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BERLIN (Reuters) - Renowned British conductor Simon Rattle said on Thursday he would step down as head of the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic in 2018 when his current contract with the orchestra expires and before he turns 64.
"In 2018 I will be nearly 64 years old," the 57-year-old said in a statement on the Philharmonic's website. "As a Liverpool boy, it is impossible not to think of the Beatles' question 'Will you still need me... when I'm 64?'" he joked.
"This was not an easy decision. I love this orchestra and therefore wanted to tell them my decision as early as possible."
Rattle, known for his youthful energy, his readiness to take risks and his mop of curly grey hair, took over the Berlin Philharmonic, one of the world's leading orchestras, in 2002.
The first Briton to hold a post previously associated with such giants of German music as Herbert von Karajan, Rattle has sometimes upset music traditionalists in his adopted land with his love of experimentation and his unorthodox approach.
Rattle has described his sometimes turbulent relationship with the Berlin Philharmonic as "a love affair".
Critics have accused him of lacking appropriate German gravitas in such a high-profile cultural role and of caring more about the public image of the orchestra than about the music.
But his many supporters have welcomed efforts to reach out to new audiences as well as his success in forging relations with other orchestras around the world, including Venezuela's Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra.
"With his outstanding musicality and creativity he has filled new listeners with enthusiasm for the orchestra every day and has shaped the national and international perception of the Berliner Philharmonic as a vital cultural ambassador for Berlin," said Martin Hoffmann, the orchestra's general manager.
Rattle, who studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, worked as conductor of the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in central England for 18 years before moving to Berlin.
Reporting by Gareth Jones; editing by Mike Collett-White