Playing drums, piano, and conducting to records – from early childhood, Sir Simon Rattle was obsessed with music. “I was an absolute musical monomaniac,” he admits. Even as a two-year-old he showed a talent for rhythm, beating in time when his father played Gershwin songs on the piano. Simon Rattle was born to a musical family in Liverpool on 19 January 1955. His father, the manager of an import and export company and later a teacher, also an enthusiastic jazz fan, was an excellent pianist, as was his mother who ran a music shop before her marriage. Both supported their musically gifted son who, in addition to learning percussion, piano and violin, enthusiastically read Hector Berlioz’s Treatise on Instrumentation when he was seven, and had an early interested in the music of the 20th century. At the age of 15, he stood at the conductor's desk of a symphony orchestra for the first time at a charity event he organised, and at the age of 16, he became a student at the Royal Academy of Music.
Shooting star of the music scene
When Simon Rattle made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker on 14 November 1987, he was considered one of the most promising conductors of his generation. He had made a name for himself in particular with his engagements in the UK and the USA and through his work as principal conductor and artistic adviser of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, whose music director he was to become in 1990. He conducted Mahler's Sixth Symphony, a work that the Philharmoniker had played several times under Herbert von Karajan. “Rattle understands Mahler's end time idioms,” it said in the Berlin Tagesspiegel. “His – one might say – 'callous' style [...] evokes a picture of Mahler of radical modernity.” After this successful start, Simon Rattle returned almost every year – often with works by composers the orchestra had rarely played before: Béla Bartók, Karol Szymanowski, Leoš Janáček, Jean Sibelius and contemporary composers. Under his leadership, the Philharmoniker also performed Mahler's Tenth Symphony for the first time in 1996 in the performing version by Deryck Cooke.
However, Simon Rattle did not impress by his energetic, thrilling and exciting conducting style alone; he also had artistic vision. Both of these aspects together made him a strong candidate for the Berliner Philharmoniker when it came to electing a successor to Claudio Abbado in 1999. For his inaugural concert on 7 September 2002 with Mahler's Fifth Symphony and Thomas Adès' Asyla, the future direction was determined: The founding of the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation and the education programme would not have been realized without the perseverance of the conductor. Added to this was an initiative by the orchestra in 2009, the Digital Concert Hall, which shows live broadcasts of the Philharmoniker's concerts on the internet and which, like the education programme, is supported by Deutsche Bank. Rattle also played a decisive role in the decision to move the Easter Festival from Salzburg to Baden-Baden, and the establishment of the orchestra's own label, Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings. Artistic highlights of the past years not only include the symphonic cycles of Sibelius, Mahler, Brahms and Schumann, but also the performances of Bach's St Matthew and St John Passions staged by Peter Sellars, and the introduction of the Late Night concerts.
Celebrating with Sibelius and Mahler
The Berliner Philharmoniker are celebrating the 60th birthday of Sir Simon Rattle with a complete cycle of the symphonies of Jean Sibelius, first in Berlin, and then in a week-long residence of the orchestra in London. During this tour which will take the Berliner Philharmoniker and its chief conductor to Amsterdam and the new Philharmonie de Paris, they will also perform Mahler's Symphony No. 2 – another favourite work of Rattle who, at the age of twelve, was inspired by a performance of this symphony to become a conductor. Future collaborations between the orchestra and its chief conductor also provide something to look forward to. Exciting projects are planned for the next few years, including a cycle of the complete symphonies of Beethoven next season. Although the conductor announced two years ago that, after 16 years, he would be giving up his Berlin office in 2018, the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle are in agreement that their close and friendly association will continue beyond that date. The artistic partnership between the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle is far from exhausted.