With much anticipation we set off down the looming avenues of EC2 to hear the LSO play a new piece by Edward Rushton, a rare opportunity to hear this fine orchestra play music by a mid-career British composer. Through the concert year, new work is covered in the orchestra’s outreach and young composers’ schemes, but otherwise, to be still alive and hear your music played, you have to be a major celebrity (John Adams, Wynton Marsalis and Tom Ades next season). Pre-1828 music makes similarly fleeting appearances, and when Janine Jansen launched into the Mendelssohn Concerto after the Rushton it had the distinct feeling of ‘early music’. The one-and-only Leon Botstein has compared present day orchestral programming to visiting the Louvre and finding only one gallery is open. There are a few curiosities coming up in the Barbican Hall (Delage and Dutilleux in a Rattle concert next January, for instance) but the centre of gravity of the programming is Dvorak and Bruckner to (early) Stravinsky, a fifty year period at most. Judging by the fine performances the orchestra, under Daniel Harding, gave of both Rushton and Mendelssohn, they could play just about anything very well if they had to.
By contrast the Barbican strikes me as an ever more extraordinary act of invention, and I can’t understand why there is such general agreement that the LSO should move out of a hall whose stage relates so well to the audience. At present in a corner of the ground floor foyer( though it’s never clear in this building where ‘ground level’ is) there is an unprepossessing but compelling exhibition about the Barbican’s construction. In the concert interval I learned to my astonishment that the famously rough concrete surfaces were hand-finished by men with small hammers and drills given strict instructions about making the tiny pockmarks in 200,000 square meters of concrete which had been drying for about twenty-one days. Used to the fussy detailing that composers demand, I became even more in awe of the architects Chamberlin Powell and Bon for their outrageous imagination. How did a building like this ever get built, and when did we begin to lose our civic boldness?