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Sir Simon Rattle

Over a career, including extended tenures with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Simon Rattle has become recognized as one of the world's top conductors. Mostly focusing on symphonic music, he has also conducted major operatic productions. A native of Liverpool, Rattle was born on January 19, 1955. He studied piano, violin, and percussion as a youngster, joining the Merseyside Youth Orchestra as a percussionist and later playing with Britain's National Youth Orchestra. He gravitated naturally toward conducting, taking up the baton in his early teens and founding his own orchestra, the Liverpool Sinfonia, when he was just 15. He entered the Royal Academy of Music and graduated in 1974 at age 19, taking first prize in the John Player International Conductors' Competition that year. That was enough to land Rattle an assistant conductor post with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra as well as guest appearances in the U.S., including one with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1979. Rattle's tenure with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra began with his appointment as principal conductor and artistic advisor in 1980; he added the title of music director in 1990. He raised the orchestra's profile substantially, leading the group on European, American, and East Asian tours and starting a long recording association with the EMI label. Rattle also made many appearances at Britain's Glyndebourne Festival as an opera conductor, beginning in 1977. He served as principal guest conductor of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment beginning in 1992. Leaving his position with the City of Birmingham Symphony in 1998 and disillusioned by arts funding cuts in Britain, Rattle often appeared as a guest conductor in the late '90s with the Berlin Philharmonic before the orchestra's members named him the successor to Claudio Abbado; he began his tenure in 2002. His time in Berlin was controversial among critics, but the orchestra members, whose salaries he had successfully fought to increase, renewed his contract through 2018 when he stepped down and was succeeded by Kirill Petrenko. Rattle continued to record prolifically (as many as five albums a year) for EMI with the Berlin Philharmonic, issuing a wide variety of music, including a complete cycle of Beethoven's symphonies. He led a major new production of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde in 2016 at New York's Metropolitan Opera. In 2017, Rattle returned to Britain as conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, where his recording career resumed with the orchestra's LSO Live label; his recording of Berlioz's La damnation de Faust appeared in 2019. He was scheduled to retire from the London Symphony in 2023 and take the title of conductor emeritus; that year, he was slated to become chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. In 2021, citing difficulties caused by Brexit, he applied for German citizenship. Rattle has won several Grammy awards, including one for Best Choral Performance for his 2008 recording of Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem; his recording with the London Symphony of Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen earned a Grammy nomination for Best Opera Recording in 2022. By that time, his recording catalog comprised some 250 items, with a remarkable catholicity of taste that encompassed composers from Haydn to Duke Ellington. He has been noted for fine complete cycles of the symphonies of Beethoven, Mahler, and Sibelius. Rattle has been married three times, most recently to mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená; the couple has three children.
© James Manheim /TiVo


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