Classical Music

Could Simon Rattle Prompt a Rejuvenation of British Classical Music?

By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic 

“You have no idea how great the London Symphony Orchestra can sound in a great concert hall,” Sir Simon Rattle told the BBC’s Will Gompertz ahead of a sold-out London residency with the Berlin Philharmonic at the Barbican. As news trickled through today that he is to join the LSO in 2017, one has to wonder, will this prompt a rejuvenation of British classical music?

LSO is undoubtedly one of the greatest orchestras in the World, but it isn’t often perceived as being the most dynamic. Its image has undoubtedly been tainted by the capital’s infrastructure. Rattle told reporters at the Barbican shows that he would consider a London move on the condition that there was a “proper” venue, although he has since backtracked saying his move to London was not contingent on the city getting a new hall.

But the decision to build a new music hall isn’t one that can be made on a whim and it would be narrow-minded of us to think that it isn’t something that’s on his mind. The Barbican Centre looks horrendously dull next to The Berliner Philharmonie. Chancellor George Osborne has asked for a report into whether there is a case for a world-class venue with some sources reporting that potential sites have already been discussed with rough costs of £250 million outlined for the project.

Kathryn McDowell, LSO managing director, commented on Osbourne’s plans for a feasibility study saying: “Culture is ever more important in defining our great cities, and this is a once-in-a-generation chance to explore how we could work with the City of London to create a state-of-the-art performance and education facility for the digital age that offers outstanding learning opportunities for all.”

The decision to upgrade the venue is likely be driven more by acoustics than aesthetics, with post-war festival halls such as the Barbican and iconic 19th century venues such as the Royal Albert Hall struggling to deliver on recent advancements. This has led to criticism that LSO is perhaps not fulfilling its potential next to the Royal Concertgebouw, Vienna Philharmonic and of course Berlin Philharmonic, even though it certainly deserves to be.

But that’s something Rattle is aware of and enthused by. Speaking at today’s announcement he said: “During my work with the LSO over the last years, I noticed that despite the orchestra’s long and illustrious history, they almost never refer to it.

“Instead, refreshingly, they talk about the future, what can they make anew, what can they improve, how can they reach further into the community.

“In terms of musical excellence, it is clear that the sky’s the limit, but equally important, in terms of philosophy, they constantly strive to be a twenty-first century orchestra.”

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