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Arts

‘Interior (Innenraum)’, 1981, by Anselm Kiefer

'I like vanished things': Anselm Kiefer on art, alchemy and his childhood

Arts feature

At the entrance to Anselm Kiefer’s forthcoming exhibition at the Royal Academy visitors will encounter a typically paradoxical Kiefer object: a giant pile of lead books, sprouting wings. When I asked Kiefer to explain this strange object, he immediately —… Read more

‘Moonrise and Pale Dancer’ by Derek Hyatt

The man who brought Cubism to New York

Exhibitions

The American Jewish artist Max Weber (1881–1961) was born in Belostok in Russia (now Bialystok in Poland), and although he visited this country twice (he came to London in 1906 and 1908), it was the experience of continental Europe —… Read more

Music

Wedding music lives or dies at the hands of the organist

Music

A few weeks ago I was at the perfect wedding. My young friend Will Heaven, a comment editor at the Telegraph, married the beautiful Lida Mirzaii, his girlfriend since university. The service was in Wardour Chapel in Wiltshire, a neoclassical… Read more

The Play That Goes Wrong. Photo: Alastair Muir

If you have teenage boys who loathe the very idea of theatre, send them to The Play That Goes Wrong

Theatre

It’s taken a while but here it is. The Play That Goes Wrong is like Noises Off, but simpler. Michael Frayn’s cumbersome backstage farce asked us to follow the actors’ personal stories as well as their on-stage foul-ups, and the… Read more

Eloquent: Allan Clayton as Cassio in Otello

Is Anna Nicole’s absurd life worth our while? Not as much as Otello’s

Opera

So how did London’s two big opera companies launch their new seasons last week? Not perhaps in the way you might expect. Decked with pink balloons and the acrid smell of popcorn, the Royal Opera House waved the garish contemporary… Read more

Cinema

20,000 Days On Earth: is Nick Cave the missing link? Or the next stage in evolution?

Cinema

Inspired by Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never (2011), Katy Perry’s Part of Me (2012) and One Direction’s This Is Us (2013), Nick Cave has released a documentary about himself. No doubt he wanted to prove that this old dog has… Read more

Radio

The sofa that became a work of art

Radio

Last week on Front Row (Radio 4) the singer Joyce DiDonato recalled the advice she gave the new graduates of the Juilliard School, just about to embark on their professional careers in music. It’s a hard life. They’re asked to… Read more

Status Quo. Photo: BBC

I love that people assume I’m gay

Television

At a birthday dinner over the weekend I was introduced to this delightful party girl of a certain age whose diet for the evening consisted of chips and Grey Goose vodka on the rocks with lime. She launched straight into… Read more

‘Portrait of Andrea Quaratesi’, c.1532, by Michelangelo

Michelangelo had a bigger vision than Shakespeare – and the ego to match

Arts feature

It is 450 years since the birth of William Shakespeare. The anniversary has been hard to avoid in this country, which is entirely appropriate. Shakespeare helped to shape not only our language but also our conception of character and our… Read more

Ellie Harrison’s cannons — poised to usher in a ‘Socialist Republic of Scotland’

How independence will impoverish Scottish culture

Arts feature

An explosion of confetti will greet the announcement of Scottish independence. This isn’t another one of Alex Salmond’s fanciful promises, but an installation by a visual artist named Ellie Harrison. She wants Scotland to become a socialist republic. She has… Read more

‘A Battery Shelled’, 1919, by Percy Wyndham Lewis

The Imperial War Museum finds a deadly place to display first world war masterpieces

Exhibitions

The Imperial War Museum has reopened after a major refit and looks pretty dapper, even though it was overrun by hordes when I visited (it was still the school holidays). There’s a new and effective restaurant, inevitably, but also a… Read more

Kate Bush at her family home, 1978 Photo: Getty

The secret to a long and happy pop career? Don’t die

Music

As everybody in the world except me seems to have seen Kate Bush’s live shows — against all apparent arithmetical sense — these have been gloomy weeks in the primary Berkmann residence. Even the mother of my children managed to… Read more

Lucia di Lammermoor, Winslow Hall Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Michael Tanner: Why I prefer Donizetti to Strauss

Opera

Three operas this week, each of them named after its (anti-)heroine: one of the heroines (the most sympathetic) murders her husband, one of them spends her time successfully plotting the deaths of her mother and stepfather, one insists on the… Read more

Gabriel Quigley (Fiona) in Spoiling by John McCann.

Can the Scots really be as small-minded, mistrustful and chippy as Spoiling suggests?

