There was a time when it seemed as though the Barbican Centre might not reach this anniversary. The early years were bleak for the resident companies there at the start, as the London Symphony Orchestra struggled to find an audience and the Royal Shakespeare Company came close to bankruptcy.
Now that the arts programming is so much more secure, it was safe to indulge a few moments of nostalgia on Tuesday, when the Queen arrived to attend the 25th birthday concert, as she had the Centre’s opening. Several makeovers later, and minus the RSC, the Barbican looks confident in its future.
As at the opening, the concert was given by the LSO. To mark the event the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, also resident at the Barbican, commissioned a new work from James MacMillan that would give its young brass players a chance to shine among the LSO’s ranks. The score’s five-minute burst of noise involves a Scottish dance, interrupted by quotations from the other two works in this programme. Imagine Mozart and Tchaikovsky in kilts, thrown into the middle of a highland fling. The work was called Stomp (with Fate and Elvira) – the past tense is indicative, as it seems unlikely there will ever be another occasion where the idea fits.
The Mozart that followed was the Piano Concerto in C, K.467, played with inimitable precision by Mitsuko Uchida. In recent years, Colin Davis has become ever more deeply immersed as a conductor of Mozart, but whenever this performance threatened to get bogged down, Uchida was there to lighten the tone, finding a quickness of expression that was vital and spontaneous.
For the main work, Davis ventured into relatively unaccustomed territory with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Although high- intensity Russian emoting is hardly second nature to him, Davis can still summon enough momentum and a dash of showmanship when required. In the final minutes the LSO brass fairly raised the roof – no chance for the royal party to nod off there.
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