Touching the void | 17 March 2012

In April, for the first time in ages, I am going to a wedding. At least it will make a change from all the funerals. The middle-aged pop fan feels this all the more deeply, because few of our favourite musicians seem to make old bones. Or, more accurately, they make old bones, but at

Spirit of Schubert

Every December, for the past decade, I have laid a red rose on Schubert’s grave in Vienna’s southern cemetery. What began as a gesture has become a custom, a way of giving thanks to the most lovable of all composers. Schubert may not be as great as Bach or Beethoven, who established the musical language

The Boss without The Big Man

The main event in the E Street nation this month was not so much the release of the new Bruce Springsteen album as the litmus test live concert at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theatre last Friday. How would The Boss cope without The Big Man, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who died last year after suffering a stroke?

Arts feature

Fairground attraction

Robert Gore-Langton talks to Professor Vanessa Toulmin about bringing the 27,000 Volt Girl and five-foot earwigs back into the public eye Vanessa Toulmin is that rare thing — an academic professor who grew up on a fair. From the age of ten she fried onions for the hotdogs, spun candyfloss, and took money for rides

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Succulent pleasures

It was about time a dance-maker exacted revenge on dance academics. In Alexander Ekman’s 2010 Cacti, a voiceover explains the alleged semantics of the choreography by resorting to theoretical clichés and the known modes of that mental self-pleasuring that many academics indulge in. As the vacuously pompous words bear little or no relation to the


Knock-off Chekhov

Calling all thespians. Roll up, you theatre folk. The Hampstead’s new show is a dramatic love-in you can’t afford to miss. Farewell to the Theatre introduces us to Harley Granville-Barker, one of the greatest playwrights of the early 20th century, as he enjoys a sabbatical in Massachusetts in 1916. Everything is languid, atmospheric and high-minded.


The unkindest cut | 17 March 2012

Tristan und Isolde is a perfect opera, but where are the perfect performers and, just as important, the perfect listeners to do it justice? What very often happens to me in a fine performance is that I am wholly caught up in the drama of Act I, which, for all its revolutionary musical means, is


Downton on sea

If Titanic hadn’t actually sunk on its maiden voyage not even Jeffrey Archer would have dared invent such a hammily extravagant plot. The passenger list — Benjamin Guggenheim, John Jacob Astor IV (Macy’s owner), Isidor Straus, the silent film actress Dorothy Gibson, inventor of the New Journalism W.T. Stead, and sundry English toffs — was


Shape shifters

Someone asked me recently whether I actually liked Mondrian’s paintings. The implication being that his form of geometrical abstraction was too pure — or too antiseptic — to contain the necessary germ of human warmth required to engage the emotions; and that though one could admire his work intellectually, it was difficult to be passionate


Redeeming creatures

We Bought a Zoo — in which a family buys a zoo — does what it says on the tin and if you like this sort of film you will like this and if you don’t you won’t, and you have to ask yourself why you buy The Spectator every week? It’s for analysis like


Listen up!

Life-changing moments are not always as dramatic as Saint Paul’s Damascene experience. Often they emerge from conversations that begin with mundane exchanges about last night’s Masterchef, the film you saw last week, the last time there was a drought. Then gradually the talk moves on to other, deeper matters. Something is said, some connection is