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Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin PhilharmonicCarnegie Hall Celebrates Berlin

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Premiered on January 7, 2008 on PBS
(check local listings)



By all accounts, the orchestra is touching the lives of Berliners, young and old, more than ever before. Naturally, there have been some bumps in the Rattle-Philharmonic association. Periodic reports surface about dissatisfaction among the players. And German music critics, in particular, have carped about programming choices and perceived differences in the orchestra's basic sound compared to the Karajan era.

Rattle has remained unfazed by the complaints, which seemed to reach a peak of intensity in 2006. He told the ASSOCIATED PRESS at the time: "It is the job of critics to criticize -- my job is to direct this orchestra and to make great music. ... I would say that the first five years, at least, are always a transition. ... You can hear the orchestra gradually change, around year 8, 9, 10 of Karajan. And in the first years he's still dealing with Furtwängler and the Furtwängler style. These things move very, very slowly. It's not like tectonic plates, but it's up there."

Speaking of his relationship with the Philharmonic musicians, Rattle again divulged to the AP in 2007: "Nobody said, when I took this job, 'Oh, this is going to be an easy one.' Actually you don't come into this for 'easy.' Of course, they're difficult. Of course, they're temperamental. Of course, they have many, many ideas. But thank God they have many ideas, because many of them are wonderful. We work very much together as a team, and we are all bouncing ideas off of each other. And there's ... a complete unwillingness to believe there is any ceiling in achievement at all. And that's a great thing -- [an] infinite ability to work and refine."

Whatever Karajan nostalgia may linger in some corners, Rattle and the Philharmonic have enjoyed an enthusiastic, unbroken rapport with audiences in Berlin (where concerts are routinely sold out), as well as elsewhere on tour. And Rattle's stature among conductors only grows each year. Describing the reasons for Rattle's success, his biographer Nicholas Kenyon wrote in 2001: "One aspect that marks him out from even the greatest conductors of our age is his stylistic versatility. There is no one else in the world today ... who conducts such a wide range of music at such a high level." Rattle has been applying that diversity to the Berlin Philharmonic from day one.

It is significant that in 1989, when the musicians voted for Abbado as chief conductor, Rattle's name was already being mentioned internally -- and he had only been on the Philharmonic podium once at that point. Clearly, there was nearly instant chemistry between Germany's supreme orchestra and the man who first came to attention for putting England's City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra firmly on the international map (he was associated with that ensemble from 1980 to 1998, first as principal conductor, then as music director).

As Berlin Philharmonic bassist Peter Riegelbauer related to Kenyon (for SIMON RATTLE: FROM BIRMINGHAM TO BERLIN): "From the very first moment we heard him ... we were excited by him. ... He is such a good collaborator because he is very collegial -- it's not as if he is a teacher arriving from somewhere far off. He is one of the musicians." So much so that Rattle has been known to jump from the podium and join the percussion section during an encore (he started out his musical life as a percussionist).

The match of the shaggy-haired, inquisitive, incisive, forward-thinking Rattle and the history-steeped, ever-brilliant Berlin Philharmonic has already produced notable results. Chances are, the best is yet to come.

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Top banner photo: Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic

Berlin Philharmonic's french horn players
photo: Berlin Philharmonic's french horn players

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Related Web Sites
Berlin Philharmonic
EMI Classics: Sir Simon Rattle
Gustavo Dudamel
State Foundation for the Venezuelan System of Youth and Child Orchestras
Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft
Carnegie Hall: Berlin in Lights
Carnegie Hall
International Gustav Mahler Society
Boosey & Hawkes: Béla Bartók

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