Peter Phillips

Last words | 5 May 2016

This, my 479th, is to be my last contribution as a regular columnist to The Spectator. I have written here for 33 years and 4 months, a way of life really, and one I have greatly enjoyed. I thank Auberon Waugh in absentia for suggesting me to Alexander Chancellor in the first place; and Charles

Modernist cul-de-sac

The intransigence of Maxwell Davies, Boulez and Stockhausen is coming home to roost. Here were three composers, famous if not exactly popular, who called many shots by the time they died yet whose works were little loved in their lifetimes by the concert-going public and stand little chance of performance now they are dead. How

ENO must go…

Last week Darren Henley, chief executive of Arts Council England, revealed that opera receives just under a fifth of the Arts Council’s total investment in our arts organisations, which amounts to many millions of pounds. Yet it accounts for ‘between 3 and 4 per cent of live audiences in theatres’. How can these figures possibly

Sound and fury | 28 January 2016

No one is consulted. No one is held to account. No one has the authority to turn it off. How is it that muzak has slipped through every legal control? The blame, I’d say, lies with those who are frightened of silence — with those who spend more money in shops that buzz to a

Murder, he wrote

The allure of Carlo Gesualdo, eighth Count of Conza and third Prince of Venosa, has been felt by music-lovers from the humblest madrigal singer to the likes of Stravinsky, Boulez and Werner Herzog. Now, just three years after celebrating the 400th anniversary of his death in 1613, his birth in 1566 gives us a second

Fantasy on ice

In this exciting new era of Spectator cruises I have been put in mind of a dream event long in the planning: to hear Allegri’s Miserere on ice, specifically on the ice of Antarctica. A number of things came together to put this on my bucket list, from the thought of dressing up like penguins

Diary of a music competition judge

Monday (21 September): to St John’s Smith Square for the opening night of the London International A Cappella Choir Competition, which happens to coincide with the 2,000th concert of the Tallis Scholars, broadcast live on the BBC. This is a coincidence, since when we planned the event a year ago it was far from hitting precisely

Bad conduct

To be honest, my friendship with Michael Tilson Thomas hasn’t gone quite as I had hoped. It started in February 1990, when he chose a Tallis Scholars track for one of his desert island discs. This was a movement from a mass by Josquin des Prez, that he said (apparently impromptu) was music which ‘completely

Orchestral infallibility

Watching the Berlin Philharmonic going into conclave to choose a successor to Simon Rattle — after countless hours of secret discussion they have chosen Kirill Petrenko — reminds one of little less than the election of a pope. In both cases the expectation is the same: the organisations are so iconic that they must continue

Première league

This year the Proms are to stage 21 world premières and 11 European, UK or London premières. It is good to see the corporation continuing its mission to encourage new music, though some think they overdo it. I heard one of our leading keyboard players say that when he was asked to première a piece

Evolutionary road

As Sepp Blatter has so affectingly remarked, the organisation he formerly headed needs evolution, not revolution. There is a consensus that this is also what David Pickard will bring to the Proms, when he takes over after this season. Of course, Pickard’s job is going to be more complex than Blatter’s ever was. The challenge

Mexican wave

Tours that start in Mexico have a nasty habit of repeating on one. Of all the British groups touring in the United States at the moment, we were the only one to launch our efforts there. But the upshot is that, two weeks later and safely in New York, I am still directing a sea

Spotify: saint or sinner?

We have all read about the current woeful state of the CD industry — how it is 28 per cent down on last year, which was 25 per cent down on the previous year, and so on — but do we know why? Is it the endless financial crisis? Or is it that CDs, as

Does anyone have the balls to bring back castrati?

One of the most complete bars to the authentic performance of both baroque opera and some renaissance polyphony is the current unavailability of castrati. There isn’t much to be done about it of course, but we might regret that we can no longer hear a sound which, at its best, fascinated all who did hear

Christopher Hogwood: the absolutist of early music

The death of Christopher Hogwood has deprived the world of the most successful exponent of early music there has ever been, or is ever likely to be. It has also reduced by one the quartet of conductors who have been called ‘the Class of ’73’, a term coined by Nick Wilson in a recent study

Enough ‘themes’ at festivals

One might have expected the streets of Edinburgh, especially at festival time, to bear some evidence of the political struggle currently engulfing our nation, but in fact there was none at all. Apparently, the arguments for and against independence have to be traded on the doorstep and not in the street, which, to those visitors