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Arts

‘The Census at Bethlehem’, 1566, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Climate change, Bruegel-style

Arts feature

It is cold, but not in a cheery, robin-redbreast kind of way. The sky is slate blue; the sun, a red ball, is slipping below the horizon, figures carrying heavy burdens trudge across the frozen water. Yet this far- from-festive… Read more

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The Nazi origins of the Vienna Phil’s New Year’s Day concert

Arts feature

It may be the last water-cooler moment in world television. On the first morning of the year, at 11.15 Central European Time, in a place that considers itself the epicentre of Europe, a group of men in formal dress mount… Read more

‘Melting Snow at Wormingford’, 1962, by John Nash

Snow - art’s biggest challenge

Arts feature

In owning a flock of artificial sheep, Joseph Farquharson must have been unusual among Highland lairds a century ago. His Aberdeenshire estate covered 20,000 acres — surely enough to support the modest local ovine needs. But Farquharson was a painter,… Read more

Outsize origami: Gehry’s Fondation Louis Vuitton

Le French bashing has spread to France. Are things really that bad?

Arts feature

The French for French-bashing is le French bashing. This verbally costive nation is at it once again, torpidly borrowing an approximately English expression rather than coining its own. Such bashing is not an exclusively Anglo-Saxon practice. There is indigenous bashing.… Read more

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Fortune tellers, pound shops and Orville: why I love Blackpool

Arts feature

‘Jesus is the light of the world,’ reads the sign outside Blackpool’s Central Methodist Church, but all along the promenade the lights are going out. I’d returned to my favourite seaside resort to catch the end of the Illuminations, an… Read more

Gianni Schicchi Photo: Hana Zushi-Rhodes, Royal Academy of Music

Agents will be queuing up to sign this 26-year-old baritone from Sichuan

Opera

The Royal Academy of Music’s end-of-term opera can always be looked forward to because it never disappoints: the repertoire is enterprising, the musical performance is invariably on a high level, and the productions are almost always sane and unpretentious: qualities… Read more

Slick, handsome and richly costumed: ‘Mother Goose’ at the Hackney Empire

Panto season has arrived - and even the kids are turning their nose up at it

Theatre

‘What is a panto?’ I asked my companion at the Hackney Empire’s Saturday matinee. ‘It’s basically a really bad play,’ said Coco, aged five and three quarters. She was there with her older brother and my son to help me… Read more

Agnes Kittelsen as Thor Heyerdahl’s wife, Liv — one of the film’s many blondes

If you like bland films full of blondes, you’ll love Kon-Tiki

Cinema

Kon-Tiki is a dramatisation of Thor Heyerdahl’s 4,300-mile, 101-day journey across the Pacific by balsa-wood raft, which took place in 1947, and was a remarkable achievement, unlike this film, which so isn’t. True, it does what it says on the… Read more

"Andrew Mueller hates The Doors more than any band in the world" Photo: Getty

Why we love hating the music we hate as much as we love loving the music we love

Music

With seconds to spare, I think I have chanced upon my music book of the year. Such choices are always frighteningly subjective, relying as they do on the narrow musical tastes of the chooser, his or her sex, age, education… Read more

Sensual but not thrilling: Carlos Acosta as Basilio

Royal Ballet’s Don Quixote: Carlos Acosta is too brainy with this no-brain ballet

Dance

One feels the pang of impending failure whenever the Royal Ballet ventures like a deluded Don Quixote into a periodic quest to stage that delightful old ballet named after him. Twice in recent years has it tilted at the windmill… Read more

Masterchef: The Professionals: Marcus Wareing, Gregg Wallace, Monica Galetti Photo: BBC

How to win MasterChef - and why salmon is the fish of the devil

Television

If ever my near-neighbour William Sitwell is killed in a bizarre shooting accident and I end up taking his place as one of the guest critics on MasterChef: the Professionals (not likely, I admit, but you never know), here are… Read more

Jarvis Cocker Photo: Getty

Children’s radio was once at the core of the BBC - now it’s all but disappeared

Radio

It was a bit of a surprise to hear Jarvis Cocker, the embodiment of cool and former frontman of Pulp, confessing to a love of Singing Together, a BBC programme straight out of the 1940s, with its clipped pronunciation and… Read more

The serried ranks of an El Sistema youth orchestra in Caracas, 2012 — a ‘miracle’ that’s turned very sour

Classical music’s dirty little secret

Arts feature

The two trendiest words in classical music are ‘El Sistema’. That’s the name for the high-intensity programme of instrumental coaching that turned kids from the slums of Venezuela into the thrilling Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra (SBYO), conducted by hot young… Read more

‘The Life Room’, 1977–80, by John Wonnacott

The death of the life class

Exhibitions

‘Love of the human form’, writes the painter John Lessore, ‘must be the origin of that peculiar concept, the Life Room.’ Then he goes on to exclaim on the loveliness of that name. It is indeed a venerable institution with… Read more

