Before Simon Rattle took office as chief conductor, the Berliner Philharmoniker had only once performed a cycle of the symphonies of Sibelius – and that was only in the recording studio. In 2010, Sir Simon conducted a complete performance for the first time in the Berlin Philharmonie. In this concert, the cycle reached its culmination with the performance of no less than three Sibelius symphonies.
In Symphonies Nos. 5, 6 and 7 the qualities of this Finnish composer’s earlier works merge: on the one hand, the lyrical Nordic tone of the first two symphonies and, on the other, the experimental formal language and harmonies of Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4. It is exactly this music’s forward-looking moment, an aspect so easily overlooked, that Sir Simon and the Berliner Philharmoniker have brought to the fore in their interpretations of Sibelius this season, as Berlin’s Tagesspiegel highlighted in a review about “Simon Rattle’s grandiose Sibelius cycle”: “Sibelius as the grandfather of Modernism: such a conclusive formulation of what Rattle and the Philharmoniker deliver here is something that was hitherto scarcely evident. [...] The abstract art-work character of this music demands a completely homogeneous , weightlessly light string sound – exactly the ideal Rattle has been working on since he took up direction of the Philharmoniker. Even back then he had diagnosed a Sibelius deficit in the orchestra, so these February concerts are confirmation that this task is now complete and that the orchestra has mastered this sound to perfection, a sound equally important for Messiaen, Ligeti and Ravel. The orchestra has thus become the ideal instrument to serve the intentions of their principal conductor.”