Near-universal euphoria has surrounded the appointment of Sir Simon Rattle as Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra from September 2017. But we already have world-class musicians, orchestras and conductors in the UK – so why should the appointment of one musician be so important?
I believe (and hope) that Rattle’s return could have far-reaching and life-changing consequences for thousands of people. Here are my ten reasons why:
1. The quality of his music-making across different genres. Without Rattle being a supreme and versatile musician, loved by players, singers and audience alike, this would just be a good PR stunt. In so many ways, Rattle embodies what a musician needs to be in the 21st century – as searching and authoritative in Rameau as in Haydn, Brahms, Stravinsky or Bernstein (and working as easily with period instruments as with symphony orchestras), as well as a champion of new music.
2. The eclectic nature of his music-making has become mirrored by the musicians in the orchestras with whom he works. And a musician comfortable inhabiting different musical worlds is one who is equally at ease socially.
3. In turn, the musical organisations associated with Rattle have diversified beyond the concert hall – the Berlin Philharmonic has embraced new ways of communicating, including their Digital Concert Hall, outstanding education programme and work in the community.
4. That Concert Hall… The prospect of a state-of-the-art concert hall in London, built with the demands of audiences in the 21st century in mind, multi-functional and digital (as in Miami and Paris) is so exciting. Technology has developed at such a fast pace in terms of all-important acoustics to allow the LSO to be heard in full surround sound; harnessed with visionary architecture (as seen in China especially), a new concert hall in London will be an inspiration and a cultural magnet.
5. Simon Rattle is an inspirational figurehead for classical music, the like of which is not seen elsewhere in this country. There won’t be one person playing football for fun who can’t name a leading professional footballer; can we say the same for a young violinist or pianist? People who are well known and outstanding in their field command respect and others try to emulate them – witness the phenomenal growth in piano playing in China as a result of Lang Lang’s profile.
6. Rattle also has influence in political and decision-making circles – to paraphrase a well-known brand of lager, he reaches parts other musicians can’t reach. Witness the rescuing of creative music-making in the National Curriculum in the 1990s through his direct intervention. His rallying cry for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for London to have a concert hall comparable to the world’s great cities is another example of this. As a music educator, I worry profoundly about the place of music in schools – not just through lack of funding, but a dire lack of good music teachers. The more people who are drawn to be engaged and participate in music, the bigger the pool of potential future educators.
7. We live in an era of instant gratification and soundbites. (The fact that I need to entitle this blog “ten reasons” is an example of this!) But Rattle is alive to this – everything he has said recently grabs the attention. See point 9. His championing of Music in this way will ensure that Music stays in the public consciousness as something vital to our very being.
8. Having succeeded in getting our attention, Rattle is a living embodiment of the long-term benefits of music – of hard work, practice, team work, and patience (witness how long he stays with his orchestras), across perceived boundaries of wealth, ethnicity and culture. He sees his work as an educator as important as that of a conductor.
9. “We share a dream in which performing, teaching and learning are indivisible”. This was part of Rattle’s statement on taking up the LSO post. For him, the divide between music teachers and professionals does not exist. What’s more, we so badly need our best musicians (and those in future generations) to be music educators.
10. All of this leads back to the need for orchestras, musical organisations, concert halls, and the musicians themselves to be reinvented for the 21st century and beyond. With Rattle at the forefront of music in the UK, Music will be visible and tangible, and a major force in social transformation.
(Contributor: Simon Toyne is Assistant Head and Director of Music at Tiffin School. In addition to his work conducting the Tiffin Boys’ Choir, he is a Director of the Eton Choral Courses, Music Director of the National Youth Training Choir of Wales, and Director of Music at Kingston Parish Church, whose renowned choir maintains a Cathedral-style repertoire and has broadcast on BBC1, Radio 4 and World Service Radio.)
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