Barbican: the critics' verdict

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    Features_Barbican Architecture.jpg
    Inside the Barbican's concert hall

    Classical

    By Martin Hoyle

    Unlike the RSC the London Symphony Orchestra has stayed the course. Initial grumbles about the Barbican as a venue were balanced by the awareness of London’s shortage of orchestral bases and spaces. During its Barbican years the LSO’s soaring reputation as one of the world’s top orchestras has been confirmed, most recently in the glow of Sir Colin Davis’s Indian summer. If the LSO’s roster of conductors and soloists now reads like a who’s who of international dazzlers, the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s annual weekends devoted to contemporary composers, starting in 1988 with Harrison Birtwistle, justify the licence fee in themselves. And the latest development is the hugely successful run of concert performances of rare operas, unlikely to be staged for economic reasons, which has enabled the French group Les Arts Florissants under William Christie to reveal a world of baroque treasures.

    Highlights? The mammoth festival ‘Mahler, Vienna and the Twentieth Century’ – with the LSO, Claudio Abbado, visiting orchestras and the resources of a great arts centre – was unforgettable. A dazzling early start (1985), it was the first of many themed festivals and seasons. Meanwhile, grumbles about the concert hall’s acoustics prevail. When the hall reopened after refurbishment and acoustic tinkering in 2001, the critics whimpered with joy, an understandable overreaction; but foreign bands were still unimpressed. A newsletter written by one of the Minnesota Orchestra moaning about the acoustics upset the Barbican, but the message is unmistakable: London still lacks a first-rate hall worthy of its musical life (at least until the refurbished Royal Festival Hall comes along).

    What it does have is an enviable international arts centre that counters lost opportunities in design and location with coherent and often inspired planning, a mix, rare in Britain’s artistic life, of the practical and cultural.

    Triumph

    Gergiev conducting Shostakovich symphonies last year.

    Disaster

    Raymond Gubbay’s ragbag hum-along classics with ad hoc orchestras aimed at provincial coach-loads, paying high prices.
    Architecture
    | Art | Classical | Dance | Film | Theatre

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Highlights? The mammoth festival ‘Mahler, Vienna and the Twentieth Century’ – with the LSO, Claudio Abbado, visiting orchestras and the resources of a great arts centre – was unforgettable. A dazzling early start (1985), it was the first of many themed festivals and seasons. Meanwhile, grumbles about the concert hall’s acoustics prevail. When the hall reopened after refurbishment and acoustic tinkering in 2001, the critics whimpered with joy, an understandable overreaction; but foreign bands were still unimpressed. A newsletter written by one of the Minnesota Orchestra moaning about the acoustics upset the Barbican, but the message is unmistakable: London still lacks a first-rate hall worthy of its musical life (at least until the refurbished Royal Festival Hall comes along). What it does have is an enviable international arts centre that counters lost opportunities in design and location with coherent and often inspired planning, a mix, rare in Britain’s artistic life, of the practical and cultural.Gergiev conducting Shostakovich symphonies last year.Raymond Gubbay’s ragbag hum-along classics with ad hoc orchestras aimed at provincial coach-loads, paying high prices.
Architecture
| Art | Classical | Dance | Film | Theatre

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