‘North Cape’, probably 1840s, by Peder Balke

We must never again let this 19th century Norwegian master slip into oblivion

Exhibitions

You won’t have heard of Peder Balke. Yet this long-neglected painter from 19th-century Norway is now the subject of a solo show at the National Gallery. And it’s an absolute revelation. Walking around, I marvelled at the intensity of a… Read more

Composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle Photo: Redferns/Getty

Why Church music is back in vogue - and squeaky-gate music has had its day

Music

One of the growth areas of contemporary music is in setting sacred texts. It might be thought that I had a special interest in claiming this, but in fact what I am about to describe represents a sea change in… Read more

Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem in 'Sacred Monsters' Photo: Tristram Kenton

Sacred Monsters, Sadler’s Wells: Sylvie Guillem and Akram Kham’s captivating final boogie

Dance

I’m dashing between dance theatres at the moment and there’s just so much to tell you about. I could linger on Sacred Monsters, the captivating conversation-piece at Sadler’s Wells for Sylvie Guillem and Akram Khan — conversational being the word,… Read more

French composer and musical theorist, Jean Philippe Rameau

Forget the Germans. It’s the French who made classical music what it is

Opera

The poor French. When we think of classical music, we always think of the Germans. It’s understandable. Instinctive. Ingrained. But unfair. We forget that most of the heavy lifting — most of the intrepid leaps forward in harmony, colour, rhythm… Read more

Adam Brown in Saxon Court by Daniel Andersen. Photo: Richard Lakos

A workplace revenge comedy from the Ricky Gervais school of humour

Theatre

When to launch? For impresarios, this is the eternal dilemma. Autumn is so crowded with press nights that producers are heard to sigh, ‘The market’s full. There’s no room.’ When the glut abates in late November, the same producers sob,… Read more

Too lovable: Bill Murray and Jaeden Lieberher in ‘St. Vincent’

St. Vincent: too much lovability and not enough roguishness from Bill Murray

Cinema

Is Bill Murray fit for sainthood? Certainly his fans have him figure as some sort of lesser divinity, maybe one of the more saturnalian Greeks or pagans, with a taste for crashing karaoke parties with a pretty Dutch girl on… Read more

Michael Palin stars in (the last four minutes of) BBC drama Remember Me

BBC1’s Remember Me: the curious case of the killer Yorkshire taps

Television

BBC1’s authentically spooky three-part ghost story Remember Me hasn’t yet revealed what’s really going on in that gloomy Yorkshire town. Nonetheless, the second episode did clear up one mystery. We now know how Michael Palin managed to find room in… Read more

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Why you have to listen to this year's Reith Lectures

Radio

Each year the Reith Lectures come round as Radio 4’s annual assertion of intellectual authority, fulfilling the BBC’s original aspiration to inform and educate (although not always to also entertain). Each year, though, it’s hard not to feel a certain… Read more

Jack O’Connell in ‘Unbroken’ — out next month — one of the few films today with a star writing team, the Coen brothers

How Hollywood is killing the art of screenwriting

Arts feature

Writing is dead. Long live writing. What do I mean when I say writing is dead? That’s a whole other article, but in brief: cinema killed the novel, email killed the letter, CGI killed cinema and Twitter killed email. The… Read more

‘Chair’, 1969, by Allen Jones, which had acid thrown on it in 1986

Does Allen Jones deserve a retrospective at the Royal Academy?

Exhibitions

It has been a vintage season for mannequins. At the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, an exhibition called Silent Partners looks at the relationship between artist and mannequin, from function to fetish. In London, the Royal Academy is hosting a retrospective… Read more

paddington

Paddington review: put your mind at rest - no one gets marmalade up the bum

Cinema

‘Please look after this bear,’ reads the famous label hanging round Paddington’s neck, and this film does that, admirably, handsomely, endearingly, lovingly and not at all sexily. Such a furore, when the film was awarded a PG instead of a… Read more

Poverty ogling: Stephanie Street and Meera Syal in ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’

The National’s latest attempt to cheer us up: three hours of poverty porn

Theatre

Bombay is now called Mumbai by everyone bar its residents, whose historic name (from the Portuguese for ‘beautiful cove’) has been discarded for them by their betters. Near the airport a huge advertising board bearing the slogan ‘Beautiful Forever’ overlooks… Read more

Too worthy? Peter Sellars’s staging of John Adams’s ‘Gospel’

ENO’s Gospel According to the Other Mary: great music weighed down by a worthy staging

Opera

Terrorism; East-West diplomacy; nuclear war: John Adams’s operas have poured music into the faultlines of 21st-century global politics, and the tremors have been significant. Simply staging The Death of Klinghoffer recently was enough to see the Met picketed on charges… Read more

Christian Blackshaw Photo: Herbie Knott

Is this 65-year-old British pianist the next big thing in classical music?

Music

Earlier this month the Wigmore Hall was sold out for a Schubert recital by a concert pianist whose only solo recordings consist of two volumes of the Mozart piano sonatas. That would be understandable if he were 23 years old… Read more