By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Philharmonic; Sir Simon Rattle, conductor
Ligeti: Atmostpheres; Wagner: Prelude to Lohengrin
Mahler: Rückert-Lieder (Magdalena Kozená, soprano)
Bruckner: Symphony No. 9
Tonight, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall
“Once upon a time … “
In 1979, a 24-year-old, curly haired conductor named Simon Rattle (pictured left) made his U.S. conducting debut leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Two years later, he was named one of the Phil’s Principal Guest Conductors (the other was Michael Tilson Thomas) and held that post for nine years.
Rumor has it that Rattle’s relationship with then-LAPO Executive Director Ernest Fleischmann turned acrimonious; neither Rattle in his official bio nor the Phil acknowledge this intriguing bit of history (not since Sir Simon — he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994 — and MTT has the LAPO had an official principal guest conductor).
Suffice to say, Sir Simon’s visits to Los Angeles have been sparse, so this weekend’s concerts with the Phil (the first time he has conducted the Phil at Walt Disney Concert Hall) are a definite must-see. The program features Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, with Rattle’s wife, Magdalena Kozená, as soloist; Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9; and music by Ligeti and Wagner.
Whether and how extensively the relationship between Rattle and the LAPO could have developed will always be a matter of speculation. In 1980, he returned to his native England to become Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and eventually the CBSO’s Music Director. During his 19-year-tenure he turned a provincial orchestra into a world-class ensemble.
At the same time, he was developing an extensive relationship with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra through regular guest-conducting stints. In 2002, the orchestra’s musicians voted to make Rattle their principal conductor. Although the vote was not unanimous, Rattle eventually won over the musicians, audiences and local critics and his contract was later extended through the 2018 season.
This will be a busy weekend for Rattle. In addition to the Phil concerts, he will lead the YOLA at EXPO Chamber Orchestra on Saturday in a performance of the finale of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 as the opening segment of a Youth Orchestra Festival Day at Disney Hall (Info: www.laphil.com).
It’s also the beginning of stellar month at Disney Hall. The New York Philharmonic comes to town Wednesday night and LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel returns to town Thursday to round out the month and 2011-2012 season with a series of interesting concerts that I’ll preview in an upcoming post. (May concert schecdule: www.laphil.com) For now, Sir Simon and the LAPO are enough of a reason to get downtown to Disney Hall.
(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.