The hotly-anticipated return of Simon Rattle heralds a new era for the LSO, and indeed for British music.
Considered one of Britain’s finest conductors, Rattle has not held a formal post in this country since 1998, when he left the CBSO.
Rumours of his homecoming have been circulating for years, but gained pace in 2013 when he announced he would not be extending his contract with the Berlin Philharmonic.
Rattle and the LSO go back to 1977, when he first conducted them at the startlingly young age of 22. He has been a regular guest conductor ever since (including at the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony).
LSO players are excited by what Rattle’s leadership will bring to their sound. As principal flute Gareth Davies recently told BBC Music Magazine, ‘good conductors don’t throw away the old, but unlock more colours to add to the palette. When Simon began conducting us more regularly it became obvious to everyone that something just clicked.’
So, what do the rest of us have to look forward to?
1. Ten days of inaugural celebrations
Under the banner This is Rattle, the new season opens with ten days of musical merriment to give Sir Simon a warm welcome (14-24 September).
His inaugural concert with the LSO features an all-British line-up of composers, including a new fanfare by Helen Grime, Elgar’s ‘Enigma’ Variations, Thomas Adès’s Asyla (a Rattle commission which he has consistently championed) and other works by Harrison Birtwistle and Oliver Knussen.
For those who have missed out on seats, the concert will be simulcast to headphone-wearing listeners in the Barbican sculpture court (using silent disco technology) and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and Mezzo TV.
Radio 3 are also in residence at the Barbican for a series of lunchtime and early evening recitals from artists that Rattle has supported: Ingrid Filter, Veronika Eberle, Olena Tokar and Esther Yoo.
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group was founded by Rattle in 1987, they will perform a dynamic programme of Stravinsky and contemporary works, curated by Oliver Knussen.
In line with Rattle’s own belief that music should be for everyone, participatory events include an “Opera in a Day” workshop at LSO St Luke’s, tackling Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust. There is also a Discovery Day where audience members can delve deeper into the Faust legend before watching Rattle and performers in rehearsal.
The celebrations end in style, with the Rattle conducting Stravinsky’s Firebird, Petrushka and Rite of Spring in the closing concert. The concert will be broadcast live on the LSO’s YouTube Channel – click here to find out more (find link).
2. A new London concert hall
Rattle has openly voiced his concerns that the LSO’s current home, the Barbican, restricts the orchestra’s potential repertoire. Its acoustics and size will not accommodate about 20% of his wish list during his tenure, and large-scale works could breach health and safety.
After the government withdrew support from plans for a world-class Centre for Music last year, fingers are crossed as the project is now back on the table.
An enormous amount of money needs to be raised (around £278m), which Rattle accepts the government will struggle to justify in the current climate. Alternative avenues for funding must also be explored. But can the conductor, who regularly makes classical music front page news, be a game-changer for the cause?
Rattle’s homecoming has been explicitly tied up with these plans – he is a member of the panel judging the list of proposed architects for the project, which includes Renzo Piano, who designed the Shard, and Frank Gehry.
The proposed hall would be built on the current site of the Museum of London in the City.
As well as housing the LSO for its rehearsals and performances, Rattle envisions an inclusive space, affiliated with the Guildhall School of Music and open to all Londoners – a concert hall for the 21st century.
3. A new age of collaboration
Rattle’s homecoming will also signal the start of a new chapter for the LSO and London’s audiences.
‘Over time you’ll see new directions in repertoire, education and even venues’, said LSO principal flute Gareth Davies, calling it “a defining moment” for the orchestra.
As music director rather than principal conductor, he is keen to improve access to classical music, engaging with younger and newer audiences. His inaugural season sees the introduction of £5 tickets for under-18s and the ‘Half Six Fix’ – hour-long weekday concerts aimed at commuters.
The Rattle era will open each season with a celebration of British composers, include more baroque works, ambitious scaling, and encourage the LSO to get out and about in London.
As if conducting one orchestra at a time wasn’t enough of a challenge, Rattle’s 2018 plans include a performance of Stockhausen’s Gruppen at the Tate Modern, which requires 180 musicians across three orchestras.
Find out more about what we can expect from the British maestro’s return in our September issue – out now.