Damian Thompson

Bored by Brahms

Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet begins, writes his biographer Jan Swafford, with ‘a gentle, dying-away roulade that raises a veil of autumnal melancholy over the whole piece: the evanescent sweet-sadness of autumn, beautiful in its dying’. This being late autumn, I listened to the quintet on Sunday to see if its ‘distillation of Brahmsian yearning’ still made

Arts feature

Artificial life | 19 November 2015

One day Julia Margaret Cameron was showing John Ruskin a portfolio of her photographic portraits. The critic grew more and more impatient until he came to a study of the scientist Sir John Herschel in which the subject’s hair stood up ‘like a halo of fireworks’. At this point, Ruskin slammed the portfolio shut and

More from Arts

Lost in space | 19 November 2015

In a converted barn in Dorset, not far from the rural studio where she made many of her greatest sculptures, Elisabeth Frink’s son Lin is showing me his incredible collection of his mother’s work. More than 20 years since his mother died, he’s kept the vast bulk of it together. ‘I owe it to mum,’

Approachable abstraction

Fifteen million pounds and a hefty slice of architectural vision have transformed the Whitworth from a fusty Victorian art temple into a sumptuous and thoroughly modern gallery. The space inside now channels the visitor from one gallery to another through split levels and along wide, glass-walled extensions. The great barrel-vaulted spaces at the gallery’s core

Thomas Heatherwick

Thomas Heatherwick is the most famous designer in the United Kingdom today and has an unquestionable flair for attention-grabbing creations. Before 2010 he was mostly known for a splashy public sculpture in Manchester, ‘B of the Bang’ (2005). Within weeks bits started to fall off. In 2009 it was dismantled. This was his most celebrated

Ménage à trois

Mark Baldwin, artistic director of Rambert Dance, must take responsibility for most of the good times I’ve had recently, midwife to a litter of excellent things born out of curiosity and an unfussed love of culture, particularly music. A true artistic director (cf my complaint last time). On to the creative table at Rambert HQ


Winter wonderland | 19 November 2015

Kenneth Branagh opens his West End tenancy with Shakespeare’s inexplicably popular The Winter’s Tale. We start in Sicily where Leontes and his queen Hermione are entertaining Polixenes, the king of Bohemia. The design is heavily Germanic. Crimson drapes shroud the grey marble columns. A massive fir tree, twinkling with candlelight, is rooted in an ornamental


All at sea | 19 November 2015

The Royal Opera House seemed nervous about Georg Friedrich Haas’s world première Morgen und Abend. They sent out a pdf of the libretto in advance, which they only ever do when they think that the words or the plot are unintelligible. Thrilled to report that it was a double whammy. An introductory soliloquy was spoken


The man who wouldn’t be king

Not that long ago the BBC trumpeted a new Stakhanovite project to big up the arts in its many and various hues. And praise be, this it is jolly well doing with all sorts of dad rock docs, homages to painters and poets, while Sralan Yentob (as he surely ought at the very least to


Death watch | 19 November 2015

At the beginning of the summer of 1715 Louis XIV complained of a pain in the leg. In mid-August gangrene set in and by 1 September he was dead. He’d been on the throne for 72 of his 77 years. A new exhibition at Versailles looks at the elaborate rituals that followed. The Sun King


Sins of the fathers | 19 November 2015

This is a documentary in which three men travel across Europe together, but they’re not pleasurably interrailing, even though there are often times they probably wished they were. For two of them, Niklas and Horst, the journey is about confronting their fathers, who were high-ranking Nazi officials responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews,


French connection | 19 November 2015

It was as if Andrew Marr and his guests on Start the Week on Monday morning were standing on the edge of a precipice with no idea how far they would fall if they strayed too near the edge. Their conversation this week, Marr told us, would not, as usual, be a live discussion but