First Night: Berliner Philharmoniker/Simon Rattle, Queen Elizabeth Hall

5.00

'Orchestral republic' shows its power with Rattle at the helm

Start as you mean to go on. It was entirely typical that Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker should have started their week-long London residency with a concert in which the orchestra's twelve cellists purveyed Gershwin, Duke Ellington, and bossa nova to an audience of children. For one of the first things Rattle did, on taking over the helm of the band which he describes as music's equivalent to Real Madrid, was to decree that schooling the listeners of tomorrow would be a priority.

It was also typical that their first grown-up concert should be given not by the full orchestra, but by selected players in intimate chamber groupings. For this is an orchestra of soloists, in both musical excellence and attitude: self-governing, self-selecting and reserving the right to hire (and fire) their conductors, they describe themselves as an "orchestral republic".

Their opening could not have been simpler or more powerful. One single movement was all the ailing Schubert managed to write of his String Quartet in C minor, but these players turned it into nine minutes of filigree perfection, as it alternately sang, smouldered and burst into flame.

Then it was time for a work which had been one of Rattle's calling cards since he flourished it in his Channel 4 TV series Leaving Home. The dwelling in question was that of "home-key" tonality, on which three centuries of classical music were built: Rattle wanted to show how its breakdown ushered in the anything-goes musical world we inhabit now, and Schoenberg's String Quartet No 2 was the work which epitomised that breakdown.

As it proceeds, it gradually floats free of all tonal anchors, with the Stefan George poem (added by a soprano) vividly underlining the point: "I feel the air of another planet... I am dissolved in swirling sound." Looking as though she had stepped straight out of a Klimt painting, soprano Anna Prohaska brought the most refined artistry to her part, blending her timbre with those of the strings as though she was one of them. When she gave voice to the poet's rapture on that new planet, the whole piece acquired an airborne lightness.

It was only with the final work – Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No 1, also written on the cusp of change – that Rattle made his appearance at the head of a posse of wind players to bolster the strings. And he did his job beautifully, sculpting the work's intricately layered contours, controlling its busy tranquillity and bringing out its valedictory quality, since this was more a farewell to the old world than a greeting to the new.

And here Rattle gave us an intimation of his full orchestra's fabled sound, which will be unleashed tonight, with Stravinsky and Mahler, at the Barbican. Never before have London's normally rivalrous big concert halls collaborated in this way: they both want to share the gold dust and they also want to share the high costs of this venture.

But do not even dream about getting a ticket: the 8,000 allocated for this week's events sold out a year ago.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before