can deliver recording contracts and CD, DVD and download sales. After all, that is believed to be the reason Rattle was preferred to Barenboim before. Dudamel can deliver the latter, if not the former. Thielemann is big in Germany and Austria, but less so elsewhere and, as others have said, might not be a good fit with the orchestra. As well as Nelsons, Petrenko and Gergiev as possibles, Pappano might be interested in moving on from the ROH and/or Santa Cecilia by then. Jurowski could also be looking to move up from the LPO and Glynedbourne and would also be another interesting candidate. Although Luisi appears to be being groomed as Levine’s successor at the Met, he might also be a credible outsider for the BPO.

    Or they could surprise every or go for one of Rattle’s proteges like Harding or Ticciati.

    As for Rattle, I can’t see him taking on an opera house at this stage. He has never conducted much opera and has a poor record in casting them when he has. I suspect he may decide to take up some less onerous titular positions with a few select orchestras and leave the heavy work to others.

    • Richard Barker says:

      God forbid Rattle taking a major opera house, although worse things have already happened.

    • Pappano ? Luisi ? Let us be serious

    • There will be no major contracts for recordings in the future, that is something from the past, because no one can commericially recoup the costs through sales…. The orchestra has its Digital Concert Hall, which is nice to have as long as the Bank pays it, but it is no model for monetizing. Not many are prepared to pay and watch the live recordings of performances with remotely controlled cameras in fixed positions, the “soul” is missing here.
      Besides, it is extremely boring (with a few exceptions!!!!), it simply does not scale commercially.

  11. Good successors for Rattle: Gianandrea Noseda, Vasily Petrenko, Vladimi Jurowski, Esa Pekka Salonen. All of them are capable of filling the gap and produce exciting music.

    • Lord Montague says:

      Hahaha, so in other words all the conductors who made it big in Britain. Sir, there is a world beyond that channel to the south of your island. ;)

    • Alexander Hall says:

      Suggesting Salonen for that job just has to be a joke. He doesn’t do warmth. Period. He can’t conduct the German classics for toffee. Even in Sibelius he is outclassed by Vänskä.

  12. Marketing victim says:

    I thought the last Christmas Eve concert with Rattle and the Berlin Phil (televised by the German ARD) was bloody good. Wide repertoire from Rameau to Ravel, excellent oboe and vocal solos, and no visible or audible signs of disharmony between conductor and orchestra or soloists. And I am pretty blasé. For what it isa worth.

  13. Charlotte says:

    Who are section principals whose contracts are up for renewal in 2013???? If you are a member of the BPO, there is no renewal of contract. You have a lifelong contract, unless you chose to leave for a solo career, conducting or whatever.

  14. Richard Barker says:

    Never liked him anyway, but that’s a strictly personal opinion. I also always considered Thielemann an absolute genius in a, granted, not vast repertoire. And that’s also a strictly personal opinion, but it seems that quite a few people agree….

  15. Why exactly are there “Principal players whose contracts are up for renewal in 2013″?

    Don’t Berlin Phil musicians have tenure? Are they new and on probation? Why would any musician in the Berlin Phil holding a Principal chair have a renewable contract?

    Thanks to anyone who can explain this.

  16. Baron von Brandenburg says:

    I think some of the above comments are quite ignorant and fail to take into account the less-than-private opinion of the orchestra (if Rattle did not take the initiative and make this decision today, he would probably have been forced to leave before 2018, such was the discontent). For example, Dudamel was not very well-received by the orchestra in his last project (Strauss) and Nelsons is also thought by many of the musicians to lack depth. Right now, there are only two possibilities: Thielemann or Barenboim (the former is clearly the preferred choice of the players). But these too few options will, I believe, pave the way for surprise candidates Ivan Fischer / Esa-Pekka Salonen / Valeriy Gergiev. There are not really any other conductors except these five who have both commercial appeal and musical authority. I agree, though, that there is a high chance that they might opt for the Wien model…

    in any case, one should certainly rule out Dudamel and Nelsons. Jarvi (not serious enough), Petrenko (not good enough), Nezet-Seguian (they hate him) and Jurowski (not compatible) too.

  17. Chad Song says:

    Why not Yannick Nezet Seguin?

  18. Siegfried von Benneckendorf says:

    Rattle is a fine chap and a fine conductor. Prehaps no one could have done any better
    with such an orchestra of know-it-all prima donnas. Anyway, it will be a long goodbye,
    with plenty of time for regrets and 2d thoughts. Rattle will go on to accomplish great things,
    no fear, while, backstage at the Philharmonie, the nastiness will continue to drip, drip, drip….

