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Culture

Berlin Philharmonic Still Rattles after Rattle Debut

Days after Sir Simon Rattle’s debut as chief conductor for the Berlin Philharmonic, the city is still talking about the maestro’s impressive opening performance and the start of a new musical era for the orchestra.

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Sir Simon Rattle basks in applause after his debut performance

When Sir Simon Rattle lifted the baton for the first time in Berlin’s Philharmonic concert hall on Saturday, the city and its classical musical enthusiasts waited with bated breath.

The 47-year-old British conductor, who is best known for bringing fame to the provincial orchestra of Birmingham, England, had been appointed back in 1999 to take up the direction of the venerable Berlin orchestra as its chief conductor. But it took over three years for the curly-haired maestro to finally arrive in Berlin and conduct his first performance.

And the wait, accompanied by all the anticipation and advertising hype characteristic of a pop-star, was well worth it. After more than one hundred minutes of virtuoso conducting, the 120 year-old Philharmonic shook with resounding ovation.

For more than five minutes the concert hall reverberated with the sounds of applause and bravos. Some 2,500 music fans had gathered to watch "Sunny Sir Simon," conduct his first performance in front of the tradition-laden orchestra.

"Shake, Rattle ‘n’ Roll,"

The Philharmonic "shakes, rattles ‘n’ rolls" after Sir Rattle’s debut, wrote the Berlin-based daily "Die Welt". The Berlin "Tagesspiegel" praised the new conductor and compared him to the great Herbert von Karajan, whose extraordinary tenure at the Philharmonic spanned four decades.

The "Süddeutsche Zeitung" was only slightly less gushing when it referred to Rattle as a "priest and pop star" who had come to bestow the orchestra with the "positive exuberance of the ... young, modern and charismatic."

With his selection of two works from the twentieth century, Gustav Mahler’s "Fifth Symphony" and the Briton Thomas Adé’s "Asyla," Rattle certainly set himself apart from his more introverted predecessor, the Italian Claudio Abbado, whose choice works tended in the classical direction. By making such a daring break from the Philharmonic’s traditional euvre on his opening night, critics said Rattle had set a sign that he would launch the historical orchestra on a new artistic path.

Saturday’s performance was a "rocket start" into a new musical era, wrote the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" following Rattle’s debut. And the "Berliner Zeitung" announced on Monday, that the "dawning of a new age" hovered in the air over the Philharmonic.

Sir Simon Rattle

Welcome Sir Simon!

It was almost as if the city could hardly wait for the arrival of the man who was designated to take the Philharmonic into the 21st century. Throughout Berlin in the weeks preceding his opening concert, Sir Simon Rattle’s face with his signature curly hair and broad smile beamed down upon the city from kiosks and billboards.

"Welcome Sir Simon," was written underneath as the music community greeted the newest heir to an illustrious dynasty of conductors which includes such greats as Karajan and the brilliant but controversial Wilhelm Furtwaengler.

Sir Simon Rattle’s own career is nothing less than impressive, marked by a typical energy and rapid tempo characteristic of the conductor’s personality. Born in Liverpool in 1955 to a musical family, Rattle took up piano and percussion before setting his sights on conducting. He then quickly rose to fame when was named principal conductor in Birmingham in 1980, aged just 25.

At the time, Rattle was one of the youngest living conductors and his 18-year tenure in the British city was marked by an unconventional blend of modern and classical music. His daring and talent, as well as his preference for contemporary composers, helped draw attention to Birmingham and elevate the orchestra to a world-class level.

The Berlin Philharmonic hopes he will do much the same for its orchestra over the next 10 years of his appointment.

New challenges lie ahead

Rattle seems prepared to accept the challenge. Speaking to reporters in Berlin after his debut, the conductor outlined his plan for turning the Philharmonic into a 21st century orchestra.

"Karajan said an orchestra is like an English garden that needs to be tended... My challenge and aim is to continue the wonderful traditions of the Berlin Philharmonic and to mix in a few vitamins on my own."

For the 2002/03 season, Rattle has already raised a few eyebrows by leaving out works by Beethoven, a staple of the Philharmonic in previous years. Instead he plans to include more Haydn and Mozart, and sprinkle in a few works by his favorite, Mahler.

"The challenge is what to leave out," Rattle said indicating a fondness for allusions to food. "We hope never to neglect any food groups. You should never forget the pleasure principle... Part of the fun is making up the recipe as you go along."

If this is the case, Berlin may not know exactly what kind of a musical feast it’s in store for in the future. But with Rattle dishing out the ingredients, it’s sure to grab attention.

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