We wiseacres shook our heads when the appointment of Simon Rattle as principal conductor of the CBSO was announced in 1980. How could this 25-year-old tyro possibly convince hard-boiled old orchestral players as to his approach to the repertoire's giants, not least Beethoven?

Ten years later, when the Birmingham Post published a supplement celebrating Simon's first decade with the orchestra, I gladly ate humble pie.

His tenure was proving a brilliant success, not only in 20th-century works, not only in Mahler whom he had made a speciality, but also in those "biggies" (though, mysteriously, Tchaikovsky remained an unknown quantity with him).

In 1988 the CBSO set down a recording of the complete Beethoven symphony cycle for the Chandos label, Walter Weller conducting. and building a "traditional" Viennese sound.

 Seven years later, Simon Rattle put his own stamp on these nine masterpieces, presenting them in Birmingham's new Symphony Hall, in London's Barbican and in Frankfurt, and using the new edition prepared from Beethoven's original manuscripts by Jonathan del Mar, then chief conductor at Birmingham Conservatoire.

Simon Rattle with site engineer Robert Bruce in the orchestra pit area of Birmingham Symphony Hall in 1988.
Simon Rattle with site engineer Robert Bruce in the orchestra pit area of Birmingham Symphony Hall in 1988.
 

Two particular things stand out in my memory from those heady days. One was a technical detail, Rattle maintaining a violin pizzicato right to the very end of the slow movement of the Seventh Symphony when the established scores said otherwise.

Next day on the phone to my home (yes, he used to do that) he explained how he'd learned to do that from the great conductor Erich Kleiber.

The other thing is just a lovely anecdote. After conducting a particularly energetic performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the remarkable CBSO Chorus, Rattle suffered severe back strain.

Thereafter he always used to say that if your back didn't "go", then you hadn't conducted a decent performance of that symphony.

Next week's Radio 3 broadcasts (from January 19) of the CBSO's Frankfurt Beethoven cycle will allow us to relive one of Simon Rattle's rites of passage. Here this young man really came of age. Life began at 40.