Slipped disc: August 2008 Archives
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, Silvio Berlusconi and a cast of thousands.
Hear him on The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 next Monday, and streamed all week on-line, here:
If you're quick about, you can still catch last week's rare and unbuttoned chat with Christoph von Dohnanyi.
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 be held to personify a newspaper in the way that Brien did, or Neville Cardus on the Manchester Guardian, Marcel Reich-Ranicki on the Frankfurter Allgemeine, Pauline Kael on the New Yorker, and others of a golden age.
Or could it? We keep hearing media executives talk of innovation when they mean sackings - the latest to use this euphemism is the boss of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, where 550 jobs are about to go.
But innovation is not made overnight. It comes from the experience and wisdom of newspaper veterans who have seen it all before and know what works and what won't. Getting rid of good critics is a symptom of media death wish. It declares that a newspaper has no sense of its past, present or future, and no conversation with its readers.
A newspaper that cherishes and promotes its critics - as The Scotsman does, for instance, during the Edinburgh Festival - offers readers a reliable benchmark against which they can measure their own reactions and opinions to things they have seen and heard. The Scotsman deploys its critical team strategically in festival time as a way of setting itself apart from the range of free newspapers that flood the city streets.
In Salzburg, likewise, the local Nachrichten is read more closely during festival time than any of the national or international papers because its critics provide a clearer context day by day of events in the present festival against triumphs of the past. Their value cannot be measured purely in payroll terms.
True, few critics these days have the fame or clout that Brien, Cardus and Reich-Ranicki did in their pomp, but arts critics still form the thin blue line between a newspaper of value and a throwaway sheet.
They can be, in the public perception, the soul of a newspaper or at the very least its conscience. Executives who ignore that truth will follow the critics they fire very rapidly onto the nearest dole queue.
A nice journalist on The Scotsman rings up to say his editor is banging on about well-known authors, me included, whose events have not sold out at next week's Edinburgh Book Festival.
'Give us a chance, guv!' I cry. 'I haven't got on the train yet or done a stroke of publicity. By three pm next Tuesday, they'll be banging down the doors of my yurt.'
Just in case any of you are going to be in Ed next Tuesday, do drop in. Here's the URL:
And if you have been enjoying the Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3, next up from Monday is Peter Jonas, the only administrator with senior experience of all three arts funding systems - US (Chicago Symphony), UK (English National Opera) and EU (Bavarian State Opera). Among other topics, Peter talks movingly about his relationship with the serene Slovak mezzo-soprano Lucia Popp and her previous lover, the conductor Carlos Kleiber.
Here's where to find it.
Twenty years ago, I got taken to a convention of music critics in Washington DC. Isaac Stern depped as keynote speaker for a sick Lenny Bernstein and the atmosphere was chummy and convivial until the session was thrown open to the floor and the gripes began flowing thick and fast.
'My editor wants me to interview pop stars,' complained one critic from the midwest. 'My review space has been cut to 300 words,' grouched another. 'My boss has never been to a concert in his life,' chimed a third.
So whose fault is that? I wondered. It occurred to me then that some of the senior colleagues were not keeping up with changes in editorial taste, dynamics and technologies, and a few of them looked well past their sell-by date. But seen from the editor's seat one could readily understand why US city newspapers were starting to cut back on classical coverage.
As editor, try explaining to your chief executive why you are holding a full staff job to report on an art that never makes news, an art that plays the same old music, year after year, with the same parade of expressionless faces on the platform. An art whose audience is greying and unattractive to advertisers. An art whose music director is an absentee European and whose few glamour soloists will only agree to talk about their new record or hair makeover.
An ex-chief of ASOL, the former trade organisation of American orchestras, asserted recently in this blogroll that newspapers were being derelict in their social duty by firing music critics. As usual, ASOL got it wrong.
It's not the newspapers that are to blame but the orchestras that over two decades failed to make enough news of any wider relevance to enable editors, many with the best intentions, to retain their music critics. Symphonic stasis is not the sole reason that music criticism is being extinguished across America, but if anyone is pointing fingers the first cause must surely be the stultifying complacency of American orchestras in recent years.
Few singers have been subject to more idle gossip than the wondrous German mezzo, now a theatre intendant. In Monday's Lebrecht Interview, she speaks out for the first time about the real Brigitte. Catch it here
and if you check in before Monday night you can still catch Steve Reich talking about the importance of being Jewish.
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Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog