The Berlin Philharmonic’s glamorous conductor Simon Rattle is returning to Australia next year, he tells
written within a couple of years of each other, as Rattle points out. “The Bruckner Eight is one of the biggest, most moving and profound pieces we play,” he says, “and they tell me it’s not so often played in Australia.” He is intrigued to learn that while Australian audiences are forcefed Mahler, they are not so familiar with Bruckner. “Well, that’s going to be fascinating,” he says. At least he knows that Australians like their symphonies big.
Kozena came to fame singing music from the much earlier baroque and classical eras. Her recording of Vivaldi’s opera Juditha Triumphans with Alessandro de Marchi is a triumph, and she has recorded compilations of Vivaldi, Handel and Mozart arias. Debussy seems a jump. “But that’s what she’s been doing for years,” Rattle says. “She lived in Paris, and French music has been very much the centre of her repertoire in the last 10 or 15 years. People in Europe forget she was a baroque singer, but people get to know recordings.”
Rattle has done his time with baroque too: he was made principal guest conductor of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment a couple of decades ago and remains its principal artist. “It was hilarious at one point. I was touring Rameau with the Berlin Philharmonic, and touring Berlioz with Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment,” he says. The mind boggles slightly.
Just thinking of the sonorous depths of the Berlin Philharmonic conjures the German tradition: Haydn, Beethoven, Wagner. But the brittle sophistication of the French baroque? “But you know, it’s all one continuum,” he says. “They all affect each other. People talk about how Stravinsky is influenced by Haydn, but they always forget to say how much Haydn is influenced by Stravinsky backwards.
“I think the whole point of modern orchestras is that they should take in everything. If you’re not playing a lot of Bach, then you probably shouldn’t play Bruckner either.” He and his orchestra have won rave reviews in recent years with their performances of the Bach Passions, staged by American director Peter Sellars. RATTLE was born in Liverpool in January 1955, the son of a naval commander, and started at the Royal Academy of Music in London at the precocious age of 16. The year he graduated, he
Simon Rattle, top; Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic at the Sydney Opera House, left; Rattle’s wife, Czech mezzosoprano Magdalena Kozena, facing page