The English conductor, Simon Rattle, was born in Liverpool, the son of Pauline Lila Violet (Greening) and Denis Guttridge Rattle, a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves. He studied at Liverpool College. He learned the piano and violin, but his early work with orchestras was as a percussionist. He entered the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1971. There, his teachers included John Carewe. In 1974, his graduation year, Rattle won the John Player Conductor Competition. After organising and conducting a performance of Gustav Mahler's Second Symphony whilst still at the Academy, he was talent-spotted by the music agent Martin Campell-White, of Harold Holt Ltd. (now Askonas Holt Ltd.), who has since managed Rattle's career. He spent the academic year 1980-1981 at St Anne's College, Oxford studying English Language and Literature. He had been attracted to the college by the reputation of Dorothy Bednarowska, Fellow and Tutor in English. He was elected an Honorary Fellow of St Anne's in 1991. He was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Music honoris causa of the University of Oxford in 1999.
In 1974, Simon Rattle was made assistant conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and in 1977 assistant conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. His time with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from 1980 to 1998 drew him to the attention of critics and the public. In 1980, Rattle became the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser, and in 1990, Music Director. Rattle increased both his profile and that of the orchestra over his tenure. One of his long-term concert projects was the series of concerts of 20th century music titled "Towards the Millennium". One other major achievement during his time was the move of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from its former venue, the Town Hall, to a newly built concert hall, Symphony Hall, in 1991. The BBC commissioned film director Jaine Green to follow him in his final year with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to make Simon Rattle - Moving On.
Simon Rattle was awarded a CBE in 1987 and made a Knight Bachelor in 1994. In 1992, he was named a Principal Guest Conductor of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, along with Frans Brüggen. Rattle now has the title of Principal Artist with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. In 2001, he conducted the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at Glyndebourne in their first production of Fidelio with a period-instrument orchestra. In May 2006 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Arts.
Simon Rattle made his conducting debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1987, in a performance of G. Mahler's Symphony No. 6. In 1999, Rattle was appointed as successor to Claudio Abbado as the orchestra's principal conductor. The appointment, decided on in a June 23 vote by the orchestra's members, was somewhat controversial, as several members of the orchestra were earlier reported to have preferred Daniel Barenboim for the post. Nevertheless, Rattle won the post and proceeded to win over his detractors by refusing to sign the contract until he had ensured that every member of the orchestra was paid fairly, and also that the orchestra would gain artistic independence from the Berlin Senate.
Since his appointment, Rattle has reorganized the Berliner Philharmoniker into a foundation, meaning its activities are more under the control of the members rather than politicians. He has also ensured that orchestra members' wages have increased quite dramatically, having fallen over the past few years. He gave his first concert as principal conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker on September 7, 2002, leading performances of Thomas Adès' Asyla and G. Mahler's Symphony No. 5, performances which received rave reviews from the press worldwide and were recorded for CD and DVD release by EMI. Early collaborative projects in the Berlin community with Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker involved a choreographed performance of Igor Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps and a film project with Mark-Anthony Turnage's Blood on the Floor. He has also continued to champion contemporary music in Berlin. The orchestra has established its first education department during Rattle's tenure. UNICEF appointed Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker as Goodwill Ambassadors in November 2007. Rattle is currently contracted to the Berliner Philharmoniker through 2012. Negotiations on the status of Rattle with the orchestra beyond 2012 began in the spring of 2008. This culminated in an April 2008 vote by the Berliner Philharmoniker musicians in favour of retaining Rattle as their chief conductor.
Rattle made his North American conducting debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1979, and was their Principal Guest Conductor from 1981-1994. He also guest-conducted the Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and Boston Symphony Orchestra. His New York City debut was with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1985. In 1993, Rattle made his conducting debut with The Philadelphia Orchestra. He returned for guest conducting engagements in 1999 and 2000.. The musical relationship between Rattle and The Philadelphia Orchestra was reported to be such that Philadelphia wanted to hire Rattle as its next music director after Wolfgang Sawallisch, but Rattle declined. However, he continues to guest-conduct with The Philadelphia Orchestra in what is currently his sole North American guest-conducting engagement, including appearances in 2006 and the Philadelphia Orchestra's first performances of Robert Schumann's Das Paradies und die Peri in November 2007.
Rattle has conducted a wide variety of music, including some with period instruments (musical instruments contemporary with the music being played), but he is best known for his interpretations of late-19th and early 20th century composers such as G. Mahler, with a recording of G. Mahler's Second Symphony winning several awards on its release and being regarded by some as Rattle's finest recording to date. He has also championed much contemporary music, an example of this being the TV series Leaving Home, where he presents a 7-part survey of musical styles and conductors with excerpts recorded by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. His newest recordings with the Berliner Philharmoniker (as of 2006) have, on the whole, been favourably received, notably his recordings of the Dvorak tone poems and Debussy's La Mer. The Gramophone Magazine praised the latter as a "magnificent disc" and drew favourable comparisons with interpretations of the piece by Rattle's immediate predecessors, Claudio Abbado and Herbert von Karajan. He has also worked with the Toronto Children's Chorus. Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker also recorded Gustav Holst's Planets (EMI), which was the BBC Music Magazine Orchestra Choice. In addition, Rattle's complete 1989 recording of George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess was used as the soundtrack for the 1993 television production of the work. It was the first made-for-television production of Porgy and Bess ever presented. Rattle's 2007 recording of Johannes Brahms's Ein Deutsches Requiem received praise from BBC Music Magazine, as "Disc of the Month" for April 2007, "as probably the best new version of the Requiem I've heard in quite some years." Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker have also released recordings of Bruckner's Fourth Symphony, Romantic, and Haydn's Symphonies Nos. 88-92 and Sinfonia concertante, and G. Mahler's Ninth Symphony. Simon Rattle's recording of J. Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem with the Berliner Philharmoniker received the Choral Performance Grammy Award in 2008.
Simon Rattle's first marriage was to Elise Ross, an American soprano, with whom he had two sons. They were divorced in 1995 after 15 years of marriage. His second wife was Candace Allen, a Boston-born writer. This second marriage ended after Rattle and the Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená began a relationship. Magdalena Kožená and Rattle have a son, Jonas.