For the first great orchestral concert of the season, the UMS is presenting the Berliner Philharmoniker on Tuesday, November 17, under new music director Simon Rattle. When the Germans were last here in 2001, they were led by Claudio Abbado. In his decade with the orchestra, the Italian conductor had sharpened its ensemble by bringing in younger players while scrupulously maintaining the tonal opulence of his own predecessor, Herbert von Karajan.
This time, the first unknown for local audiences is the repertoire: Brahms' Third and Fourth Symphonies plus Schoenberg's Accompanying Music to a Film Scene. While Brahms' tragic Fourth is often performed hereabouts, the heroic Third has, to my knowledge, been played here only once in the past thirty-three years. As for the Schoenberg piece, the number of Ann Arborites who can hum its big tune probably can be counted on one hand.
The second unknown is Rattle himself, who's making his Ann Arbor debut. EMI has just released the English conductor's recordings of Brahms' four symphonies with the German orchestra, but a day's listening has yet to leave a vivid impression. Sure, the playing is fabulous, but the conducting, while technically impeccable, seems somewhat cool. We'll see if Rattle heats up in performance.
[Originally published in November, 2009.]