Barbican Young Orchestra/Colin Davis

Fullness of Time
Serenade for Strings, Op.20
Symphony No.5 in E flat, Op.82

Creative Project – “Redshift”

Barbican Young Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

LSO St Luke’s Academy
Neil Percy [Garland]

Paul Griffiths (guitars) [Redshift]

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 23 July, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Sir Colin Davis. Photograph: Alberto Venzago / LSOThe danger of doing something the second time is that it may not be as inspired as the first occasion. Happily this concert proved such a thought wrong! It hardly seems credible that a year has passed since the Barbican Young Orchestra was formed; but here we were again! Sir Colin Davis (soon to be 82) was ever-youthful, the young musicians (aged 9 to 16) were inspired and inspiring and there was no compromise on the choice of music; indeed the Sibelius seemed a risky venture. Again, such a notion was disarmed in the performance. Come the end of the concert, as he did last year, Sir Colin linked arms with the BYO’s leader, Savitri Grier, and escorted her off with a gentlemanly flourish; this was after an encore, Sibelius’s Valse triste, its saturnine countenance and volatile excursions ideally journeyed.

To open the concert, percussion members of the LSO St Luke’s Academy under Neil Percy (the London Symphony Orchestra’s principal percussionist) excelled in their teamwork to reveal Tim Garland’s Fullness of Time as an attractive seven-minute mix of skin, wood and metal that develops to become an exhilarating toccata.

Redshift was less successful, largely due to the use of amplification (and beyond its need for guitars and electric violin). This proved ruinous to the project of collaborative music-making without notation, for although the enthusiasm and imagination of the performers (from the BYO, LSO St Luke’s Fusion Orchestra and Guildhall Connect) isn’t in doubt, the ear-piercing volume, poor balances (inaudible piano, for example, except in solos) and tampered-with sounds made for a jangling racket!

The concert’s second half was terrific! Sir Colin let the Elgar flow as if the manuscript’s ink was still wet, the string-players had the measure of the music’s contours and the slow movement was rapt and heartfelt. As for Sibelius 5, not for the first time, put Sir Colin in front of a youth orchestra (or, as here, one with even younger members) and even one of his signature pieces becomes a freshly discovered joy. The tuning between orchestral sections might have been awry at times, but the playing was confident and well-prepared, the performance itself having space, atmosphere, suspense and inevitability, the conductor’s vitality (and geniality) passing seamlessly to the players to the music to the audience. We were all in this together!

Hopefully, it will be third-time-lucky this time next year, for this is a real success-story for the Barbican Centre, Guildhall School, the London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis and, of course, the Young Orchestra itself.

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