Sir Simon Rattle has announced that he will leave the coveted role of conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra amid rumours of a “simmering rebellion” among the world’s finest, and fiercest, players.
The self-governed Berlin Philharmonic elects its own chief conductor and had extended the Liverpudlian’s contract through to 2018. But the 128-strong ensemble is almost as famous for its political infighting as it is for its music.
Rattle has by all accounts enjoyed success in his role at the pinnacle of the conducting profession since he joined the ensemble in 2002 from the City of Birmingham Orchestra, but has described his relationship with the group as “turbulent” in the past.
Sir Simon, who will be almost 64 in 2018, said leaving Berlin was “not an easy decision”. Classical music commentators instantly speculated that something more sinister lay behind Rattle’s departure. Norman Lebrecht wrote that a “rebellion had been simmering for months” within the orchestra’s ranks.
“Mutterings of discontent with Rattle’s leadership began with a couple of section principals whose contracts are up for renewal in 2013. Others chimed in,” claimed Lebrecht.
The orchestra’s joint chairmen, double bassist Peter Riegelbauer and horn player Stefan Dohr, said in a statement that they regretted Rattle’s decision, adding that their collaboration had characterised by “great mutual sympathy”.