A scene painting from Parsifal by Paul Joukovski - 1882 (Photo: Richard Wagner Museum Bayreuth/ Dagli Orti)

In the mood for Parsifal, my Passiontide fare


This week, I have been mostly listening to Parsifal. Not the St Matthew Passion, which is my usual Passiontide fare. And, boy, it’s been quite an experience. You have to be in the mood for the Bach, but for the… Read more

DJ Frankie Knuckles (Photo: Claire Greenway/Getty)

Pop has become a conservative art form and an old man’s game


It is coming to something when relatively young pop stars die not of drugs or misadventure but, essentially, of old age and decay. Frankie Knuckles, the house DJ and producer, breathed his last recently at the age of just 59,… Read more

W H Auden (1907 - 1973), British-born American poet and essayist Photo: Getty

The mean, bullying maestro is extinct – or should be


W.H.Auden once wrote: ‘Real artists are not nice people. All their best feelings go into their work and life has the residue’ — which puts those who aspire to be artists in a bit of a quandary. Is it a… Read more

Violinist Yehudi Menuhin conducting his 14 year-old son and his two sisters Photo: Getty

Menuhin is the world’s toughest violin competition. Why is it packed with Asians, and no Brits?


‘The truth is,’ says Gordon Back, lowering his voice, ‘that if the violin finalists from the BBC Young Musician of the Year were to enter the Menuhin Competition, they wouldn’t make it to the first round.’ Not through the first… Read more

Pharrell Williams performs 'Happy' at the Oscars Photo: Getty

Addicted to Vole


Earworm: what a wonderful word. It describes, as nothing else quite can, the effect a really invasive melody can have on your consciousness. Hear the song once and you will hear it again and again, on a loop in your… Read more


Less subsidy means better music


One of the unlooked-for side effects of the financial crisis has been what might be called the desocialising of music funding. Whereas once many arts organisations could expect to survive solely on public money, just recently there has been an… Read more

Choristers at Westminster Abbey, 1962 Photo: Getty

Are hymns dying? 


I love a good hymn, so long as I’m not expected to sing it. Lusty declarations of faith sound ridiculous coming out of my mouth and embarrass the hell out of me, so I pretend that I’ve forgotten to pick… Read more

Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout Photo: Redferns

Prefab Sprout's comeback gives hope to the over-50s


Every musical career has its own narrative, and most of them include at least one comeback. To come back, you first have to go away; then you have to stay away; and finally, when everyone has forgotten your name, you… Read more

Claudio Abbado (Photo: Alfred Eisenstaedt/Getty)

How Claudio Abbado bridged old and new


Not long ago the great conductors of classical music were general practitioners. They expected to give satisfactory interpretations of music written from the beginnings of symphonic composition to the present day, and audiences took it for granted that, if they… Read more


Goodbye, Claudio Abbado. You helped us glimpse eternity


Fellini’s credo ‘the visionary is the only true realist’ could also be applied to the life of Claudio Abbado, who died earlier this week in Bologna at the age of 80. It would be wrong to think of Abbado as… Read more

Sir Clifford Curzon playing at his home in Highgate Photo:  Getty

I know how to cure my music addiction


About 30 years ago, not long before he died, my father bought an LP of Sir Clifford Curzon playing Schubert’s last piano sonata, in B flat D960. He was slightly defensive about the purchase. You see, he already had a… Read more

This charming man: Lang Lang rehearsing with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic

Lang Lang: You can't compare Bach and Schoenberg, or Justin Timberlake and The Beatles


As Lang Lang walked from the stage at the Royal Albert Hall in November, a little girl emerged from the audience to embrace him. It was a disarming moment that seemed to symbolise the impact of the 31-year-old Chinese pianist.… Read more

Mariah Carey (Photo: Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty)

All I want next Christmas is new Christmas songs 


Three months until spring. Four months until the start of the cricket season. And only nine months until the radio starts playing ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ again. Or have you heard enough of Christmas songs by now? Many of us had… Read more

Richard Strauss at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (Photo Erich Auerbach/Getty)

Could this be the year of C.P.E. Bach?