  19. Norman, I know it makes great copy to talk about dissent in the ranks but my experience of listening to tbe Berliner Philharmoniker recently is that it’s an orchestra at the top of their game led by a conductor who knows them and who can push them to produce the most incredible performances possible. The last two shows I saw by them – Porgy and Bess last September and The Rite of Spring last November were remarkable. The Rite especially showed an orchestra pushed beyond their limits, revelling in their virtuosity. Surely, if they were not completely happy to play for that conductor they would not have produced playing of such power.

    • Incidentally, my money would be on Jurowski, Nelsons or Nézet-Séguin as possible candidates for the job. Forget Dudamel, he’s all hype and not much substance. Thielemann, probably not – limited repertoire – and Barenboim surely has his hands full with the Staatsoper.

    • Lord Montague says:

      Not surprising, Porgy and Rite of Spring is exactly the bread and butter repertoire of Sir Simon. Hard to imagine another conductor who can push this orchestra to a better interpretation there. But then with Brahms, Strauss or Schumann it’s a totally different situation… Rattle lacks the subconscious access to that repertoire, he doesn’t connect to it. (Maybe something to do with the rhythm-melody dichotomy in music, where Sir Simon leans to the rhythm side). Thielemann has it, but lacks where Rattle excels. Barenboim does it all well, his way, but extremely good.
      Again, why should the Berlin Phil decide for one chief if they can have them all? Artistically I see them developing best by engaging several guest conductors in long term collaborations, thus combining the best aspects of the greatest living conductors, without having to deal with their deficiencies.
      There is no living conductor-”Übermensch” at the moment, who could be their undisputed artistic leader.

      Also on the business side, Vienna should serve as encouragement, how an orchestra can develop it’s brand name without being tied too closely to one conductor only.

  20. George King says:

    Osmo Vanska is the man.

  21. Of course it could just be that Rattle feels that after 16 years he will have been there long enough. It makes better copy for journalists to speculate of dissension in the ranks but five years notice hardly seems to me that he is being pushed out.

  22. Trompettejoe says:

    Come to china, we need a guy like what he is! Simple but considerable!

  23. Too many cultural institutions in Germany are lead by foreign directors. While French institutions go preferably for French, British for Brits etc. There has to be finally an end to this development.The Berliner Philharmoniker is a German orchestra and so belongs to a German conductor.

    • British for Brits? Only if Gergiev, Jurowski, Petrenko, Nelsons, Oramo, Dutoit, Salonen etc etc have suddenly been given British citizenship.

      I think the only major orchestra in the UK with a British chief conductor is the Halle. Pappano at the Opera House and Gardner at ENO are both British as well, but that’s about it.

    • Mark Barrett says:

      WTF says: “Too many cultural institutions in Germany are lead by foreign directors. While French institutions go preferably for French, British for Brits etc. There has to be finally an end to this development.The Berliner Philharmoniker is a German orchestra and so belongs to a German conductor.”

      I hope (in despair, to be honest!) that WTF is talking ironically.

    • “I hope (in despair, to be honest!) that WTF is talking ironically” — And if he is not, he is certainly honoring his nickname!

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      In France, Orchestre de Paris is led by an Estonian, The Paris Opera by a Swiss, Orchestre National de Lyon by an American, Orchestre du Capitole (Toulouse) by a Ossetian, etc, etc. Let’s not forget that a Roumanian was once the Chief Conductor of the Berliners.

  24. Istvan Horthy says:

    Barenboim after Rattle? What a come down!

  25. Michael Hurshell says:

    IMHO the orchestra would be wise to consider someone who excels at the repertoire that Sir Simon did not shine in – Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner, R.Strauss etc. The great Berlin conductors of the past – Furtwängler most importantly – built the orchestral sound, which Karajan then was happily able to use for decades, upon this core “German” repertoire. The idea that Sir Simon’s repertoire would maintain this sound was, I believe, an error; or perhaps the idea of maintaining a distinct sound has become less important to the orchestra. So my recommendation would be to choose a conductor who knows this repertoire and can “bring it back.” Whoever that might be… After that, there is plenty of time to re-engage with the rest of the repertoire.

    • Lord Montague says:

      The idea of “bringing it back” is problematic to say the least. You have to work with the musicians of today. They are not cloned musicians of the past, they are living creatures in today’s world. Whatever Furtwängler built, it was weakened in the war. It was slowly rebuilt after the war, Karajan formed the sound to his own ideal, less “german”, more “modern”, yet flexible and elegant, never brute, but very powerful and rich. There is simply no living conductor who knows how to shape or create that sound. Kleiber could do it. Thielemann will recognize it (that’s great by itself) and allow it, but forming it I have not seen any indication he is able to do so. Barenboim can do it based on my first hand experiences hearing these conductors in rehearsals and concerts.

