Conductor

Sir Simon Rattle

Conductor

Sir Simon Rattle was born in Liverpool and studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London./span>

From 1980 to 1998, Sir Simon was Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and was appointed Music Director in 1990. He moved to Berlin in 2002 and held the positions of Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker until he stepped down in 2018. Sir Simon became Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra in September 2017 and spent the 2017-18 season at the helm of both ensembles.

Sir Simon has made over 70 recordings for EMI record label (now Warner Classics) and has received numerous prestigious international awards for his recordings on various labels. Releases on EMI include Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms (which received the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance) Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, Ravel’s L'enfant et les sortileges, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. From 2014 Sir Simon continued to build his recording portfolio with the Berliner Philharmoniker’s new in-house label, Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings, which led to recordings of the Beethoven, Schumann and Sibelius symphony cycles. Sir Simon’s most recent recordings include Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, Turnage’s Remembering, and Ravel, Dutilleux and Delage on Blue-Ray & DVD with the London Symphony Orchestra’s record label, LSO Live.

Music education is of supreme importance to Sir Simon, and his partnership with the Berliner Philiharmoniker broke new ground with the education programme Zukunft@Bphil, earning him the Comenius Prize, the Schiller Special Prize from the city of Mannheim, the Golden Camera and the Urania Medal. He and the Berliner Philharmoniker were also appointed International UNICEF Ambassadors in 2004 - the first time this honour has been conferred on an artistic ensemble. Sir Simon has also been awarded several prestigious personal honours which include a knighthood in 1994, becoming a member of the Order of Merit from Her Majesty the Queen in 2014 and most recently, being given the Freedom of the City of London in 2018.

From 2013, Sir Simon took up residency at Baden-Baden Osterfestspiele performing Die Zauberflöte and a series of concerts with the Berliner Philharmoniker in his first season. Since then the partnership led to performances of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, Peter Sellars’s ritualization of Bach’s St. John Passion, Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and most recently, Parsifal in 2018. For Salzburg Osterfestspiele, Rattle has conducted staged productions of Fidelio, Così fan tutte, Peter Grimes, Pelléas et Mélisande, Salome and Carmen, a concert performance of Idomeneo and many contrasting concert programmes. He has also conducted Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen with the Berliner Philharmoniker for Festival d'Aix-en-Provence and Salzburg Osterfestspiele and most recently at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and Wiener Staatsoper. Other recent opera productions for Sir Simon include Pelléas et Mélisande and Dialogues des Carmélites for the Royal Opera House; L'Étoile, Aus einem Totenhaus, Káťa Kabanová and La damnation de Faust for the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, and Andrew Norman’s A Trip to the Moon at the Barbican Centre, London.

Sir Simon has longstanding relationships with the leading orchestras in London, Europe and the USA; initially working closely with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Boston Symphony Orchestra, and more recently with The Philadelphia Orchestra. He regularly conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker, with whom he has recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies and piano concertos with Alfred Brendel and is also a Principal Artist of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Founding Patron of Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

During the 2018-19 season Sir Simon will embark upon tours to Japan, South Korea and Europe with the London Symphony Orchestra. He will conduct the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra for the first time in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and will return to the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin for Hippolyte et Aricie, the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks for Die Walküre and the Berliner Philharmoniker for Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. In March 2019 he will conduct Peter Sellars’ revival of the St. John Passion with both the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

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Each composition joins its companions as a sibling, related but distinct. Abrahamsen’s Fourth Quartet (2012) begins in a glacial world of high harmonics and ends in a typical use of rhythmic intricacy to create irregular dance. His let me tell you (2013), a monodrama for soprano and orchestra, again finishes in a winter landscape but is perhaps most remarkable for its reinvention of vocal melody, keenly expressive, on the part of a composer who had written very little for the voice.

His concerto for piano left hand, Left, alone (2014-15), is again a drama, a story of conflict, solitariness and communal exhilaration, and proves him ready for the next challenge he has set himself, that of opera, on a subject made for him: Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.

© Paul Griffiths

Each composition joins its companions as a sibling, 

related but distinct.

Microtonal tunings are absent here, but return in Wald for fifteen players (2009), which, like Schnee, is at once natural depiction (in this case of shadowy forests), cultural evocation (of horn calls, hunts and lurking mystery) and elaborate musical construct. The self-similarities of tangled woodland are echoed at several levels, from that of the opening tremulation (fourths played by two violins, microtonally and metrically displaced from one another) to that of the large-scale variation form.

The ominous yet captivating misaligned fourths from the start of Wald come back at the beginning of the work that followed: the Double Concerto for violin, piano and strings (2010-11). There are flakes, too, from Schnee, such as the chilling-exhilarating quasi-unisons of high piano and string harmonic or the dancing figures of the two fast movements. Yet this is also a work with its own character, reaching to moments of bursting brilliance or consolatory embrace.

Yet this is also a work with its own character, reaching to moments of bursting brilliance or consolatory embrace.

That, however, did not come until twenty years later. The path leading on from the piano studies turned out to be not so self-evident, and Abrahamsen’s productivity slowed, then stopped. Meanwhile, he was finding a new outlet as an arranger, notably of pieces by Bach and Nielsen. Of original compositions, only a brief Rilke setting, Herbstlied, interrupted his silence between 1990 and 1998.

Having returned to creative activity with a couple more piano studies, he then produced his first extended work in a decade and a half, the Piano Concerto he completed in 2000. Here, not for the last time, a new beginning had deep roots in his past – in the turbulent lopsided ostinatos and the contrasting stillnesses of the piano studies, and in the polyphony of type and topic that went back to Winternacht and beyond. The concerto is also thoroughly characteristic in being at once intimate and tightly crafted, as close to Schumann as it is to Stravinsky.

By the age of thirty he had produced a sizeable output: several orchestral works (Nacht und Trompeten, a luminous and dramatic nocturne, was commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic), two string quartets and numerous other pieces, mostly instrumental, including another fine example of wintry musical poetry, Winternacht.

In 1984 came a set of seven piano studies (later increased to ten), some of which, in their furious processes, strikingly anticipated Ligeti’s of the following year. Ligeti, briefly his teacher, had been one of his first heroes, for exactness and beauty, along with Steve Reich. Now the debt was repaid, and a door opened. Abrahamsen immediately arranged six of the studies to make a companionpiece for the Danish première of Ligeti’s Horn Trio (an arrangement subsequently reworked, with cello in place of horn, as Traumlieder); he also recomposed four of the pieces for large orchestra.

An early beginner – his first published works date from when he was sixteen – Abrahamsen started out with a flair for rediscovering fundamentals.

No wonder this is a composer of so much snow music, for snow shapes itself on what we know to offer the possibility of a new start. This, the new start, Abrahamsen has achieved several times, not least in his Schnee (2006-8), scored for two pianos and percussion with contrasting trios and justly esteemed one of the first classics of twenty-first-century music. Gradually crystallizing canons, playing for close on an hour, are also musical portraits of snow: its flurries, its delicacy, its cold. Though based on a modal melody, the piece is by no means white-note music; indeed, characteristic microtonal retunings, made during the course of performance, are crucial to how it sounds, beautifully blurring the counterpoint as the canons shift in and out of focus.

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