Simon Rattle Answers German Critics

Classic Arts News   Simon Rattle Answers German Critics
Simon Rattle enjoyed a swooning reception from the German press when he began his tenure as music director of the Berlin Philharmonic in 2002. Yet recently he has been under fire from local critics, who have accused him of lacking interpretive depth and tampering with the orchestra's trademark dark, rich sound.

The English conductor has fought back, however, defending his approach in the local press. An Associated Press article quotes the conductor as telling the German weekly Der Spiegel that he hasn't diluted the Philharmonic's sound, which he said is "still there. You can call upon this sound when it's needed — but that doesn't mean that it's always needed."

"Nobody is above criticism," he added. "It is the job of critics to criticize — my job is to direct this orchestra and to make great music."

Rattle has broken with tradition in Berlin and branched out into contemporary composers such as Thomas Ads, John Adams and Heiner Goebbels, instead of focusing heavily on the German Romantic works which were historically the Philharmonic's core repertory.

Last month pianist Alfred Brendel defended Rattle in a letter to the The Guardian of London after an article quoted various German critics as saying that the English conductor had failed to sustain momentum from the initial excitement when he arrived four years ago.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writer Fabian Bremer, one of Rattle's harshest critics, was quoted as writing that "the longing for a new Karajan is growing," referring to the legendary Herbert von Karajan, the music director of the Philharmonic from 1954 to 1989.

"The Berlin Philharmonic is in superlative shape," Brendel wrote. "Of course it is not a carbon copy of Karajan's or [Claudio] Abbado's orchestra. While it has fully retained its richness in Romantic symphonies, it has opened itself up to contemporary as well as 18th-century music in a novel way."

Rattle, whose contract in Berlin runs until 2010, told Der Spiegel, "We want to remain the best orchestra in the world, whatever that means. We want to play an enormous bandwidth and for such a spectrum, we don't need only one sound, but a full bandwidth of sounds."

Orchestra members are reportedly still happy with Rattle's leadership.

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