Shanghai's generosity charms top conductor

Sir Simon Rattle, the 62-year-old chief conductor of Berliner Philharmoniker, was back in the city for two classical concerts ─ the last with the orchestra.  
Ti Gong

Sir Simon Rattle, 62, directs Berliner Philharmoniker in Shanghai during the “Borgward Music Night” concert.

Sir Simon Rattle, the 62-year-old chief conductor of Berliner Philharmoniker, clearly enjoys his trips to Shanghai.

“Shanghai is a city full of imagination. Everything here fascinates me,” says Rattle, who was on his third trip to the city last week. “My father lived here for some time. He always spoke about the Peace Hotel. I feel like following his steps every time I visit Shanghai. I always try to imagine the city that was in his memory.”

The Berliner Philharmoniker conductor staged two performances entitled “Borgward Music Night.” It was the last stop of the German orchestra’s 2017 China tour — also Rattle’s last season with the troupe as chief conductor.

“I try not to think about the end too much, but everybody keeps reminding me of it,” says Rattle.

He deliberately picked some pieces from his “bucket list,” including Rachmaninov’s “Symphony No. 3,” Stravinsky’s “Petrouchka” and some short pieces commissioned by the orchestra over the last two years that Rattle described as “great dim sum” for concerts.

The English conductor rose to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s as music director of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He was appointed chief conductor of Berliner Philharmoniker in 2002. While keeping the classic repertoires of it, he was also active in exploring new possibilities for the orchestra.

Rattle and Berliner Philharmoniker collaborated with US director Peter Sellars to stage the production of Bach’s “Matthew Passion” in 2010. He also initiated “Late Night” concerts in which he presented some rare pieces such as Gyorgi Ligeti’s “Adventures” and Williams Walton’s “Facade.”

The conductor will leave Berliner Philharmoniker at the end of his current contract in 2018. He will then work as music director of the London Symphony Orchestra. 

Ti Gong

Q: Was it a difficult decision to leave Berliner Philharmoniker?

A: I have collaborated with it for 16 years. It was really a long time — equal to four US presidential terms. We established great connection and bond. I love them and we are very close. It was a wonderful time, but it’s time to leave. It is time for the orchestra to really move forward, explore new repertoire and widen its possibilities.

Q: Do you still remember the first time you collaborated with Berliner Philharmoniker on stage?

A: Yes. I had much more black hair than I do now (laughing). It was very impressive. I felt like I found a special voice that night. Each orchestra has its own personality, and each musician of Berliner Philharmoniker is outstanding. My job is to help the great creature to dance. Berliner Philharmoniker is an incredible partner to me.

Q: What made you accept the position at the London Symphony Orchestra?

A: I could not reject it. I enjoyed collaborating with them very much. I have many friends there, some of whom I have known for 45 years. It is a great orchestra that is always looking forward, rather than framing themselves in the tradition. 

I am about to change my fantastic red wine of Berlin Philharmonic to an equally great white wine of the London Symphony. Certainly it will be a whole new adventure in my life and back in my country. It is just perfect.

Q: This is your third visit to Shanghai with Berliner Philharmoniker in the past 12 years. How did it feel? 

A: We walked around the water (Huangpu River) the other night. In any city as beautiful as this, you have to. I was just impressed again by the atmosphere and generosity of the city. I know that every time we come here, the music will be more embedded in the community.

We cannot help noticing how young and intense the audiences are here. We must present our best performances, and not let them down.

With the London Symphony, we are also in the middle of planning a tour of China in two years.

Special Reports