      • Michael Hurshell says:

        This is true, the old golden sound with today’s musicians is very difficult. Vienna and Dresden seem to manage it (at times, depending on who’s in front), but for how much longer depends on whose pupils are hired when players are replaced. By the way, I believe the cleverest thing HvK did was NOT to interfere with the BP’s Furtwängler sound for quite a while. The flexibility and elegance you mention was, I believe, also there before K (though used differently and indeed less as a goal). And I do agree with you – Barenboim can do it.

    • Mark Barrett says:

      @ Michael Hurshell, do you mean IMHO as “In Michael Hurshell’s Opinion”? I can’t imagine anyone else taking such a view very seriously in 2013. There is a lot more to music, Michael, than the German masters to whom you refer, however ‘core’ their music may be. You (I hope, inadvertently) cast aspersions on SImon Rattle having been unable, in his chosen repertoire, to maintain a particular ‘sound’. Do we not appreciate the subtleties of music for more than just a superficial ‘sound’? If that’s all we do look for in an orchestra (and H von K was often noted for his ‘sound’, as if that was what mattered aboe all else) then perhaps we should find something else to enjoy. Music has more to offer and the finest orchestras and conductors work in partnership to deliver fresh and thought-provoking interpretations of a variety of repertoire from a rich trove. Orchestras evolve – even, eventually I trust, the VPO in another debate on this blog – and I think most of the musicians and the plethora of candidate conductors named here in a barrage of excited suggestions would feel insulted if all that was expected of them would be to produce a signature ‘sound’. So, in this bemusing and perplexing debate on who should succeed the excellent Sir Simon, let’s not dig musicological holes for ourselves!! IMHO I don’t know yet who the successor should be – but I know one thing, it shouldn’t be someone who would take the orchestra down Michael’s archaically narrow and reactionary path!

  26. I’m surprised not to see more discussion of Daniel Harding on this page. In many ways he combines the best attributes of Thielemann and Sir Simon. And all of this business about wanting a steady recording contract and CD sales, etc. is bogus. The BP has spent the last decade building an international following/business model with its Digital Concert Hall and cinema presence. The only other classical music organization that even comes close to its success in this regard is the Met.

    The BP has really invested in building its brand separate from Simon as its music director. Sarah Willis has become a large part of the “face” of the orchestra (and something of a classical music star in her own right.) I think there’s a considerable likelihood that the players may decide to go the VPO route and work only with guest conductors (as has been discussed at considerable length on Norman’s first post on this discussion.)

    The BP is an orchestra in Germany with a long German tradition, but it is becoming less and less a “German Orchestra” and more and more “the greatest orchestra in the World”. This is really important to its future, and I’m quite sure that the orchestra managers and players will wish, for their own sake, to continue an outward-looking, international gaze when they choose their new music director.

    • Lord Montague says:

      Harding? No. Combining best attributes of Sir Simon and Thielemann? Such as?
      Digital Concert Hall makes no money at all, it’s generously subsidized by Deutsche Bank. It will probably never be a revenue generator. They will be happy if it brakes even. Nevertheless it is a great achievement and increases the orchestras worldwide reputation. It’s to be seen as a long term investment that will indirectly generate revenue for the orchestra.
      Sarah Willis is great, lovely person and musician.

  27. I’m deeply uncomfortable with the notion that there’s some sort of idealised core repertoire for the BPO, that they played it to perfection only under a small handful of dead, German-born maestri, and that the aim now should be to push the clock backwards as far as possible. (About some of the more scarily “blood and soil”-type comments above, the less said the better).

    The BPO is arguably the greatest orchestra in the world, When it chose Rattle, it chose to become an orchestra of the present and the future and not just a museum of the past – recognising that a beautiful sound and a tiny repertoire was no longer enough to justify its existence in a new century. The musicians have put all their sense of tradition and all their glorious artistry at the service of that aim; there’ve been ups and downs with Rattle, but the journey has never been dull; and the orchestra has never, for a moment, lapsed into becoming a kind of luxury museum-piece; a glorified heritage attraction like the VPO. It’s alive, it’s vital, and what it does really matters in world culture. That’s the prize of the Rattle years..

