Sir Simon (Denis) Rattle became one of the world's leading conductors at an unusually early age. As a boy, Rattle studied percussion; at the age of 11, he appeared as a percussionist with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. He joined the National Youth Orchestra, again as a percussionist, and began conducting when he was a teenager. At fifteen, he founded and conducted the Liverpool Sinfonia.
From 1971 to 1974, Rattle studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. In his graduation year, still in his teens, he entered the John Player International Conductors' Competition and won first prize. He was soon appointed assistant conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, remaining with the orchestra until 1976.
In 1976 Rattle made his United States debut on tour with the London Schools Symphony Orchestra. His first American performance with a professional orchestra was a concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1979. In 1981 that orchestra named him principal guest conductor, a post he retained until 1994.
Rattle made his first Glyndebourne Festival appearance in 1977, and retained his association with that insititution, lead productions of operas from the Classical period on. From 1977 to 1980, he was assistant conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. During this time, he also appeared frequently with major American orchestras.
Rattle's longest-lasting association with an orchestra began when the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra named him its principal conductor and artistic adviser in 1980. With a change of title to music director in 1990, Rattle remained with the group until 1998. During their time together, both orchestra and the conductor attained remarkable artistic growth; they went on frequent wide-ranging tours, including visits to Europe, Scandinavia, the Far East, and North America. Even after giving up his directorship at the CBSO, Rattle continued to conduct the orchestra's ten-year Towards the Millennium festival of modern music. In 1992 Rattle became principal guest conductor of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; his appointments also include artistic adviser of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.
Rattle became a well-known television figure in Britain with an award-winning series, Leaving Home, the most extensive video production ever devoted to twentieth century orchestral music. He has made over 60 recordings, and today remains an exclusive EMI artist. Particularly honored are his recordings of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 (three Gramophone Awards), Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (Gramophone, International Record Critics' , and Charles Cros Grand Prix Awards), and Szymanowski's Stabat Mater (Echo Award). His projects for the year 2000 included Szymanowski's opera King Roger, Bernstein's Wonderful Town, and Mahler's Symphony No. 10.
The conductor has frequently appeared at the Salzburg Festival, and made 55 appearances with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra before that ensemble announced in June 1999 that Rattle would become the orchestra's chief conductor and artistic adviser upon Claudio Abbado's retirement in 2002.
Rattle's other honors include Commander of the Order of the British Empire (1987) and a knighthood (1994).