an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

Today, the world changed

Anybody notice that today is the 200th anniversary of the first performance of Beethoven's fifth symphony? It was 22 December 1808 at the Theater an der Wien, if Thayer is not mistaken. The orchestra played badly, the hall was cold and audience tolerance was exhausted by an overlong programme. But this was the night that the symphony shed its courtly deference and became a universal art form - a work that represented fate and the individual, and indicating that a free … [Read more...]

All’s quiet at the NY Philharmonic

Since last week's sordid events, there have been three developments: - The Philharmonic's chief executive is apparently unwell. - The critic who praised Gilbert Kaplan's performance of Mahler's second symphony has admitted he did not acknowledge the conductor's full authority in his review. - And two more players have reiterated the trombonist's attack on the guest conductor in language so similar to one another as to suggest a football huddle. On the first … [Read more...]

The player who forgot his place

- Hold the front page, hot story coming in. - What is it? - There's a player in the orchestra who didn't like last week's conductor. - Come again? Yeah, that's right. There's a trombone in the New York Phil beefing on his blog about the guy who did Mahler 2. Get some pictures in. Is this some kind of mistimed joke, or the end of journalism on the New York Times? For reasons better left uninvestigated, the Times has made a C1 splash today of comments made by a trombonist - the third trombone, I … [Read more...]

The Record Doctor’s surgery is open now

This coming Monday, Dec 8, I'm doing a half-hour slot on WNYC at 2-2.30 pm, called The Record Doctor.   The idea, linked to my book The Life and Death of Classical Music, is that people can email or ring in to ask me to prescribe a record remedy for their particular lifestyle dilemma - dinner with the boss's new post-modern wife, a second date with a Nigel Kennedy fan, a ceasefire negotiation with Condoleeza Rice - or just a deep-seated need for a piece of music to cope with … [Read more...]

Does Ma’am love Brahms?

Checking out the Condoleeza Rice Brahms recital clip at Buckingham Palace, one had to cast the mind back an awful long time to fathom when a serving officer of the US government last performed a piece of music before a reigning British monarch. I guess President Truman, a decent piano player, might have done had he ever been given the royal command, but other than Harry - and his daughter, Margaret, who played professionally (but not very capably) before taking to … [Read more...]

Stand by for the u-turn

Life has its little ups and downs, but seldom so extreme as the ones that have just hit the composer Brett Dean.   Last month, the Australian government announced it was closing down the National Academy of Music, of which Dean is director. Dean, 47, had given up playing viola in Simon Rattle's Berlin Philharmonic to help raise the next generation of Australian musicians in a so-called 'centre of excellence'. But a new Labour government, suspicious of elitism, … [Read more...]

Misusing the holocaust

I'm back in town. Apologies for the long gap, but I've been globe-trotting - Doha, Shanghai, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Dead Sea - in search of enlightenment and encouragement in these gloomy times. No sooner am I back than the BBC's Today programme asks me to defend my recent demolition of Imagine This!, the new Warsaw Ghetto musical, against its outraged producer, one Beth Trachtenberg. Never averse to an early-morning exchange of sweet reason, I found it difficult to edge a word in between Ms T's … [Read more...]

What would Aristotle have made of it?

Here's the text of yesterday's Free thought on Radio 3.   Norman Lebrecht: In Defence of Criticism     One morning before too long, you will wake up and find last night's opera premiere reviewed in your paper by Covent Garden's chief executive and the new play at the National by a drizzle of audience comments.   The role of arts critic is being eroded and, unless we do something about it, discussion of the arts will soon be monopolised by promoters - as it is already on … [Read more...]

All the best things in life aren’t free

All those who have been reading 'In a Critical Condtion' on this blog will be encouraged to know that the crisis in criticism theme has been picked up by BBC Radio 3. This morning I gave the Free Thought talk on the subject - streamed here from tomorrow - and tonight I will be defending it on Night Waves against the Guardian's editor of online reviews. Professional criticism is a pre-requisite of democracy. Free online reviews are weightless. Discuss.   … [Read more...]

The man who said **** to TV

My big hero of the financial crash is Marcel Reich-Ranicki who, given an achievement award on German's second TV channel, ZDF, thrust it back at the presenter and denounced the whole of public television as 'rubbish'. Reich-Ranicki, 88, is Germany's foremost literary critic and, as a result of his hour-long weekly discussion programme on the screen, a national figure. No respecter of reputations, he has fallen out with every leading author from Gunter Grass down when their books … [Read more...]

Radio vacant

The guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs this morning was David McVicar. He was introduced by Kirsty Young with a text that read something like 'at 42, he has long been regarded as the leading British opera director of his generation ... he is so busy around the world that his diary is filled up to 2013.' I can't give you the exact words of the introduction since the programme is one of the very few that is not available on the BBc i-player, for reasons of 'rights ownership.' However, … [Read more...]

Catch a falling star

Sharp-eyed readers of the arts pages will have spotted that the Daily Telegraph has succumbed to the temptation of appending stars to its arts reviews. It is the last of the upmarket British dailies to fall in line with this simplistic trend. One of my first acts in March 2002 as Assistant Editor of the Evening Standard was to abolish review stars, except on recorded products that could be quantifiably measured by repeated sampling. The argument I put to my editor and colleagues was … [Read more...]

Strange radio noises in Holland

Make of this what you will:   Concertzender victim of its own success Hello Norman, A bizarre situation has developed in the Netherlands. Everywhere in the world, classical broadcasters are shutting down, because of dropping listening figures. In the Netherlands however, the Concertzender, who you might know because of its internet channels, has to shut down because it has become too popular...  Dutch Public radio hosts the Concertzender, and working with 150 volunteers and … [Read more...]

Franco tells all

An afternoon with Zeffirelli in the garden of his Roman villa, a stone's throw from the Cinecitta studios, brought back memories of a bygone age when directors flitted easily from opera to film and back. Franco was brought into the business by his lover Luchino Visconti but soon cut a dash in his own right. He talks to me uninhibitedly about growing up a bastard, fighting with the partisans, seeing Mussolini hung in the piazza and making his mark on showbiz with Maria Callas, Jesus of Nazareth, … [Read more...]

In a critical condition (5)

When the versatile writer Alan Brien died in May this year, obituarists reminded us that he was the first person to be hired in 1960 by the new-founded Sunday Telegraph, in the post of drama critic. 'On this we can build,' the editor is supposed to have declared as, around Brien, he formed a team of witty, incisive and never-too-sententious Sunday writers. Couldn't happen now, I hear you say. No paper would ever construct itself around an arts critic, and no critic could ever … [Read more...]

an ArtsJournal blog