Wednesday, June 18, 2008


There was a great documentary film on BBC1 last night, in the Imagine series, looking at Simon Rattle and the legendary Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on tour across Asia - including China, South Korea, Hong Kong... and Taiwan, where, incongruously, they were greeted like teen rock stars. Rattle was eloquent as ever, you gained some insight into the inner machinations of what is probably the best-oiled (and distinctly un-mechanical) musical machine in the world, and it was a joy to see them struggling in rehearsal with some fiendishly difficult Thomas Ades. The instrumentalists provided much of the commentary themselves, talking about what it means to be a musician and the impact it has had on their lives and relationships.

One felt for the young woman on probation, evidently a stellar player in any other context, who didn't make the final vote to get into the BPO. The ruthlessness and ego, as well as the tenderness and passion, of the outfit was all-too-evident. There were telling psychological as well as musicological insights. SR has done a good job pushing the boat out and conserving the tradition of one of the world's great musical institutions. The ghost of Karajan was, of course, at this feast. But the focus was elsewhere, and this Asian encounter was magical and revealing.

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