Sir Simon Denis Rattle, OM CBE (born 19
January 1955), is an English conductor. He rose to international prominence
during the 1980s and 1990s, while Music Director of the City of Birmingham
Symphony Orchestra (1980-1998). He has been principal conductor of the Berlin
Philharmonic since 2002, and plans to leave his position at the end of his
current contract, in 2018. It was announced in March 2015 that Rattle would
become Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra from September 2017.
Rattle was born in Liverpool, the son of Pauline
Lila Violet (Greening) and Denis Guttridge Rattle, a Commander in the Royal
Navy. He was educated at Liverpool College. Although Rattle studied piano and
violin, his early work with orchestras was as a percussionist. He entered the Royal
Academy of Music, University of London, in 1971. There, his teachers included
John Carewe. In 1974, his graduation year, Rattle won the John Player
International Conducting Competition.
After organising and conducting a performance of Mahler's
Second Symphony whilst still at the Academy, he was talent-spotted by the music
agent Martin Campbell-White, of Harold Holt Ltd (now Askonas Holt Ltd), who has
since managed Rattle's career. He spent the academic year 1980/81 at St Anne's
College, Oxford studying English Language and Literature. He had been attracted
to the college by the reputation of Dorothy Bednarowska, Fellow and Tutor in
English. He was elected an Honorary Fellow of St Anne's in 1991. He was
admitted to the degree of Doctor of Music honoris causa of the
University of Oxford in 1999.
In 1974, he was made assistant conductor of the Bournemouth
Symphony Orchestra. His first Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, conducting the London
Sinfonietta, was, according to the BBC Proms Archive web-site, on 9 August
1976. The programme included Harrison Birtwistle's Meridian and Arnold
Schoenberg's First Chamber Symphony. In 1977 he became assistant conductor of
the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
His time with the City of Birmingham Symphony
Orchestra (CBSO) from 1980 to 1998 drew him to the attention of critics and the
public. In 1980, Simon Rattle became the CBSO's Principal Conductor and
Artistic Adviser, and in 1990, Music Director. Rattle increased both his
profile and that of the orchestra over his tenure. One of his long-term concert
projects was the series of concerts of 20th-century music titled "Towards
the Millennium". One other major achievement during his time was the move
of the CBSO from its former venue, Birmingham Town Hall, to a newly built
concert hall, Symphony Hall, in 1991. The BBC commissioned film director Jaine
Green to follow him in his final year with the CBSO to make Simon
Rattle was awarded a CBE in 1987 and made a Knight
Bachelor in 1994. In 1992, Rattle was named a Principal Guest Conductor of the Orchestra
of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE), along with Frans Brüggen. Rattle now has the
title of Principal Artist with the OAE. In 2001, he conducted the OAE at Glyndebourne
in their first production of Fidelio with a period-instrument orchestra.
Rattle strongly supported youth music. He led two
attempts at gaining the record for the World's Largest Orchestra, both designed
to raise awareness of youth music in schools. The first, in 1996, was
unsuccessful. The second, in 1998, did succeed and the record held at nearly
4,000 musicians until it was broken in 2000 by a group in Vancouver.
In May 2006 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the
Society of Arts. In 2011, the Royal Academy of Music presented him with an
Honorary Doctorate. He was appointed Member of the Order of Merit (OM) in the
2014 New Year Honours.
Rattle conducted the London Symphony Orchestra at
the Opening of the London Olympics 2012.
Rattle made his conducting debut with the Berlin
Philharmonic (BPO) in 1987, in a performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 6.
In 1999, Rattle was appointed as successor to Claudio Abbado as the orchestra's
principal conductor. The appointment, decided on in a 23 June vote by the
orchestra's members, was somewhat controversial, as several members of the
orchestra were earlier reported to have preferred Daniel Barenboim for the post.
Nevertheless, Rattle won the post and proceeded to win over his detractors by
refusing to sign the contract until he had ensured that every member of the
orchestra was paid fairly, and also that the orchestra would gain artistic
independence from the Berlin Senate.
Before leaving for Germany and on his arrival,
Rattle controversially attacked the British attitude to culture in general, and
in particular the artists of the Britart movement, together with the state
funding of culture in the UK.
Since his appointment, Rattle has reorganised the
Berlin Philharmonic into a foundation, meaning its activities are more under
the control of the members rather than politicians. He has also ensured that
orchestra members' wages have increased quite dramatically, after falling over
the previous few years. He gave his first concert
as principal conductor of the BPO on 7 September 2002, leading performances of Thomas
Adès' Asyla and Mahler's Symphony No. 5, performances which received
rave reviews from the press worldwide and were
recorded for CD and DVD release by EMI. Early collaborative projects in the
Berlin community with Rattle and the BPO involved a choreographed performance
of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring and a film project with Mark-Anthony
Turnage's Blood on the Floor. He has also continued to champion
contemporary music in Berlin. The orchestra has established its first education
department during Rattle's tenure.