    The BPO isn’t just the symbol of a localised tradition, It’s more than just a major German orchestra. It’s the standard-bearer of all the world’s orchestras, and of an entire artform. Let’s hope it ultimately (we’ve got half a decade to go, don’t forget) chooses a music director of supreme musicianship, broad interests, and real progressive energy. They might or might not be good in Beethoven, Brahms and Strauss – or they may, like Rattle, have other qualities that outweigh their limitations in what is – today – only one part of the repertoire (and not even the most central to many modern listeners). Let’s give the players space and time to make the right decision, and trust that their democratic spirit and profound musicianship will continue to teach us all a lesson or two in what artistic priorities should be.

  28. Alexander Hall says:

    In December 2011 the two leading public-service broadcasters ARD and ZDF were indeed pitted against each other with simultaneous live transmissions from Berlin (Rattle) and Dresden (Thielemann) on New Year’s Eve. In December 2012 the two live concerts were on different days, the ZDF having realised that Thielemann lost out in the ratings with his programme entirely devoted to the music of Lehar. Last month he repeated his attempt to do something entirely different from Rattle and conducted another programme of operetta, this time exclusively of Kalman. There is little evidence that Thielemann is the crown prince simply waiting in the wings. He certainly won’t succeed Rattle. His tantrums at the Munich Philharmonic before leaving for Dresden will not easily be forgotten by orchestras jealous of their independence and integrity.

  29. Manteuffel says:

    Thielemann is certainly first rate, but would be as ‘polarizing’ as Rattle has been.
    Imagine him forcing the silly billys of the orchestra to play Hans Pfitzner, Max Reger,
    Heinrich Kaminski and F. Busoni against their oh-so-soverign will! I can’t wait.
    My spies in the Philarmonie inform that there is a hard-core faction of Rattle haters
    there(think of the Tea Party) who wildly deny that the glory days of Karajan are o’re,
    that the ‘German sound’ was no more than the ‘Karajan sound’, and that world domination
    can and will be regained when the God-sent leader returns, etc. But Mista Phone
    Carry-On, he daid these 25 years. The orchestra has now ca 40 foreign players
    with 26 nationalities who naturally enough are not about to produce a German sound.
    The BPO is but one very fine orchestra among a number of fine orchestras and nothing
    can be done about it. That old devil time has moved on. So let’s hold our water and see what the next five years bring.

  30. Heard Rattle a couple of weeks ago conducting the Bavarian Radio State Symphony orchestra in rehearsal, Munich. Electrifying. Just a sensational conductor, with incredible energy and the music was sensational (Schumann 2nd Symphony amongst others), he dragged the Berlin Phil. to a less traditionally German place (ie more females, more younger musicians, much more multicultural), played a broader repertoire. A loss. But why on earth give 5 years notice. Strange.

  31. I’d like to throw into the mix Paavo Järvi as a possible replacement. He’s relatively young, he’s a brilliant conductor, and for me, he is an excellent programer of music for his concerts. A beautiful blend of repertoire and music by unknown composers that are equally as valid. Just sayin’….. :)

  32. Alan Gilbert’s contract with the NY Philharmonic is up in 2017. Why not Sir Simon after him?

  33. Was it political that he went to Berlin in the first place?

    Will he last until 2018?. He’ll be up for a lot of guest conducting,

    Can we see Rattle do the Vienna New Years Day concert ever?

  34. I can’t believe some of the suggestions from this peanut gallery. These early-career or second-rate conductors who made a media splash in England or the USA do not count.

    Abbado was elected a whole generation (almost) ago and was a dark horse candidate. Rattle had youth and prestige on his side, but also vast experience. The other candidate (heir apparent, really) was Barenboim. He is too old and out of the picture by 2018. Thielemann is a strong possibility but the intelligencia and Hoi Polloi of Berlin are usually hard leftie, and not typically Teutonic in their tastes (notice that both Berlin MD’s since Karajan were foreign talent). Still, in a post-2006-world-cup environment it might be time for them to take a swing at having a major German box-office-draw in the mix.

    Like 1989, I think it’s an heir apparent vs. a dark horse. I say Thielemann (whom I find disgusting and awkward yet probably talented) or else some younger and even flashier foreign talent will emerge in the next years.

  35. It’s hardly unusual for a conductor and orchestra to part ways after 16 years. Actually, what is unusual is for such a relationship to last that long. Just because Karajan had the orchestra for decades, people still can’t get used to the idea of conductors leaving. Anyway, I think Sir Simon is probably exhausted, and realised his time is probably up in Berlin. He will find plenty of opportunities elsewhere. Perhaps he and the dude will swap places?

