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A Conversation with Simon Rattle

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Many great orchestras pass through New York every year, but the Berlin Philharmonic always seems to create a special buzz. That’s in no small part because of the orchestra’s conductor, Sir Simon Rattle. Since his arrival in 2002, he has taken the orchestra on global tours, expanded outreach activities, and made numerous recordings for EMI.

Sir Simon is currently in New York for another reason: to make his Metropolitan Opera debut in a revival of Debussy's opera Pelléas et Mélisande (Dec. 17-Jan. 1). He recently stopped by WQXR to tell Jeff Spurgeon about his Met debut, his work in Berlin, and why he finds Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker "dark, sexy and smoldering."

A Belated Metropolitan Opera debut, conducting Debussy

Pelléas et Mélisande is something of a specialty for Rattle, an elusive work that he finds nonetheless mesmerizing. "It's full of shadows, it's full of insinuations. It doesn't hit you head on," he says. "It's also one of the most affecting and most emotional operas." Playing the role of Mélisande in the Met's production is Rattle's wife, the mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena.

German Reengineering with the Berlin Philharmonic

"I sometimes think to myself 'yes, it’s the best job in the world, but it’s very far from being the easiest job in the world,’" Rattle says of the BPO, which recently renewed his contract through 2018. "I knew they were big personalities. And so when everybody is going in the same direction it’s an extraordinary thing. When it doesn’t work, it’s like trying to herd cats."

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love The Nutcracker

For many years, Rattle resisted Tchaikovsky. But lately he's come around to the composer's charms. He recently recorded the composer's most overly familiar yet underappreciated work: The Nutcracker. "Of course, we know the big tunes but the big tunes are 20 minutes out of a 100," he says. "What a deal of strange, erotic, shadowy stuff there is... The piece is about growing up and desperate melancholia and nostalgia for childhood."