Sir Simon Rattle speaks to The Guardian‘s Erica Jeal ahead of taking up the post of Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra next month.
“I don’t think that musicians can change the world … ” Hang on – this is not what Simon Rattle is supposed to say. Of all today’s British conductors, Rattle is the one you would bet on not only contemplating changing the world but actually doing it. The former wunderkind who put Birmingham on the classical music map, he is now the conquering hero returning to the UK after 15 years in charge of the Berlin Philharmonic, which many consider the greatest orchestra in the world.
He continues – “but I do think that musicians can make the world momentarily a better place.” Phew. We are backstage at the Barbican, the London Symphony Orchestra’s home venue, and the more Rattle talks the more it seems clear that he sees “making things better” as not only a possibility but a responsibility.
When he takes up the post of music director at the LSO next month – he will combine this with the Berlin job for a year before leaving the Philharmonic in summer 2018 – he will carry with him an enormous weight of expectation. Teachers dream that his influence might fix the funding crisis in music education. Managers hope this rare household-name conductor will be a shot of adrenaline for the box office. Audiences want to hear that velvety Berlin Phil tone added to the LSO’s already dazzling palette, and the LSO players themselves know that he is likely to be listened to when he insists on good rehearsal time and conditions for his musicians. “He is a game-changer,” says Nicholas Kenyon, managing director of the Barbican Centre and Rattle’s biographer. “He gets music on to the front pages of newspapers; the television cameras follow him. He takes music to a new level.”
Rattle has been accused of being too much of a politician, of talking in soundbites, but it’s more that the words come out in short, sweeping bursts of enthusiasm. He is a galvaniser, an inspirer, and he knows this is a necessary role for a musician in such a public position. After our interview, I watch him giving a two-minute pep talk to a conference of music teachers, and you can practically see them basking in the glow.
Read the full interview here