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America Gets Rattle-D, but Only Briefly, Because Britain's Hottest Conductor Would Rather Stay Home

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At a time when there’s a dearth of individualistic young conductors, Britain’s Simon Rattle seems to be running from opportunity. When it knocks at this maverick’s door, likely as not he tells it to go away. Despite 17 albums and a 1984 Grammy nomination, he prefers to stay out of the limelight; he’s fiercely loyal to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, in England, where he’s been musical director since 1980. Rattle is determined to see this lesser-known orchestra flourish, and to that end he turned down an invitation to be the conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, choosing instead to be a principal guest conductor. A jet-set life holds little appeal for Rattle, who nixed offers to guest-conduct such major musical institutions as the New York and Berlin philharmonics.

Home for Rattle is a Georgian house in north London, which he shares with his wife of four and a half years, New York-born soprano Elise Ross, and their 1-year-old son, Alexander. A liberated husband, Simon spent five weeks at home after Alexander’s birth. In 1980 he took a year off from music to study English lit at Oxford. (He spent three years at London’s Royal Academy of Music.) In January Rattle celebrated his 30th birthday by making his New York debut at Carnegie Hall, conducting the L.A. Philharmonic. Though his reception in the States was warm indeed, Rattle claims he will not guest-conduct outside England next year. (His next stint with the L.A. Philharmonic is scheduled for 1987.) “I want to be a conductor,” he says, “a damn good one. But I want to do other things. Like play squash. Watch old films. Be with my family.” As for his insistence on maintaining a low profile, Rattle muses, “Some people honestly think I must be insane.” From the looks of things, there’s a method to his madness.