Wednesday, January 29, 2003


In addition to some adventurous initial programming (Turnage, Thomas Ades) and a robust approach to public relations, Simon Rattle's tenure as artistic director and principal conductor of the otherwise staid Berlin Philaharmonic Orchestra has, appropriately enough, taken a philanthropic turn. Recognising the social as well as artistic responsibilities of being at the heart of a fast-changing Europe, Rattle has developed a programme to work with migrant children - from Poland, Nigeria, Iraq and several other countries. The first project is training young dancers to take on Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring'.

"Part of our job as an orchestra is to be part of the city - to get underneath it and not be some expensive ornament," says Rattle, who (reports John Hooper in The Guardian) took charge of Berlin's debt-laden but most valued cultural jewel last year just as the first cuts were being made to the city's budget. In a climate as suspicious of immigrants and refugees as it is towards too much cultural innovation, Rattle is taking a risk. Eyebrows will be raised and he will certainly make enemies. But his courage and commitment - to the classical tradition, to new music, to social change - are really encouraging signs.

Tara Haddad, aged 15, arrived in the German capital five months ago after leaving Baghdad. "For me the most difficult thing is the idea," she said. "Why did Stravinsky want to make this music and why did they want to do this dance with Stravinsky's music? This music is sad and I've always danced to happy music before. Well, Eminem."

But she was clearly very excited by the project. So excited, in fact, that she was having difficulty sleeping.

(c) Guardian Newspapers

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