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Berlin loses a second Simon

Simon Halsey, director of the Berlin Radio chorus since 2001, is stepping down in 2016. His close friend Simon Rattle is leaving in 2018. Berlin journalists are unhappy that both made the announcement to quit in English.

Simon Halsey, 55, has made it clear that he needs to spend more time with his family in England. He has been director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus for 30 years. Under the two Simons, the Berlin Philharmonic and the excellent radio chorus have coordinated their plans more closely than ever before.



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  1. stanley cohen says:

    Don’t cry for Simon Halsey – one of the world’s greatest Chorus masters. he told me some 20 years ago when we were having a coffee after a particularly gruelling recording session with the Philharmonia of Berlioz’ Damnation de Faust, that his request to Simon Rattle [pre-Berlin] that he become an orchestral conductor was met by amazement. Rattle told him that orchestral conductors are ten a penny in Europe but that he was [even then] one of the finest choral conductors around, and that his services would always be in high demand around the world in that capacity – a prophecy that has been even more than fully vindicated. having worked with him over a period of years I can confirm that chorus would willingly sweat blood and tears for him – he’s that good.

  2. Oleg Sherstiucoff says:

    “Don’t cry for Simon Halsey – one of the world’s greatest Chorus masters.”
    He is, he is indeed !!!

  3. Alexander Hall says:

    Wouldn’t you feel slightly miffed if after more than a decade your “boss” had made no attempt to learn your language? Rattle conducts every single interview with the German media in English; when he does the annual New Year’s Eve concert his attempts to come out with a few words of German are pathetic. Riccardo Chailly had no problems at all when he was the Concertgebouw knuckling down to learning Dutch. One of the reasons why Rattle’s reception in Berlin has been less than ecstatic is that — like so many other Brits – he just can’t be bothered to learn another language. And remember how much of the German symphonic and choral repertory is in German! QED.

    • I know you are talking about Rattle in your comment, but given this article is about Halsey it’s only fair to point out that he does speak German and takes his Berlin rehearsals in German. Plenty of evidence of this on youtube.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      I remember watching that documentary about conducting Mahler – if I remember correctly, made around the big Mahler festival in Amsterdam in the mid 90s – in which the greatest delight was listening to Chailly talk about music in general and Mahler in particular in a perfectly fluent and seamless mix of German, Dutch, Italian and English. Too bad the English viewers only got a quarter of all that!

      • Alexander Hall says:

        Thank you for posting your comment. I would have thought it was common courtesy if you are living in a foreign country and are being paid there to at least attempt to master the vernacular. Even after more than a decade that sort of “why should I bother; they’ll all understand English anyway” smacks of condescension.

  4. Worth mentioning that Simon is also Chorus Director of the London Symphony Chorus.

  5. Fabio Fabrici says:

    Halsey’s German sounds fine to me, lovely British accent.

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      “Das Niveau hier ist viel höher [als in England oder Amerika]“.

      Well, that would not go down well, if he had said it in English. For the Anglo-American majority here, not the Berliners…

      • Alexander Hall says:

        But actually this is all part of the constant schmooze that conductors give every ensemble they work with. They all say that the orchestra they are currently in charge of is the greatest in the land. I can recall Andrew Davis doing this repeatedly when he was in charge of The Last Night of the Proms and pouring the honey all over the BBC Symphony. Pull the other one, Andy. LSO? Philharmonia? CBSO?

      • stanley cohen says:

        Good to see him working his magic still. He had us repeat the Enchantment chorus from the damnation of Faust three times in a row without a comment, criticism or instruction or reason. At the end of the third time he grinned broadly and exclaimed to all 130 of us [Philharmonia Chorus] ” Isn’t it wonderful!” As you may be able to surmise, I’m a fan. His dad Louis was a well-known conductor in the UK earlier in the 20th Century

        • Alexander Hall says:

          On the other hand, he doesn’t always work his magic. The LSO Chorus in Act 5 of Berlioz’ The Trojans (Gergiev’s 60th birthday concert last night) was distinctly under par.

          • stanley cohen says:

            Well – that’s the LSO chorus for you. What can I say?
            When Michael Tilson-Thomas took up his baton for his opening whistle-stop tour of the UK with the LSO band, he chose our chorus for his first and last gig at the Barbican – Stravinsky – Symphony of Psalms and Beethoven 9 – not the LSO Chorus. [Maybe the good offices of the late Charles Spencer helped too - wonderful guy and a good friend.]

    • Alexander Hall says:

      It’s by no means grammatically correct and the accent is intrusive but at least he can communicate in German, which is more than can be said for the other Simon.

      • Halldor says:

        Footage of Rattle clearly failing to communicate in German here:

        • Alexander Hall says:

          Rattle’s attempts are pretty toe-curling. The interesting thing is that the sub-titles add more information in the English than is conveyed by his grunts and monkey antics.

  6. Halldor says:

    Given how any public pronouncement by a major conductor, especially one in as prominent a role as Rattle’s, is seized upon, dissected and more often than not misrepresented by the media and the online commentariat, can Rattle really be blamed for preferring to give his public interviews in a language in which he can be 100% sure that what he says is what he means? German is not his first language, and Rattle rarely comes across as a comfortable interviewee even in English.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      There’s a simple solution to this problem. You write the text of your resignation statement in English and get an experienced translator to produce an accurate and idiomatically unimpeachable version in German which you then give to the media. Every year this is what Rattle does with the brochure announcing the coming season’s Berlin Philharmonic programme: one side of his personal introduction is in English and the other is in German. It’s not rocket science, is it, and it would deflect some of the criticism about cultural condescenion.

      • Halldor says:

        Thought we were talking about interviews here – where, clearly, that would be entirely impractical.

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