Rattle in Berlin

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John F
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Rattle in Berlin

Post by John F » Tue Jun 26, 2018 5:24 am

A long article about Rattle's effect on the Berlin Philharmonic and on Berlin. Cooper has nothing to say about the quality of the actual performances, except to note that some thought Rattle wasn't so good in the standard German/Austrian repertoire. But maybe that was never the point, the reason why the Philharmonic chose him and stayed with him. By the way, horn player Fergus McWilliam was once a member of CompuServe's Music Forum.

Over 16 Years, Simon Rattle Transformed the Berlin Philharmonic. Here’s How.
By Michael Cooper
June 25, 2018

BERLIN — The conductor Simon Rattle stepped onto his podium here last month and gave the downbeat. But the orchestra in front of him wasn’t his mighty Berlin Philharmonic — not exactly. One of the horn players was a police officer. The concertmaster was a cardiologist. The violin section included a Turkish engineer and a Dutch airline pilot. The ensemble, affectionately named the Be Phil, was an amateur orchestra of 101 musicians, ages 10 to 75, who had come from all over to play with one of the world’s greatest conductors. “Could we be noble, rather than aggressive?” Mr. Rattle asked at one point as he shaped a passage in rehearsal. Then he smiled. “That would actually be quite a good thing for all over the world, wouldn’t it?”

It was a fittingly Rattle-esque way to help bring his 16-year reign as chief conductor here to an end — a period in which he helped transform the Berlin Philharmonic, one of Europe’s most venerable ensembles, into one of the 21st century’s most forward-thinking orchestras. He mounted ambitious educational extravaganzas, broadened its repertoire, reached out to Berlin’s diverse communities, and asked its musicians to embrace a different vision of what it means to play in an orchestra. It was a partnership that wound up succeeding despite occasional tensions, creative and otherwise, with the players — who self-govern the orchestra and hold the power to hire their chief.

“It’s on the box you get via the high-art Amazon, a warning sign on the cover: ‘This is Not Going to Be Easy,’ ” Mr. Rattle, who has moved on to become music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, said in an interview last week. But the era ended with warmth and admiration on Sunday at an emotional, open-air farewell concert — with some players donning wigs that mimicked Mr. Rattle’s instantly recognizable poof of white curls.

“I’m sure there were many moments of ‘lost in translation,’ ” said Mr. Rattle, now 63, a spirited choice to fill a Berlin post that had previously been held by a pantheon of more Olympian maestros, including Wilhelm Furtwängler, Herbert von Karajan and Claudio Abbado. “What’s interesting is, at this point, the ‘lost in translation’ on both sides seems mostly to translate into affection. O.K., we were a strange fit, but we also could become a team.”

Mr. Rattle made a big statement in his first season, inviting 250 Berlin schoolchildren from different backgrounds to dance Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” with the Philharmonic at Berlin’s Treptow Arena. “I had had this weird dream of putting lots of young people who had not danced with an orchestra,” Mr. Rattle said. It was tied to his vision for reaching out to communities that had previously had little to do with the orchestra, which some players feared was seen as a “chilly diva” by too many in the vibrant city it served.

Such educational initiatives were not common at the time in Germany. Sarah Willis, a horn player at the Philharmonic, recalled how surprised some players were when Mr. Rattle, at his first meeting with the ensemble, outlined his expansive education plans. “You try telling classical musicians that they have to go and stand in front of a class of 10-year-olds,” she said. “It’s like asking them to take their clothes off.” But it worked, and was the first of several large-scale dance projects.

Mr. Rattle significantly broadened the Philharmonic’s repertoire — not only by programming more new music, but also by reclaiming Baroque works that many symphony orchestras had ceded to early-music ensembles. Most notable was Peter Sellars’s simple but shattering staging of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion.” It broke with any number of traditions. Singers popped up and sang from seats in the audience. The chorus, the Berlin Radio Choir, learned its parts by heart so its members could move throughout the auditorium and act. Members of the Philharmonic were asked to get up from their seats as quasi-actors in the spiritual drama. “This was the point where everybody left how wonderfully they play out in the dressing room,” Mr. Rattle said. “Working with Peter on a piece like that simply involves everybody deciding on not what it sounds like, but what it means. It was a way of almost healing the orchestra from their own virtuosity and excellence. Because this music has nothing to do with that, however beautifully you can play.”
A Digital Pied Piper

The Berlin Philharmonic was once a recording-industry titan. When that industry melted, the orchestra responded by starting one of the first, and most sophisticated, orchestra streaming services, the Digital Concert Hall. The ensemble is still building a subscription base — the service costs about $17 a month — but the project has extended the orchestra’s reach; its Facebook page has 1.2 million followers. And Mr. Rattle remains one of classical music’s great communicators.

