San Francisco audiences will surely be delighted to welcome to Davies Symphony Hall this week the highly regarded Berlin Philharmoniker and its esteemed Chief Conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, making his final visit to the USA and Canada in this capacity.
As guests of the San Francisco Symphony – currently away on an Asian tour – Sir Simon and the Philharmoniker appear for two performances only, with a selection of classical, modern and contemporary works, in keeping with a style which the Maestro presented to American audiences in his first US tour with the Orchestra in November 2003.
The program on November 22 comprises Pierre Boulez’s Éclat, followed by Mahler’s Symphony No 7, and the November 23 performance features orchestral pieces by Schoenberg, Webern and Berg, ending with Brahms’ pastoral-themed Symphony No 2.
Simon Rattle – who received his knighthood from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1994 – has long-standing associations with a number of orchestras in Europe and the United States, including the Rotterdam and Los Angeles philharmonics – he was principal guest conductor of both – the Boston Symphony, the Philadelphia and the Vienna Philharmonic orchestras. Since 1992 he has also been principal guest conductor of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and artistic adviser to the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, of which he was Founding Patron. Most recently he has appeared at the Lucerne, Salzburg and BBC Proms festivals.
Also renowned as an opera conductor, Sir Simon made his debut at the 1977 Glyndebourne Festival, and has since appeared in some of the world’s major opera houses – in Paris and Amsterdam, at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Wiener Staatsoper, the Staatsoper Berlin and the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Maestro Rattle has enjoyed two particularly high profile and long-term tenures. In 1980 he became principal conductor and artistic adviser of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and music director from 1990 to 1998. Since 2002 he has been chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker and artistic director of the Berliner Philharmonie – roles which he will relinquish in September 2017 to take up the position of music director of the London Symphony Orchestra.
The Berliner Philharmoniker undertook its first tour of the United States and Canada in February 1955, not long after the death of its chief conductor, Wilhelm Furtwängler. Herbert von Karajan stepped in to lead the tour, which set the scene for the enthusiastic reception which the ensemble still receives in both countries during its regular visits. Highlights of these American tours include the 2007 Residency in Carnegie Hall, when the orchestra was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and the Schumann and Beethoven cycles in 2014 and 2015.
On this current tour, in its critique of “the glorious Berliners” at Carnegie Hall earlier this month, New York Classical Review wrote that “the celebrated ensemble filled the space with a huge, gorgeous sound”, and described their performance as “…. orchestral playing at its absolute finest. The dark, velvety strings produced enough volume on their own to fill the hall, and their plushness was a superb complement to the opening tenor horn solo” [of the Mahler Symphony No 7].
Following their performance at Boston Symphony Hall, Boston Edge wrote: “Rattle …. exhibited the rapport that only a great conductor can have with a world-class orchestra. Conducting the Mahler (along with the Pierre Boulez piece Éclat, that preceded it) from memory, he guided the ensemble with pin-point precision and they responded with an on-point performance that brought goosebumps during the piece’s numerous climaxes and a sense of wonder during its more lyrical moments.”
Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker bring their current US tour to a close at Davies Symphony Hall on November 22 and 23. For more information, and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.