'Rebellion' rumours as Rattle quits Berlin Philharmonic

Jan 11, 2013

Sir Simon says time is right to leave orchestra in 2018, but has his bond with musicians soured?

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THERE are suggestions a "rebellion" by musicians may have prompted British conductor Sir Simon Rattle to announce he will hand over the baton of the Berlin Philharmonic in 2018.

Rattle has acquired "almost pop star status" in the German capital since moving to the city in 2002, according to The Guardian, but he has described his relationship with the 128-member orchestra as "turbulent" at times.

The conductor was quick to downplay any suggestion he was leaving because his relations with the orchestra had soured, saying yesterday it was simply time a younger conductor took over the world-famous ensemble.

But that claim is contradicted by The Independent which says a "rebellion" had been brewing inside the orchestra "for months" prior to Rattle's announcement. It quotes the influential classical music blogger Norman Lebrecht who says "mutterings of discontent" about the conductor were initiated by "a couple of section principals whose contracts are up for renewal in 2013". Once the seed of mutiny was sown, "others chimed in".

Rattle insists it is simply time to move on, pointing out he will be "nearly 64" in 2018 and as a Liverpudlian it was "impossible" not to think of the question posed by The Beatles: "Will you still need me … when I'm 64?"

The conductor has clearly decided the answer is 'no' even though 64 is considered "early middle age" for orchestral conductors who often "work well into their 80s", says The Guardian.

Senior members of the Berlin orchestra gave no hint of any souring of the relationship with Rattle, says Bloomberg. The leaders of its executive board – double bassist Peter Riegelbauer and horn player Stefan Dohr – said they "regret and respect" his decision to leave.

The famously curly-haired Rattle made his reputation at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in the 1980s and 90s. His achievements in Germany include the introduction of "more contemporary" music to the orchestra's repertoire, says The Guardian. He has also been praised for setting up youth programmes, negotiating "fair pay" for his musicians and getting a written assurance from Berlin politicians that the orchestra would maintain its artistic independence.

The Berlin Philharmonic is self-governed and its members will elect Rattle's replacement. Candidates include "veterans" such as Daniel Barenboim and Christian Thielmann of the Dresden state orchestra, but a "young break-out talent" is another possibility, says the German website Local.de.

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