Simon Halsey, the choral conductor who has long worked closely with Mr. Rattle, said: “How do we make sure, in days when a 17-year-old has a million choices about what he or she will do after the high school day ends, why would they practice the cello or play in the orchestra or come to a concert? Therefore you have to have these Pied Pipers, and I think he’s been extraordinarily successful at that.”

Mr. Rattle presented 40 world premieres during his tenure, and embraced contemporary music. Last season, when the American composer John Adams turned 70, Mr. Rattle made him the Philharmonic’s first composer in residence, and the orchestra released a box set of his works. While the list of most-performed works of the Rattle era is still heavy with Brahms and Beethoven, 20th-century pieces by Stravinsky, Berg and Webern have also been among the most frequently heard works.

Patches of Turbulence
The Berlin Philharmonic is considered one of the most virtuosic orchestras in the world — and one of the most independent. It was founded in 1882 by a group of musicians rebelling against their conductor. A little more than a century later, the autocratic Karajan resigned in a dispute with the players.

Fergus McWilliam, a Philharmonic horn player, recalled how the orchestra had come to select Mr. Rattle. “Do we turn the clock back, be a more traditional orchestra with a living museum role?” he recalled the players asking themselves. “Or do we embrace the future?” If any orchestra could have afforded the status quo, it was this one. It plays in a city that embraces and supports classical music like few others, and boasts a global following. It regularly sells over 90 percent of its tickets. But the players decided to go for change.

If Mr. Rattle was initially greeted rapturously in Berlin, there were hard times, too. Some German critics found his readings of the 19th-century canon lacking. There were honeymoon-is-over stories in the press. Some musicians disliked the new music he brought them. Mr. Rattle said that he worried at times that the orchestra “might want more the appearance of change than change itself.” In the end, though, the partnership came to be seen as a success. Many of the innovations — including the idea of the Be Phil amateur orchestra — came from the players themselves. (The successor they chose, Kirill Petrenko, is, however, in some respects the anti-Rattle — shunning interviews, while Mr. Rattle was a media darling.)

Looking back, Mr. Rattle acknowledged that there were some projects he had not been able to realize, but said he was pleased over all. “I think we moved this big, big ship forward,” he said.
‘Music is for Everybody’

On the podium last month, Mr. Rattle was putting the Be Phil amateurs through their paces as they rehearsed Brahms’s First Symphony, which they were playing at the orchestra’s open day, when it unlocks the doors of the Philharmonie for a day of free concerts large and small. Mr. Rattle stepped backstage, where he was given a dab of makeup — “It won’t help!” he joked — and found Ms. Willis, the horn player, who was waiting in the wings with a camera crew to interview him for the Digital Concert Hall.

“Music is for everybody, and we’ve all believed this, and this was really one of my most important goals while I was here,” Mr. Rattle said, his enthusiasm tinged with a note of wistfulness. “To spread it everywhere.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/arts ... monic.html
John Francis

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Re: Rattle in Berlin

Post by maestrob » Tue Jun 26, 2018 10:09 am

Rattle's strength has always been in XXth Century and recent music, while his weakness has been in the German standard repertoire, which the article points out. I agree with this assessment, and applaud Rattle for his point of view that "Music in for everybody."

Good article. Thanks, John.

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Re: Rattle in Berlin

Post by Lance » Tue Jun 26, 2018 10:28 am

Indeed, a most enjoyable read!
Lance G. Hill

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]


John F
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Re: Rattle in Berlin

Post by John F » Tue Jun 26, 2018 11:07 am

Somehow you can't imagine any of Rattle's predecessors doing any of that: Abbado, Karajan, Furtwängler, Nikisch. So what will Petrenko do?
John Francis

John F
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Re: Rattle in Berlin

Post by John F » Wed Jun 27, 2018 10:40 am

Amateur dramatics: my week playing for Simon Rattle
Ariane Todes
Tue 26 Jun 2018

Simon Rattle is looking straight at me, eyes flaring, fist shaking. I am straining with every fibre of my being to give him what he wants. I would die for this man right now. I’m desperate to shape the phrase just as he’s showing, sustaining the long note and getting louder over the arpeggio. But I over-push the sound, my notes crack, I lose my focus and have to break eye contact to look at the music, ashamed of myself. I’m reminded why I decided not to become a professional musician.

Yet for five days in May, with 100 other amateur musicians, I was allowed to dream. We were the guests of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, selected (by video audition) from 1,900 applicants from 30 countries to be part of the BE PHIL Orchestra, conducted in Brahms’s First Symphony by Sir Simon himself. When we meet for the first time in the foyer of the Philharmonie, we are like giddy children who have won Willy Wonka’s golden tickets.

Over the first two days, we rehearse with conductor and Berlin Phil violinist Stanley Dodds, one of the brains behind the project. He balances and tunes us, points out important lines, characters and details, makes us listen to each other, and gives us an idea of Rattle’s tempos. On day three we learn that Rattle is in the building – a buzz goes round the coffee room and everyone tries to act normal. And then he’s on the podium welcoming us. “I’m so delighted. Thank you so much … I can’t wait. Let’s just play some Brahms.” And how we play: our focus and energy are through the roof.