  36. Marko Velikonja says:

    I have absolutely no inside knowledge about Sir Simon and Berlin, but IMHO he has been an absolutely transformational figure there. The innovative repertoire and productions like the Peter Sellars St. Matthew Passion, the educational outreach, the Digital Concert Hall (I’m a fan). So he doesn’t do Bruckner as well as Bloomstedt or Skrowaczewski or Brahms as well as Masur. Who cares? Nobody is great at everything; let him focus on his own strengths or push the orchestra into areas beyond their comfort zone, and bring others in to do other works – even some of the core repertoire.

    As for Norman’s initial comment that the BPO is somehow losing stature to other German orchestras, I don’t see it. Nobody is recording these days in any meaningful way (Norman has written books about that), and no orchestra – certainly none of the other German bands, terrific as they are – matches the BPO as a touring attraction. And profitable or not, no other orchestra could do a Digital Concert Hall.

    I can’t see for a moment that hiring Sir Simon (over Barenboim or anyone else) was a bad move. They are now, as they told Sir Simon they wanted to become, an orchestra for the 21st century, in a Berlin that is no longer Karajan’s or Furtwangler’s.

    • Finally a great comment.


      I endorse Marko & JL,s posts entirely. Sir Simon is a Superstar and I have witnessed the entire trajectory of his career with great joy and admiration. I am still in possession of a programme of the International Festival of Youth Orchestras in Lausanne, Switzerland way back in 1972 in which Simon is listed as one of the pianists of the Merseyside Youth Orchestra. The following year he won a conducting competition and the rest is history! So the Beatles were not the only Superstars to emerge from Liverpool!!

  37. Adam GReenwood says:

    I think it should be Franz Welser-Most, because he’s a really good conductor………..ummmmm……….


      Although I think that Franz Welser Most is a fine enough conductor having done a fine job in Cleveland as well as with the VPO’s New Year Concerts in 2011 and 2013, he was not very highly regarded by the LPO where he was principal conductor for a brief period in the early nineties and dubbed Frankly Worse than Most!!

  38. It really doesn’t matter who follows Rattle. The BPO was Karajan’s orchestra (what ever the internal politics of the players may have dictated). From the moment of his death (or, more precisely, his resignation weeks earlier) the orchestra is but a second-hand vehicle, twisting and turning in the hands of Karajan wannabes. Just as when Bach died and the zenith of musical accomplishment had been achieved, the death of Karajan marked the end of an era. No other conductor has approached even remotely his genius and magic – nor will ever do so.

    • It seems to me, @Richard, that anyone who steps up to the podium at the BP must first humble themselves to what HVK achieved. If that sound and power was not perfection, it was pretty close, in my book.

      I don’t happen to have the luxury of listening to the BP live every week. I used to have the privilege of doing so with the Minnesota Orchestra, but of course, this season, even that is out of the question (I will be attending their Feb 1 pre-Grammy concert, though) But with the MO throughout the years I heard just about every agonizing dirty trick of orchestra playing imaginable. Now, at last, they have a clean sound with Maestro Vanska, and he has managed to get rid of most of their bad habits.

      But the BP has been consistently awesome. Why would anyone even want to change that?

  39. Nello Santi being a good example of the contrary.

  40. George King says:

    Has anyone here seen/heard him conduct? You might take another view if you had.

  41. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    I have seen, heard and even worked with him a bit. He is a musician on the highest level with a very good stick technique. I think there are just too many ahead of Osmo with closer links, musical and political, to the Berliners. Osmo needs to survive the current Minnesota soap opera before anyone can think about his or their future.

  42. Alexander Hall says:

    Osmo Vänskä gave what was to my ears the best accompaniment ever to the best performance ever of the Sibelius violin concerto (with Leonidas Kavakos) with the LSO in December 2012. He has also given memorable Sibelius concerts with the LPO. So, in terms of his compatriot, Vänskä is an amazingly gifted conductor. Whether he has the all-round musical talent that a major orchestra needs for its MD is another matter entirely. Choosing somebody like Salonen with freakish and outlandish programmes that few want to hear has ruined both the Philharmonia’s previously warm sound and their credentials in the German classics. Rattle only made his name prior to Berlin with similarly unorthodox programmes (Kurtag and Goldschmidt, here we come!). That is the core problem these days. Unless you start off with the big Bs – Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner – you are unlikely to develop your core credentials. Time for the backwaters of musical development can always come later. So there’s no point at all in considering anybody for Berlin who does not have those basic repertory skills.

  43. George King says:

    I heard him doing Mahler 7 in Helsinki last year, absolutely stunning. But take the point that Berlin requires the ‘right credentials’ rather than purely musical and technical prowess.

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