Michael Henderson

My Schubert cruise was a transport of delight

‘Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions to all musicians, appear and inspire…’ Auden wrote his words for the young Benjamin Britten, who was born on St Cecilia’s Day, and who set them to music, but his poem would also be a tribute to the composer that Britten admired above all others except Mozart. Franz Schubert was

Alastair Cook is world class. Steven Gerrard isn’t

This time last year, England’s cricketers were 2-0 up against Australia, two thirds of the way towards their third consecutive series victory in sport’s longest-established international contest. Not quite top of the world, they were nevertheless a good team in the prime of life. The winter before, they had beaten India on their dusty pitches,

The glorious bohemia of Prague

Prague, ‘Golden Prague’, is rich in music, architecture, glassware, pilsner and natural beauty. It is one of those places where laughter — innocent laughter, not laughter in the dark — seems a natural response. It is a playful city, and the people are playful, gentle, ironic. Above all, it is a writer’s city. The Czechs,

Michael Gove and the Ship of Fools

It lies rigged and fully masted in the harbour, the Ship of Fools, and soon it will be crewed by some of our favourite smarties. Is that Shami Chakrabarti charging down the gangway? It surely is. Those sharp elbows can be identified at a hundred paces. And is she being followed by Hanif Kureishi and

Why Ken Loach hasn’t made a decent film since Kes

‘If you want to send a message,’ said Sam Goldwyn, one of the men who invented Hollywood, ‘try Western Union.’ It is such a well-known remark one might have thought every film-maker of the past 50 years would have acted upon it. Not Ken Loach. After half a century of fighting the good fight on

Notes on… Venice

For Henry James it was ‘the repository of consolations’. Wordsworth, an earlier visitor, called it ‘the eldest child of liberty’. Ruskin, a self-professed ‘foster child of Venice’, dedicated his life to study of its buildings. Wagner and Browning died there, and Stravinsky left instructions to be buried there, in the island cemetery of San Michele,

What now for ENO?

It has been a bracing start to the year at English National Opera. David Alden’s production of Peter Grimes, praised to the skies for the musical performance under Edward Gardner, returned to the Coliseum. Next up is Rigoletto (reviewed on page 50), directed by Alden’s twin, Christopher. Then comes Rodelinda, in another new production (or

And the prize for most fatuous awards ceremony goes to…

‘Prizes are for boys,’ said Charles Ives, the American composer, upon receiving the Pulitzer in 1947, ‘and I’ve grown up now.’ He was using humour to make a serious point, but it would be lost on many people today. Never has there been a lusher time for self-congratulation; when all, as in Alice in Wonderland,

Music in Vienna

There is no finer city in which to hear music than Vienna. Or, to put it more felicitously, there is no finer city in which to listen to music for, as music-lovers know, there is a world of difference between hearing and listening. In the Imperial City, where most of the great composers in the

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 the church of St Nicholas: Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht. It is the most celebrated carol

Berlin: The best bar in the world

‘You were at the Fish, I hear,’ a Berlin friend told me. ‘I didn’t know you were an old hippie.’ Reputations can cling to places as they do to people. Zwiebelfisch, the Berlin inn he was referring to, has not been a haunt of hippies — radicals, more like, ‘the class of ’68’ — for

‘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 Harding’s musical personality than any other, which he has just recorded with the Bavarian Radio

The Morrissey myth

Drinking in Corbières, a dingy basement bar just off St Ann’s Square, 30 years ago, you could bump into any number of groovy young Mancunians clustered round the jukebox, talking about the bands they were going to form. One night, as the jukey played ‘The Cutter’ by Echo & the Bunnymen, all evening long it

Blitz Requiem première in St Paul’s

Of all folk memories the Blitz remains one of the most enduring. In the autumn of 1940 the Luftwaffe strafed London on 57 consecutive nights, leaving (if that is the word) 20,000 dead and whole streets pounded to rubble. ‘You do your worst,’ Churchill told the Hun, ‘and we shall do our best.’ Noël Coward

Has Test Match Special lost its wits?

There’s a 13th man at the table at Lord’s this week as England resume the Ashes contest with Australia, which began so thrillingly at Trent Bridge, where England prevailed by 14 runs. For the first time in half a -century, -Christopher Martin-Jenkins is not present to renew one of the great rituals of the English summer. ‘CMJ’,

Interview with the musician Paul Lewis

Being an English pianist must be a lonely calling at times. There is no native tradition like the ones that, say, German or Russian musicians are heir to, so many superb pianists have been unjustly overlooked. It used to be said of John Ogdon that, had he been born Ogdonski, in Minsk rather than Mansfield,

The Hagen Quartet: Bracing Beethoven

Established 32 years ago in Salzburg, the Hagen Quartet can fairly be described as venerable. It may be said equally fairly that brothers Lukas and Clemens Hagen, their sister Veronika, and Rainer Schmidt, are playing better than ever. The opening pair of concerts in their Beethoven cycle at Wigmore Hall in January were remarkable for