Sir Simon Rattle Conducts the Berlin Philharmonic

Last night I saw Sir Simon Rattle conduct the Berlin Philharmonic through Brahms’ Third and Fourth Symphonies at Carnegie Hall. I had to wait on line for four hours starting at 7 am to get standby tickets, and it was completely worth it.

I love going to watch the orchestra because each time I realize I pay attention to a different element of the performance, and it always brings more to my experience of listening to the music at home. Sir Simon Rattle captivated me right away: he is a dancer. And a priest. And a knight— a real one!

The way he conducts: it's like he is climbing a rope ladder. And dancing late at night with his bride in a cafe. And saving a child from falling into a ravine. And riding a horse. And embroidering a pillowslip. And accusing someone of guilt in a court of law. And conjuring polytheistic gods! So transparent and still, so subtle: the orchestra understands him exactly. And offers, and waits. Between the first two movements of the Third Symphony, he held the silence for such a long time… a minute at least, until the entire auditorium was quiet and the orchestra still. The control, the humility.

As wonderful as it is to listen to something as flirtatious, effusive and full as Brahms' Fourth Symphony, for me it’s also a frustrating experience: the music is so immediate. You will never be able to reach inside the moment of it and hold it step by step. But Sir Simon has found a way: command through gesture and movement the artists who make the sound.


And at the end of the performance, instead of only gesturing to the soloists like some conductors will, he walked over to them: kissed them, held their hands in his hands. Moving through the field of the musicians as though he was walking through a garden. It was one of the most beautiful and gracious displays of intelligent power I have ever seen.