Stephen Walsh

Spectator books of the year: Stephen Walsh on Leningrad

I’ve reviewed only a handful of books in 2014, but have struck lucky twice. Brian Moynahan’s Leningrad: Siege and Symphony (Quercus, £25) is one of the most moving books I’ve read for ages: a brilliant portrait of Leningrad in the Nazi blockade, culminating in the astonishing events surrounding the first performance of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony by a

Mariinsky’s Boris Godunov – a revelation

Anyone who thinks opera singers and orchestral players are overworked should spare a thought for the Mariinsky Opera on its trek round England and Wales this week. After Prokofiev’s Betrothal in a Monastery in Cardiff on Sunday, the whole caravan rolled up at the Barbican in the shorter — but not exactly lightweight — first

The yes-no-maybe world of Harrison Birtwistle

For better or worse, we live in the age of the talking composer. Some talk well, some badly, a few — the strong, silent types — keep their mouths shut, or have to have them prised open. Harrison Birtwistle belongs, by nature, to this last category. I once, a very long time ago, interviewed him

Portrait of a Guardian music critic

We critics seldom write our memoirs, perhaps because we skulk away our lives in dark corners, avoiding the public gaze, plying our shameful trade like streetwalkers or pushers of hard drugs. We might occasionally, in desperation, recycle our ephemera between hard covers. Edward Greenfield, the former record and music critic of the Guardian, has daringly

Shostakovich, Leningrad, and the greatest story ever played

The horrors of the Leningrad siege — the 900 Days of Harrison Salisbury’s classic — have been pretty well picked over by historians; and meanwhile the story of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, the improbable circumstances of its composition and first Leningrad performance in August 1942, is well known from the extensive, and still growing, literature on

Did Leonard Bernstein do too much to be a great artist?

Nigel Simeone’s title for his edition of Leonard Bernstein’s correspondence rings compellingly, novellistically, through the force of the definite article, as in The Aspern Papers, or The Scarlet Letter. The reality, though, is more diffuse. Bernstein was a man of enormous endowments. One correspondent, after listing his talents as a composer, orchestrator, pianist, conductor, lecturer

Was Bach as boring as this picture suggests?

What, one wonders, will John Eliot Gardiner be chiefly remembered for? Perhaps, by many who have worked with him, for his notorious rudeness to performers and colleagues. At one point in his marvellous new book on Bach he refers to the master ‘losing his rag with musicians’ (as a corrective to the ‘Godlike image’ of