In our six hours of rehearsal with Rattle, his enthusiasm and commitment never wane. He offers historic context: Brahms only added the introduction after hearing Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, so although usually his music should never sound like Wagner this is an exception. There are narratives to help bring out the emotional complexities: one bar, Brahms is full of longing for Clara Schumann; the next he remembers he’s living in the house of her husband and his mentor. Jokes: Woody Allen’s one about his brain being his second-favourite organ (for when the double basses aren’t following the baton). Analogies: Siegmund Nissel of the Amadeus Quartet’s likening of the string quartet to a bottle of wine applies also to orchestras: the cellos are the bottle, the first violins the label – but the second violins and violas are the wine itself.

There are rare compliments: “It’s so great to play [the symphony] with an orchestra that hasn’t played it 10,000 times.” And the occasional insult: “You are the first bass section I’ve met that plays faster than the rest of the orchestra.”We also witness flashes of frustration: when people don’t watch him, play too loudly, forget instructions and especially when we don’t go with his tempos. A few times he taunts us on our tuning, but gently, despite how much it must grate to hear such muddy imperfection. It’s a little wounding, however, that in some bars he conducts every beat to help us stay together, as if we are a school orchestra.

Interlaced with the frustrations are moments of intense joy. I’m reduced to tears hearing the yearning oboe and violin solos in the second movement, and the alpine theme in the horn and flute, played exquisitely by my new friends, knowing that they too are doing this for love and fulfilment. At the glorious last-movement theme, I am brimming with love for Brahms, my colleagues, for sheer joy of being alive.

We prove the cliche that music is an international language. We come from countries and cultures as various as Brazil, Bolivia, Trinidad, Taiwan and Turkey; we range in age from 10 to 75. Some of us went to conservatoires, some not; among us are students, postmen, teachers, software developers, office managers, doctors, airline pilots and scientists. I sit next to a Japanese research scientist, and even though our conversation is sometimes stilted, it’s easy to play with him. It’s the cultural mores beyond the music that are confusing: whether to shake hands or hug after the concert; the toilet queue that forms because none of the non-Germans understands the flush system.

Our concert is part of the Philharmonie’s open day. Around the building are concerts by children, students and Berlin Phil players, masterclasses, tours, a horn flashmob, world music, premieres. More than 10,000 people pour into the building; 6,000 more watch on the Digital Concert Hall and 200,000 on Facebook.

At the end of the dress rehearsal, Rattle exhorts us to have fun, tell our story – and make mistakes. We take him at his word. Our performance is full-throttle, but some things we rehearsed don’t work. Most do. It doesn’t matter, though, because we’re giving it all we have. Rattle is, too. The audience goes wild and he gets three call-backs as we stand on stage dazed and a little heartbroken that it’s all over.

Back in London, aglow with the stardust that’s been sprinkled on my musical life, I return to my regular amateur group, Corinthian Chamber Orchestra. Contrary to a popular narrative, most of my orchestral friends are not “posh”. Most got into playing music at school and through the local authority-funded services and youth orchestras that have been devastated in recent years. As the effects of the government’s policy of excluding arts subjects from the Ebacc core subjects are becoming apparent, access to a life with music is increasingly limited to those who can afford it. Rattle himself recently wrote a letter to the Times about the current destruction of music education. “The future may be uncertain and difficult for the next generation, but unless they have access to a vital cultural education they will be utterly unprepared for what this new world might require.”

This is not just about children, though. What of the consequences 30 years down the line? What then of amateur music and its benefits to the individual and to society – the friendships and social networks, good mental and intellectual health, creativity and sheer joy? As we face existential crisis, along with epidemics of dementia and loneliness, amateur music-making is more important than ever.

For many professionals, amateurs are the untouchables of the classical music world – unglamorous and unteachable. Rattle and the Berlin Phil’s unique initiative is a visionary act of idealism and generosity that demonstrates their stated commitment to the benefits of music from cradle to grave. If I may pile yet another expectation on the conductor’s arrival in the UK as music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, it is this: I hope he brings this big-hearted, inclusive, life-changing approach with him, and that politicians, cultural institutions and his colleagues take note. Playing Brahms with him in the Philharmonie will always be a privilege – one of the greatest of my life – but having an active and inspiring music life, at any level, should not be.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/ ... mon-rattle
John Francis

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Re: Rattle in Berlin

Post by THEHORN » Sat Jun 30, 2018 1:55 pm

On the contrary , I've found Rattle's recordings of Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler etc to be highly insightful and fresh .Nothing " weak" about them . I've never heard a bad performance form Rattle or one that seemed just ho hum . You can disagree with him about the interpretation of this or that work or composer , but I would't dismiss his performances out of hand of any composer . You don't get to be principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic by being a ho hum conductor .

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