Berlin Philharmonic takes risk on iconoclast Rattle

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The Independent Online
THE MOST prestigious orchestra in the world took a gamble with its own future yesterday,choosing as its chief conductor a youngish iconoclast from a distant land once mocked for being tone deaf.

Members of the Berlin Philharmonic voted overwhelmingly for Sir Simon Rattle to lead them after the current maestro, Claudio Abbado, retires in three years' time. Daniel Barenboim, who conducts the Berlin State Opera and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and who is the widower of the cellist Jacqueline du Pre, was believed to have been his main rival for the post.

Sir Simon follows in the footsteps of the legendary Wilhelm Furtwangler and Herbert von Karajan, whose interpretations of some classics have yet to be surpassed. But that is not Sir Simon's task. At the dawn of the new millennium, Berlin and its orchestra want to become the vanguard of modernity.

Sir Simon transformed theBirmingham Symphony Orchestra in his 17 years there, making it one of the best orchestras in the world. During his tenure the 44-year old Liverpudlian also became an active campaigner for better arts funding and for the restoration of music tuition in schools.

A statement issued by the Berlin Philharmonic showed it was Sir Simon's sense of adventure and his phenomenal range and commitment to the newest of new music that won him the coveted baton. Since his triumphant debut with Mahler's Sixth Symphony in 1987, Rattle has conducted 55 concerts at the Berlin Philharmonic.

"His programmes were diverse, stretching from the classical through the romantic to the 20th century," the orchestra's statement said.

"Simon Rattle was always open-minded to an off-beat repertoire," the statement added, giving a long list of contemporary pieces introduced by him, including "Alleluja" by Sofia Gubaidulinas.

The implication is that after decades of dominating the classical music scene, Berlin is set to become the capital of contemporary music.

Daniel Barenboim, apparently Sir Simon's greatest rival for the post, represented the establishment option. His range is impressive, and though he is an outstanding interpreter of the Romantics, he does not turn his nose up at contemporary pieces. Nevertheless, the younger members of the Berlin Philharmonic felt Barenboim, 57, was too closely associated with the past.

They were also worried about appointing a man barely younger than the current incumbent, as the job is for life. The decision by Abbado, who is 65, to retire from the orchestra after a 12-year stint still rankles in Berlin.