Criticism of Rattle's tenure with the Berlin
Philharmonic began to appear after their first season together, and continued
in their second season. Rattle himself stated in 2005 that his relationship
with the BPO musicians could sometimes be "turbulent", but also
"never destructively so".
In 2006, a new controversy began in the German
press as to the quality of Rattle's concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic, with
criticism from the German critic Manuel Brug in Die Welt. One musician
who wrote to the press to defend Rattle was the pianist Alfred Brendel. In
2007, the BPO/Rattle recording of Brahms's Ein deutsches Requiem
received the Classic FM Gramophone best choral disc award.
Rattle was originally contracted to lead the BPO
through 2012, but in April 2008 the BPO musicians voted to extend his contract
as chief conductor for an additional ten years past the next season, to 2018.
In January 2013, he announced that he will not extend his contract beyond the
UNICEF appointed Rattle and the BPO as Goodwill
Ambassadors in November 2007. He is a patron of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
Rattle made his North American debut in 1976,
conducting the London Schools Symphony Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. He
first conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic (LA Phil) in 1979 during the music
directorship of Carlo Maria Giulini, and was their Principal Guest Conductor
from 1981–1994. He also guest-conducted the Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago
Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Boston
Symphony Orchestra. His New York City debut was with the LA Phil in 1985.
In 2000, Rattle was the Music Director of the
esteemed Ojai Music Festival.
In 1993, Rattle
made his conducting debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He returned for
guest conducting engagements in 1999 and 2000. The musical relationship between
Rattle and the Philadelphia Orchestra was reported to be such that Philadelphia
wanted to hire Rattle as its next music director after Wolfgang Sawallisch, but
Rattle declined. However, Rattle continues to guest-conduct the Philadelphia
Orchestra, including appearances in 2006 and the Philadelphia Orchestra's first
performances of Robert Schumann's cantata Das Paradies und die Peri in
It was revealed
and confirmed in March 2015 that Rattle had accepted the post of Music Director
of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), a position which he will take up in
Rattle has conducted a wide variety of music,
including some with period instruments (either modern musical instruments whose
design is similar to that of instruments commonly in use at the time the piece
was composed or the actual historical instrument itself), but he is best known
for his interpretations of late 19th- and early 20th-century composers such as Gustav
Mahler, with a recording of Mahler's Second Symphony winning several awards on
its release and being regarded by some music critics as Rattle's finest
recording to date. He has also championed much contemporary music, an example
of this being the 1996 TV series Leaving Home, where he presents a
7-part survey of musical styles and conductors with excerpts recorded by the
His newest recordings with the Berlin Orchestra
(as of 2006) have, on the whole, been favourably received, notably his
recordings of the Dvořák tone poems, Mahler's Symphony No. 9 and Claude Debussy's
La Mer. The Gramophone Magazine praised the latter as a
"magnificent disc" and drew favourable comparisons with
interpretations of the piece by Rattle's immediate predecessors, Claudio Abbado
and Herbert von Karajan. He has also worked with the Toronto Children's Chorus.
Rattle and the BPO also recorded Gustav Holst's The Planets (EMI), which
was the BBC Music Magazine Orchestra Choice. In addition, Rattle's
acclaimed complete 1989 recording of George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess
was used as the soundtrack for the equally acclaimed 1993 television production
of the work. It was the first made-for-television production of Porgy and
Bess ever presented. Rattle's 2007 recording of Johannes Brahms's Ein
deutsches Requiem received praise from BBC Music Magazine, as
"Disc of the Month" for April 2007, "as probably the best new
version of the Requiem I've heard in quite some years." Rattle and
the BPO have also released recordings of Anton Bruckner's Fourth Symphony (Romantic),
and Joseph Haydn's Symphonies Nos. 88, 89, 90, 91, 92 and Sinfonia Concertante.
Rattle's recording of Brahms's Ein deutsches
Requiem with the BPO received the Choral Performance Grammy Award in 2008.
He has won two other Grammy Awards, one Choral Performance Award for a
recording of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms in 2007, and another for
Best Orchestral Performance for a recording of Mahler's unfinished Symphony
No. 10 in 2000. The government of France made him a Chevalier de la Légion
d'honneur in 2010.
He was voted into the inaugural Gramophone Hall
of Fame in 2012.
Rattle's first marriage was to Elise Ross, an
American soprano, with whom he had two sons: Sacha, who is a clarinettist, and
Eliot, who is a painter. They were divorced in 1995 after 15 years of marriage.
In 1996 he married his second wife, Candace Allen, a Boston-born writer. This
second marriage ended in 2004, and in 2008 Rattle married the Czech mezzo-soprano
Magdalena Kožená. The couple have two sons, Jonas (2005) and Milos (2008), and
a daughter Anežka (June 2014).
Rattle is a member of the Incorporated Society of
Musicians and a fan of Liverpool Football Club.