“Britain’s favourite musical son was back where he belonged,” was how The Independent described the three concerts given by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker at the BBC “Proms” in the Royal Albert Hall in London in September 2010. And the rousing applause left no doubt that the audiences agreed wholeheartedly with this assessment.
The Berliner Philharmoniker and Simon Rattle took the London music fans on a particular journey. In the music of the first half of the concert – the prelude to Wagner’s Parsifal and Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder – the richness and intensity of late Romantic music reaches its culmination and at the same time, anticipates the expressive and harmonic visions of the early 20th century. These become tangible in the works in the second half of the concert, starting with the Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16 by Arnold Schoenberg (who himself conducted the works at the “Proms” in 1914). This was followed by works from two of Schoenberg’s students: Anton Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6 and Alban Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6.
Sir Simon Rattle himself explained during the concert that it was possible to view all of these works together as one unit, in that he asked the audience not to applaud between the works, but rather to listen to them as if they were a kind of “Eleventh Symphony by Gustav Mahler”. The vocal soloist Karita Mattila also deserves to be mentioned as one of the evening’s highlights. The Evening Standard wrote that no-one was better able to interpret the four Strauss songs with “a more golden tone or more musical intelligence”.