Theatre

Referendum fever reaches Stratford East. Spoiling, by John McCann, takes us into the corridors of power in Holyrood shortly after a triumphant Yes vote. We meet a foul-mouthed bruiser named Fiona whose strident views and vivid language have propelled her… Read more

Whoop! The 1985 Gay Pride march through central London

Ignore the simplistic politics, Pride will make you laugh and cry

Cinema

1984 and all that. Which side were you on? The side of Margaret Thatcher, her hairdo and person standing rigid against a rising tide of industrial activism and British declinism? Or the side of the miners, socking it to the… Read more

Andy Warhol, Time Capsule 262 Photo: courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

Warhol’s ‘time capsules’ contain everything from toenails to previously unseen paintings worth millions

Radio

‘I don’t know what I think,’ says Lenny Henry, echoing what many of us who were listening were probably also puzzling over. ‘Part of me thinks it’s art by the sheer fact that an artist has decided that something like… Read more

Asking the questions: Victoria Coren Mitchell

Now for the really tricky question: can Only Connect survive BBC2?

Television

For some of us, the biggest TV question of recent weeks hasn’t been how Newsnight is doing without Jeremy Paxman, British drama’s fightback against American competition or even the treatment of Diana Beard by the editors of The Great British… Read more

‘Self-portrait’, c.1513, by Leonardo da Vinci

Pizza, choc-ice and Leonardos – the treasures of Turin

Arts feature

To most non-Italians Turin spells Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (Fiat). But this subalpine city has a longer history than the internal combustion engine. It may be twinned with Detroit, but its cavalcade of equestrian monuments testifies to an older sort… Read more

Still Life with Carrots (c. 1921) by Duncan Grant

The Bloomsbury painters bore me

Exhibitions

Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) claimed that nothing has really happened until it has been recorded, so this new exhibition at the NPG devoted to her life can only now be said to have happened — for here I am recording it.… Read more

Jonathan Mills gives way next year for Fergus Linehan Photo: Getty

Enough ‘themes’ at festivals

Music

One might have expected the streets of Edinburgh, especially at festival time, to bear some evidence of the political struggle currently engulfing our nation, but in fact there was none at all. Apparently, the arguments for and against independence have… Read more

Mariinsky's Les Troyens

Mariinsky’s Les Troyens — a bad night for Berlioz and Edinburgh

Opera

I wonder whether grand opéra really takes war as seriously as this year’s Edinburgh Festival wanted it to. These vast works, written to exploit and reflect the power, resources and tastes of mid-19th-century Paris, tended to favour history and its… Read more

Identity crisis: Nicole Kidman in Before I Go to Sleep

Before I Go to Sleep prefers creepy car parks to feelings

Cinema

Before I Go To Sleep is Rowan Joffe’s adaptation of S.J. Watson’s bestselling thriller of 2011, but whereas the book was smart, gripping, ingeniously plotted and had psychological depth — who are we, when we can’t remember who we are?… Read more

A wizened Victor Mature: Matthew Kelly in Toast

Bent bureaucrats, ‘fake dykes’ and bad bakers — this week’s theatre

Theatre

Eye of a Needle, by newcomer Chris MacDonald, looks at homosexuality and asylum. Gays from the Third World, who’ve suppressed all evidence of their orientation at home, find they have to leap out of the closet once they reach the… Read more

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Radio 4 deserts the British bird. Shame on them!

Radio

A strange coincidence on Saturday night to come back from the cinema, having seen a film about a woman fighting to save her job while suffering from depression and thoughts of putting an end to it all, only to switch… Read more

Where are the Betjemans de nos jours?

We need more opinionated English eccentrics making documentaries like, ahem, me...

Television

Is it just me or are almost all TV documentaries completely unwatchable these days? I remember when I first started this job I’d review one almost every fortnight. Always there’d be something worth watching: on the horrors of the Pacific… Read more

nursing-front-line

Even near the front line, there were flowers on the ward

Culture notes

It’s the tub of bright red geraniums at the heart of the picture that startles. How did anyone have time (or energy) to water these bright, hopeful flowers amid the chaos of a field hospital in early 1915? ‘Tents with… Read more

Herculean feat: hauling a steamship over a mountain for ‘Fitzcarraldo’

The enigma of Werner Herzog

Arts feature

Strange things happen to Werner Herzog — almost as strange as the things that happen in his haunting, hypnotic films. In 1971, while making a movie in Peru, he was bumped off a flight that subsequently crashed into the jungle.… Read more

The Immortal Hour

The small rewards of small-scale opera

Opera

Perhaps I should come clean straightaway and admit that, despite the fact that OperaUpClose is about to celebrate its fifth birthday, I’d never been to see one of its shows before last week. This has not been a conscious decision;… Read more