Matthew Gibson: my memories of the Barbican

The Barbican Centre reaches its 40th anniversary on Thursday 3 March, and we are gearing up to celebrate having a permanent home and the benefits that this has brough to the LSO.

As part of our celebrations, we asked our musicians to send us their thoughts on the Barbican – memories of concerts, what the building means to them, how they feel it has guided the orchestra's fortunes across the years. We received lots of contributions, but one in particular stood out: a story from one of our Double Basses, Matthew Gibson. It wasn't the building that made the biggest impression on Matt, it was something that happened at his first ever LSO concert... and it's too good not to share! Here's Matt to take up the story:

Matthew Gibson

My first memory of the Barbican came from hearing a BBC Radio 3 broadcast of Bernstein's Chichester Psalms with the LSO, Aled Jones and the great man himself conducting. It sticks in the memory as a particularly fine event. I had fantasised about being in the LSO ever since I was a boy and I had got to know of their reputation; a fantastic orchestra who were always out front and had a tendency to ignore the normal and go for the extraordinary, but that was just a pipe dream. When I became a student at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama next door, I found myself watching Leonard Bernstein conducting the LSO in Candide at the Barbican. I couldn't believe it! All my Christmases had come at once.

And then it happened! In the summer of 1990 I got a phone call from the fixer of the LSO asking if I would join them for their BBC Proms concert, a tour around the UK, concerts in the Barbican and a recording. I'll never forget it. The first concert with the LSO was in the Royal Albert Hall: Janáček's Sinfonietta with the bell of Maurice Murphey's trumpet about two metres from the back of my head. Then we went on tour around UK cities – Aberdeen, Glasgow, Manchester and a few more besides. And then, finally, to the Barbican.

I was playing at the back of the bass section with a colleague from the Guildhall, and after the morning rehearsal with the LSO we actually had a rehearsal with the Guildhall orchestra, in the Guildhall, in the afternoon. And oh, didn't we think we were the top professionals! Not talking too loudly about it but very willing if people asked: 

"Oh yes, we are playing for the LSO this evening, MTT is conducting. He's quite good with the Janáček!!"

"And, don't you know, when you have finished the rehearsal you just wrap your bass up, leave it on the stage and it magically appears at whichever is the next place you need it. It's marvellous!"

The programme was Janáček's Glagolitic Mass with some other pieces in the first half that we were not required for. We went to the pub in the first half, the King's Head on the corner of Silk Street, now The Jugged Hare. Tried everything to avoid talking about how exciting it was – the LSO, Janáček, MTT, in the Barbican! Then we sauntered back and casually got changed into our concert clothes during the interval.

And now it was our turn. We walked on stage with the other players of the section, eagerly chatting with them, over to my stool... and the place where my bass should have been...

Where was my bass?

With a sudden, awful sinking feeling that went right to the bottom of my stomach I realised that I had left my bass in the Guildhall from the afternoon's rehearsal! And it really wasn't going to magically appear, however much I wanted it to.

I'm not the coolest guy at the best of times but this brought on an especially heightened frenzy of panic. As the interval ended the noise of the audience was quietening to a gentle hum but even so I ran off the stage, up the steps through the audience but then realised half way that I would never get there and back in time, despite the Guildhall being just next door. I ran back to the stage and found myself mumbling those words that no self respecting, professional orchestral player wannabe should ever have to utter:

"I've forgotten my bass".

The smooth machine that is the LSO purred into action. Another player was trying out a new bass and had it backstage.

"It's a five-stringer but you'll manage it fine".

I had never played a five-string bass in my life. Also it had no bow.

"No problem, the percussion guys will have one in their store that they use to bow the glockenspiel with."

I sat down to play Janáček's Glagolitic Mass with a completely unknown five-string bass and a bow that had 80% of its hair missing. I'm not sure that I played all, or even ANY of the notes that evening!

I have played many, many concerts at the Barbican since, been involved with education performances, even presented concerts. In fact the Barbican has been my home for 30 years now and I love it. But my first ever performance there is certainly not one I will ever forget!

Pat Laurence, my now dear colleague, turned around just before we started playing the Janáček and with a cheeky laugh, said,

"Don't worry Matt, we'll just tell the WHOLE profession".


> Find out more about our celebrations for the Barbican's 40th anniversary on 3 March

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