Looking through the list of composers who celebrate some sort of anniversary in 2014 is a depressing business. I don’t think I have ever seen such an anonymous collection of small-time nobodies, and yet for them to appear on a… Read more

‘The Nativity’, 1470–1485, by Piero della Francesca

The splendour of the English carol


The most celebrated Christmas carol, ‘Silent Night’, belongs to Austria. Father Joseph Mohr, the priest at Oberndorf, a small village near Salzburg, wrote it in 1818. Set to music by Franz Xaver Gruber, it was sung on Christmas Eve at… Read more

'Christy Moore's (above)  Motherland is a full three-course meal of melody, folk-rock with a soulful edge' Photo: Redferns via Getty

Albums of the year? Some years we can answer it, some years we can't 


Albums of the year? What a good question. Some years we can answer it, some years we can’t. The essence of pop music is its newness, its absolute determination to upgrade itself and keep on upgrading itself, often beyond anyone’s… Read more

Ludwig van Beethoven Photo: Getty

Music to listen to when you've broken up with a precious friend


Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata is thrilling and brain-twisting. Its nickname derives from the fact that it was published as a sonata ‘for the hammer-action keyboard’, which just means a piano. But the notion of hammering suits this work. It’s his longest… Read more

The Russian ballet perform 'Pulcinella' under the direction of Diaghilev. Music by Igor Stravinsky, 1924 Photo: Getty

A century before Miley Cyrus, it was male performers — like Nijinsky — who bared all 


While the airwaves resonate with celebrations of Britten’s birth, I cannot help thinking that what was happening in Paris at that very moment was light-years away, not only from Lowestoft, but also from London. The cultural distance between the two… Read more


Peter Phillips: I saw the other side of John Taverner


When I first met John Tavener in 1977, he was still largely known for his dramatic cantata The Whale, which had been performed at the Proms in 1969. By then both John and his Whale had acquired considerable glitter, partly… Read more

(Picture: Karl Walter/Getty)

Morrissey can't even moan properly — here's a frontman who can


There is much to be said for Schadenfreude. (If it was edible, it would be a meal in a very expensive restaurant, for which someone else was paying.) So it’s probably inadvertently that Morrissey has added to the gaiety of… Read more

Festival di Sanremo 2013 - Closing Night

'I was an arrogant 18-year-old': Daniel Harding on growing up


‘Have a look at this,’ says Daniel Harding, goggle-eyed, between mouthfuls of salmon. The pictures on his smartphone show Claudio Abbado, one of his mentors, conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in Schumann’s Scenes from Faust, a work that gets closer to… Read more

Design For Christchurh 'Cardboard Cathedral' Unveiled

How to conduct a Tallis motet in a cardboard cathedral


To undertake a concert tour of New Zealand’s cathedrals at the moment is to be constantly reminded of the destructive power of nature and how dogged people can be when the chips are down. The list of buildings that the… Read more

Maria Callas and Franco Zeffirelli after a production of Puccini's 'Tosca' (Image: Getty)

Damian Thompson: I may be in danger of becoming an opera queen


It’s taken 40 years, but I’ve finally developed a taste for the one type of classical music that I couldn’t stand. And last week I broke the news to the man responsible: Roger Hewland, owner of Gramex, the world’s finest… Read more

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Talk Talk bears repetition


First impressions always count, and they are almost always wrong. This is particularly pertinent if you review albums for a living, as I used to years ago. You would listen once, maybe twice, possibly three times if you were really… Read more

St John Smith's Square: "a great hall with a great tradition" Photo: Getty

Does London really need another concert hall?


Does London need another concert hall? Or, to put it more precisely, does London need another chamber music hall? The recent opening of Milton Court in the Barbican begs this question: a pertinent one since we already hold the world… Read more

James MacMillan

Music at Mass is theological warfare by other means


How many battles have been fought over sacred music throughout history? The noise you make when you worship is a big deal: those who control it can shape everything from clerical hierarchy to intimate spirituality. And there are patterns. Deep… Read more

Love and Money Photo: Redferns

Pop: You'd love Love and Money, too - if only you'd heard of them


How and when do you become ‘a fan’, exactly? You can usually spot pop stars who are losing touch with reality when they start talking about ‘the fans’ as some kind of independent entity, rather than just a load of… Read more


Musicians are roasting at the Proms; freezing at the Bachathon


Gossip that an orchestral player fainted while performing in the Albert Hall during the recent heatwave points to a strange lacuna in the policing of concert conditions. The unions who like to stipulate how professional musicians are treated — Equity… Read more