June 20, 2009

Lunch with the FT: Sir Simon Rattle

Andrew Clark:
attle found the criticism painful. Popping another tomato in his mouth, he lets slip that the reason Lunch with the FT took so long to arrange – more than a year – was that he was stung by what I had written. “That’s why I avoided speaking to you.”

. . .

But last year his Berlin contract was extended to 2018 – an impressive vote of confidence from an orchestra that, unusually, is entirely self-governing while receiving most of its funds from the state. And a visit to the London Proms revealed a man who had matured and mellowed. He had finally begun to learn German. He still struggles to speak it (“anyone less linguistically gifted than me is hard to imagine”, he confesses), but by attempting to do so he had broken an important psychological barrier. His podium gestures were as jubilant as ever, but his Brahms had acquired unmistakable depth.

Sitting across the lunch table, I begin to understand why. Rattle is settling into comfortable middle age. The blue T-shirt may advertise a man still young at heart but the curls are white and thinning. Yesterday’s boy wonder is now older than most of his orchestra. He has begun to slow down, to be slightly less sensitive to criticism.

But there’s another factor at work. Rattle has made his home in Berlin, something not even Herbert von Karajan, his most illustrious predecessor, had done. He lives in one of the city’s leafy quarters and is often seen doing the family shopping in its open-air markets. It’s as if he has gone native. So what has he learned about the Germans?

“People are more subtle and complicated than they are made out to be,” he answers, pouring some of the red wine he has brought outside. Does this mean Germans are not the humourless caricature peddled by England’s tabloid newspapers? Rattle sighs. It wasn’t until his late twenties, he says, after discussing the horrors of the Nazi era with Viennese conductor Rudolf Schwarz, a Belsen survivor who resumed his career in Birmingham after the war, that he became aware of the complexities of national identity.
Posted by James Zellmer at June 20, 2009 9:26 PM | Subscribe to this site via RSS:
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