As chief conductor, he opened the Philharmonic wide and yet gave it a very personal moment. Now Sir Simon Rattle is leaving.
Concise: Simon Rattle Photo: dpa
An evening with him – it ends with that special moment, the Rattle moment: the conductor clapping his hands until he appears for the last time, when the orchestra has long since left the stage. He then stands there alone, almost shyly, until he too is allowed to leave. On Wednesday evening, Sir Simon Rattle will take the podium for the last time as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic – a long-announced farewell, a long goodbye with many highlights.
Like this one: Saturday, 3. June 2017, Simon Rattle, Berliner Philharmoniker, on the program Le Sacre Du Printemps, Stravinsky’s great ballet music – four and a half years after the Briton announced in January 2013 that he would be stepping down as chief conductor in the summer of 2018. Something big is happening this evening in Berlin’s Philharmonie, bigger than usual. You can feel it; the tension – in the sense of expectant anticipation – in the vastness of Scharoun’s Konzerthaus is more pronounced, the impatience as you take your pre-concert champagne or espresso more urgent, the whole atmosphere more shimmering than usual.
The hunch was not wrong, this evening became a highlight in Rattle’s Long Goodbye, which – counting from the announcement of his departure – would stretch out over five and a half years. Le Sacre played with incredible intensity; Rattle, a trained percussionist, whipped rhythms into the orchestra that made the consecration of spring seem like an apocalyptic narrative. In 1913, at its premiere, the work was a scandal; it took music into the modern era.
It became a key work in Rattle’s Berlin career, and with Le Sacre he set arguably the strongest marker of his tenure, which began in 2002. In 2003, Rattle chose it as the basis for the first major education program; a dance project with 250 young people from so-called problem schools, the resulting documentary film "Rhythm Is It!" conveys to this day the unifying power of music, so often invoked and yet so rarely seen in concert halls where the audience is so homogeneous.
With the last concert in the Philharmonie and the Waldbuhne evening, Rattle’s long final set now comes to an end, and sometimes one could forget that the farewell had already begun in 2013. There was still the great Beethoven cycle, there was a touching Parsifal, John Adams became Composer in Residence.
What will remain of Simon Rattle if he now leaves the orchestra to its own devices before Kirill Petrenko takes over in the 2019/20 season? It seems as if the whole house at Herbert-von-Karajan-Strasse 1 has become more open, as if what happens inside, while no less focused on the music, the works and their interpretation, has adapted to the dazzling, colorful and space-opening building.
Sir Simon Rattle’s last indoor concert with the Philharmonic – today, Wednesday, at the Philharmonie with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, with which he made his debut with the Philharmonic in 1987 as a 32-year-old guest conductor – is already fully booked.
But on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. the dress rehearsal for the likewise sold-out traditional Waldbuhne concert the following day is open to the public. Tickets were still available on Tuesday for 30 euros at the box office and online for 32 euros. (sta)
Children may blow into the tuba
The Philharmonie is no longer a place where those who want to devote themselves to the musical high pleasure undisturbed and detached from the world disappear. It is a house where children are allowed to blow into the tuba of the tuba player on Open House Day until a weird, deep tone comes out, a house in whose foyer people crowd to be present at lunch concerts, but also a house in which the classics of the concert catalog are still often heard, but in which the programs have become more diverse since Rattle.
He has familiarized the orchestra and the audience with contemporary composers, above all the Briton Thomas Adès, whose "Asyla" he conducted at his inaugural concert, which became formative. Every now and then, a piece of new music is interspersed before a long Mahler or Bruckner symphony, which Rattle calls "tapas," morsels that are meant to whet the appetite for more.
Rattle, a musician educator, a preparer, as the one who followed Claudio Abbado, who seemed to be in touch with the spirit. One who went to work with desire, who wanted to try things out, who had ideas. Members of the orchestra who have experienced Karajan, Abbado and Rattle say that he was the one with whom one would most likely have wanted to have a beer; others complain that since Karajan, the standards that the boss was able to articulate have gone steeply downhill.
Well, you can’t please everyone in a world-class orchestra with 128 positions. When he turns 80, Rattle tells it in an Arte documentary, his youngest daughter will be 21, and he wants to see that happen. In order to achieve that, he says, you have to protect yourself. That was remarkably frank as a rationale for quitting at 63.
Rattle will remain living in Berlin with his family. Occasionally, he will be in London to shape the London Symphony Orchestra. He will join the Philharmonic as a guest as early as next season – and he will be free of the pressure he no longer wanted to withstand.