Stories » Academy of St Martin in the Fields@Barbican / The Telegraph review

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Academy of St Martin in the Fields@Barbican / The Telegraph review

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The Academy of St Martin in the Fields was once the world's favourite chamber orchestra but, in recent years, it has been usurped by young upstarts. How to seize back the crown? Wisely, it takes the view that it's no use trying to reinvent itself as a cutting-edge orchestra for new music. Nor does it compete with the "period-instrument" orchestras. So apart from a few cautious ventures into commissioning new pieces, the Academy has to make the repertoire that made it famous seem fresh and new, all over again. The very first chord of Prokofiev's Classical Symphony, which opened last night's concert, promised to do exactly that. It's an overplayed piece but that doesn't alter the fact it's technically challenging. The violin lines in the first movement twist and turn on a sixpence, and the whole piece has to fizz with a combination of Mozartian grace and Tchaikovskian fantasy.

This performance certainly delivered. Joshua Bell, the starry American violinist who is the Academy's current director, urged the orchestra on from the leader's chair. The periodic eruptions from timpanist Adrian Bending made us sit bolt upright, and the twittering from flautists Michael Cox and Sarah Newbould suggested an aviary had been let loose in the Festival Hall.