LSO Centenary Gala Concert, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

We're a nation that is slow to celebrate success, but that the London Symphony Orchestra has arrived at its 100th birthday in such astonishingly fine artistic fettle is not just a miracle, it's an absolute triumph. Under the guise of the Lord Mayor's Appeal 2004, "Music for Everyone", and in the presence of the Queen, Prince Philip and half the good burghers of the city, the LSO presented the mother of all galas. It was, of course, a beauty parade of conductors and soloists, but the real star of the evening was the orchestra.

We're a nation that is slow to celebrate success, but that the London Symphony Orchestra has arrived at its 100th birthday in such astonishingly fine artistic fettle is not just a miracle, it's an absolute triumph. Under the guise of the Lord Mayor's Appeal 2004, "Music for Everyone", and in the presence of the Queen, Prince Philip and half the good burghers of the city, the LSO presented the mother of all galas. It was, of course, a beauty parade of conductors and soloists, but the real star of the evening was the orchestra.

A three-hour concert, broadcast live on BBC radio and TV, featured 14 different items, exposing in an intelligent musical combination not only the history of the LSO but a list of past and present friends. Sir Colin Davis, the LSO's current music director, went into bat first with the last movement - somewhat incongruously - of Beethoven's Fifth. Next came Mozart, the 1st movement of the Sinfonia Concertante with Midori (violin) and Yuri Bashmet (viola) - not an ideal match - conducted by Rostropovich.

Better was a snatch of Shostakovich's Eighth, illustrating amazing ensemble between the front and back of the orchestra. And then the violinist Sarah Chang, aided and abetted by Michael Tilson Thomas, risked a speeding ticket, careering effortlessly through Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy. Tilson Thomas continued with Ravel's La Valse, an orchestral show-stopper that demonstrated so palpably how the LSO loves the music it plays.

Colin Matthew's splashy Fanfare: Bravo LSO! opened the second half, conducted by Antonio Pappano, who then steered a breathtaking roller-coaster performance of Bernstein's Candide Overture. Sir Colin was back with Mozart's rapturous "Ch'io mi scordi di te", the walnutty voice of Susan Graham partnered by Alfred Brendel. The next grey-haired pianist was Dave Brubeck, beaming and heel-tapping his way through a work by his brother Howard. It was a switch of style, but under Russell Gloyd, this gentle jazz was played with consummate musicianship. Film music has long provided a financial lifeline for the orchestra, and in Bliss's Things to Come and John T Williams's Star Wars (conducted, respectively, by Richard Hickox and Daniel Harding), one could only marvel (after two hours) at the strength and energy of the playing.

Quieter moments intervened, with John Williams caressing Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez slow movement, and Hickox conducting a taste of Elgar's Enigma Variations. Britten's fugue from The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra was a fitting finale.

This gala celebrated old age, but its goal was the future: money is needed for the LSO's educational work. The bricks and mortar of St Luke's, its education centre, are in place, but money for events is wanting. Could there be a more fitting tribute to the LSO than to guarantee future audiences and artists for the next 100 years?

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