Brain gain

The arrival of the composer Eric Whitacre and his family in London as permanent residents brings a ray of Californian sunshine to our cloud-bedraggled lives. American musicians who have chosen to move to Europe to work have always made an interesting group, headed by jazz players of the calibre of Josephine Baker and Sidney Bechet.

Sound and vision | 19 November 2011

The 20th century was a century of musical revolutions. One of the last and most audacious ignited 50 years ago on the east and west coasts of America. And in a small but significant way The Spectator played a part in fanning the flames. In 1968 a young critic and early-music specialist by the name

Arts feature

Perfect harmony

Andrew Lambirth finds paintings at the National Gallery’s Leonardo exhibition of such a singular and pure beauty as to take the breath away The great world is humming with an event of international importance at the National Gallery: the largest number of Leonardo da Vinci’s surviving paintings ever gathered together. To see anything by this

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Original sin

Nothing beats the buzz that precedes the debut of a rising star in a big, known role. Double it and you’ll get an idea of what last Tuesday felt like, as not one but two Royal Ballet principals, Lauren Cuthbertson and Sergei Polunin, took the main roles in Kenneth MacMillan’s 1974 Manon for the first


Bishops and ploughboys

The delectable drama student who served dinner beforehand in the Rooftop Restaurant told us she’d much enjoyed Written on the Heart but that it was a bit intellectual. As David Edgar’s new play is about the making of the King James Bible, this wasn’t altogether surprising. How do you make a play about the deliberations

Sheer madness

‘I’m off to see a play about a man who kills his dad,’ I told my five-year-old as I left the house. ‘Because he didn’t give him any ice-cream?’ he said. Mmm, I wondered, it’s possible that Hamlet harboured some childhood grudge against Claudius over a Mr Whippy refusal episode. But such meta-textual speculation is


Continuous fun

The time of year is approaching when Nutcrackers take over from opera, and then a further round of Traviatas gets under way. But that does at least mean that it’s also the time when the schools of music put on their end-of-term operas, and this season is unusually promising. Next week Sir Colin Davis is


A girdle too far

Fact: in 1963, air travel was so new and exciting that the awed gasps of the passengers as the plane took flight frequently drowned out the noise of the jet engines. Fact: in 1963, air travel was so comfortable that passengers emerged from long-haul flights even more refreshed, relaxed and cheerful than when they boarded


Back to the future | 19 November 2011

High Arctic, the inaugural exhibition in the newly opened Sammy Ofer wing at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (until 13 January), brings a thoroughly 21st-century, technology-driven museum experience to this historic site. It’s an exhibition, Jim, but not as we know it. In 2010 Matt Clark, creative director of the art and design practice UVA,


My dinner with Meryl

Justice is a plodding and uninteresting revenge thriller starring Nicolas Cage and January Jones, and as I don’t have much else to say about it I’m going to fill the rest of the space by telling you about my dinner with Meryl Streep, who stars as Margaret Thatcher in the forthcoming The Iron Lady. This


History lesson | 19 November 2011

When I was a student of history, the first book we were asked to read was E.H. Carr’s What Is History? I never understood Carr’s question. Or the answers that his book gave. If history is not about people and events, but causes and ideas, then I could see no sense in bothering to study