Entitled This is Rattle, the opening concert of the Barbican series represented the triumphal return home of the British conductor who had been at the helm of the Berlin Philharmonic for so long that he had seemed to have forsaken his native land. For “Rattle,” we should read not only a hopefully reborn London Symphony Orchestra and a dreamed-of new London concert hall, but also a celebration of British composers, and the vision of a musical renaissance for the country as a whole. We should also take heart from the fact Sir Simon Rattle is a passionately committed European: as Brexit tears Britain apart, it is cultural leaders like this who may help limit the damage already being done to our country.
Rattle prefaced his first concert by saying he wanted to start with the things which the LSO “has in its blood,” and accordingly, his opening programme was wall-to-wall British, drawing on living composers from four different generations, plus Elgar. The first piece was by the young Scottish composer Helen Grime, whose Fanfare had been commissioned for the occasion. Exuberantly colourful and displaying a real melodic gift, this five-minute work traversed a brilliant series of sound-worlds, drawing on each section of the orchestra in turn, from high woodwinds to tuned percussion to violins, harp and celeste.
If it ended in mid-phrase, that was appropriate, since this is the embryo of a larger work to come. Grime will be back in the limelight on Wednesday, when the Barbican programme will consist of works of her own choosing: another accolade for this rapidly rising composer.