A new role for the conductor in Germany means a planned ‘world-class concert hall’ has lost its champion

In 2002, the streets of Berlin were hung with banners reading, “Welcome, Sir Simon!” It was the year Simon Rattle took up his job as music director of the Berlin Philharmonic. This was big news in the UK, too: he was our lad, a proper scouser. As a young man he had made the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra glitter like something magical, and now he was going to take on the most celebrated orchestra in the world. It was like when Gareth Bale was swept off by Real Madrid. The Sun ran a rapturous editorial.

Cut to 2015, and there was more big news: Rattle was coming home to be music director of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO). It was his “last big job”. There was an enormous sweetener, too: the prospect of a brand-new concert hall, a “centre for music” in the City of London, backed by the then chancellor, George Osborne, who’d seen the point of the project after “speaking to the likes of Sir Simon Rattle”. These were exciting, optimistic times. “This has all moved so fast, it’s like going down Niagara Falls in a barrel,” Rattle told reporters at the time. He would, it was said, be at the centre of an architectural project as culturally transformative as Tate Modern.

Related: Simon Rattle to leave London Symphony Orchestra in 2023

Charlotte Higgins is the Guardian’s chief culture writer

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Author: Charlotte Higgins

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