EARLIER on the day I flew down to interview Nicola Benedetti in her chic West London barrio for this week’s cover feature I was at Glasgow University where the fact that I was wearing my good suit was noticed. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? When I explained in whose honour the threads had been donned, a young academic in the company – a far from unworldly chap – said: “Nicola Benedetti? Remind me?”

Without causing offence (she is very far from being the sort of diva who would take umbrage), I passed that story on to my interviewee. We were talking about the importance of maintaining a sense of perspective about the actual reach of classical music into the wider community – something that the violinist, who describes herself on Twitter as “proud ‘Big Sister’ to Sistema Scotland children”, makes every effort to address.

At the time, the UK capital was being treated to one of the biggest charm offensives of classical music promotion that I have witnessed. As another music critic fortunate enough also to be at the first night of the London Symphony Orchestra’s new Barbican season wrote the following day, the LSO could not be accused of underplaying the appointment of its new music director.

Across the city, posters featured the curly grey mane and baton alongside the legend: This is Rattle. The elegant simplicity of the campaign was striking, and its boldness not usually associated with the “high” arts.

The three word slogan was also the title of a ten-day season at the Barbican, the LSO’s London residency, at least for the time being. With the support of the BBC, the venue, some well-heeled commercial backers and the City of London authority, a packed programme of music, including five concerts conducted by Sir Simon himself, was accompanied by exhibitions, installations and broadcasts.

You may have heard some of this on the radio as I have, and I was also privileged to be at that opening concert which was a truly remarkable occasion, and I don’t mean for the number of famous faces in the audience, although there were plenty of those. Even accounting for the number of invitees, the packed house the Rattle name attracted, making it worthwhile relaying the concert to a big screen on the Barbican’s sculpture court outside, made the event a unique occasion in my experience, because the programme should have been a hard sell in anyone’s language. Apart from Elgar’s Enigma Variations at its end, the whole programme was of “new” British music: Oliver Knussen’s Third Symphony from 1979, Asyla by Thomas Ades from 1997, Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s Violin Concerto which is just seven years old, and the box-fresh Fanfare by Aberdeenshire-raised Helen Grime, a taster of a larger commission to be premiered by Rattle and the LSO in April next year.

All four living composers also curated parts of This is Rattle. I had a brief opportunity to speak to Birtwistle after Christian Tetzlaff’s brilliant account of his virtuoso piece, and the veteran modernist was evidently delighted at the reception his music received from what was surely the biggest audience the work had seen. The Grimes apart, none of the works was at all “new” to Rattle, who premiered the Ades with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and gave some of the first performances of the Knussen with the same orchestra, where his name was made before he took the helm at the Berlin Philharmonic.

His success in incorporating new repertoire into the work of the CBSO, and enthusing concert-goers in England’s second city through that strategy, has hardly been emulated elsewhere, however – neither London nor Scotland excepted. Yet his name would appear to be one that will persuade people to open their ears.

I am unconvinced that London really needs the new concert hall that is another stated aim of Rattle’s tenure as MD of the LSO – the Barbican still strikes me as one the best, most modern, venues in the country from an audience point of view, and the quality of the performance the conductor drew from the musicians rendered any cavils about its acoustic irrelevant to my ears.

But if Rattle can fill existing venues to capacity for music that rarely gets a shout in seasons biased towards established “classical” box office names long dead, his will prove to be a very significant return indeed.