A woman can’t possibly conduct this, bemoaned some. It’s a bit like asking one to reverse-park their Ford Ka into a not-so-tight spot. And an American? Good grief, it’s the end of civilisation as we know it, lamented others. It is as though the spirit of Wallis Simpson had returned from Baltimore to purloin the Crown of England. The Proms are international, sure, but the Last Night is a peculiarly British affair, and at all costs we must preserve this sacred institution from the BBC’s interminable trendy ‘modernising’ and its lefty notions of political ‘progress’. Continue reading →
I’ve never been to a First Night of the Proms before: it’s so much more elegant and stylish than the Last, and this one had a musical coherence of ambrosial heights. Or perhaps I should say Neptunian depths, since the overriding theme was oceanic, and the tide of surging waves bathed the audience in a symphony of wonder. Continue reading →
Is there a sporting equivalent for the philosophic or aesthetic philistine? If so, please excuse my socio-lexical ignorance: I must be one. I sat patiently through last night’s BBC News while the Gracious Speech played inglorious left-wing to the centre-mid resignation of Sir Alex Ferguson. I bit my lip as his departure from the field shunted the Coalition’s programme for government from the headlines of the national press, and Twitter tribalists obsessed all day about his legendary record of achievement.
Incredibly, there were even some comparing the moment to the death of The Lady, which is really quite appalling when you think about it. Did the late, great Alex Ferguson really do for football what the late and very much greater Margaret Thatcher did for Great Britain? Did he halt terminal decline, revive a national spirit, liberate half a continent or inspire a generation? Continue reading →
I caught sight of a tweet yesterday by the Shadow Culture Secretary Harriet Harman. It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, critical of the Culture Secretary Maria Miller, who had apparently cast the “‘shameful slur that arts community ‘disingenuous’ & their concerns ‘pure fiction’”. I enquired of the context and, to my surprise, Ms Harman responded swiftly with a link to an article by the Culture Secretary which appeared in the Evening Standard in November last year.
I don’t quite know why it’s taken a quarter of a year for Ms Harman to decide to get upset about this, but – I think for the first time in my life – I find myself agreeing with her. If this article was written by Maria Miller personally, she seems purposely to perpetuate the myth that Conservatives are basically all philistines who don’t quite “get” the Arts. If it was written by a civil-service aide, he (or she) deserves something of a reprimand – even after
the space of three months. Continue reading →
There really couldn’t have been a more fitting climax to the 2012 BBC Proms season. The past eight weeks of world-class music have spanned everything from Beethoven to Broadway; following hard upon the patriotic fervour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee; running concurrently with the agonies and ecstasies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It has been a summer unlike any other – and Roger Wright, BBC Proms Director, knew he had to pull something special out of the bag to complement the national mood rather than try to top the bill.
And he did it. The programme was eclectic, patriotic, at times quite exhilarating, and (very wisely) significantly pulled back from last year’s rambling and tacky ‘Down-at-the-Old-Bull-and-Bush’ feel, which had us all singing about pappadums to the tune of ‘Nessun Dorma’, and gave us a pantomime Britannia dressed up like a Christmas tree, but outrageously deprived us of Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Songs. No, this year was perfectly pitched and much better balanced between the classical and the ‘red, white and blue’. It was also broadcast live in 3D at Odeon cinemas across Britain, in addition to the open-air gigs in Belfast, Caerphilly, Glasgow, and the London ‘over-spill’ in Hyde Park. This was great access to a great British institution: the BBC does more every year to expand Henry Wood’s vision of making classical music accessible to the masses. Continue reading →
I was invited by EMI to the world famous Abbey Road Studios this week for a sneak preview of ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein: At The Movies’ – the latest album from the effervescent John Wilson Orchestra and the Maida Vale Singers, featuring the glorious Sierra Boggess (Love Never Dies, Phantom of the Opera), Julian Ovenden (Death Takes a Holiday, Finding Neverland) and David Pittsinger (South Pacific). Sipping a glass of Chardonnay in the historic Studio 1, just 15 feet from the Maestro and all of five feet from the swinging double basses, it was a wonderful amuse-oreille to last night’s Prom. Continue reading →
It was the beginning of another academic year. I was in the staffroom, at the end of the usual sort of frenzied and frantic day which usually greets the first weeks of a new term. The Head came in and mumbled something, but I didn’t take any notice. No-one else seemed to. I was immersed in a sea of admin, data and trivia – student lists, text books, timetabling and staffing. As I gathered my bags to leave, I over-heard one of the English teachers refer to ‘an act of war’, but I assumed he was immersed in Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon or some such, so before I could become embroiled, I darted out to my car. It was sunny and still quite warm: a hint of Indian summer. I had a chilled bottle of wine waiting for me. I liked going home.
I turned on the radio to find some vacuous mood music, but there was none. Instead, as I drove out of the car park, I heard incomprehensible utterances: something about the Pentagon being hit. My mind hazed. I slowed at the junction and signalled left: something about the World Trade Center being destroyed. I paused at the traffic lights, turned up the volume, and listened. Continue reading →
Rationing Mammon emaciates the Muses. Plato knew it, and so does Polly Toynbee: it’s just simple cause and effect. And government cuts tend to be cyclical: seven fat years of abundance are invariably followed by lean years of famine. Unlike health and overseas development, the arts seem to have no divine right of exemption from the fiscal straitjacket presently being strapped around other departments of state: it is undeniably politically easier to cut Northern Ballet than hospital beds or malaria nets. But the suggestion that a reduction of £150 million amounts to little more than a slight nip‘n’tuck in a very fleshy sector is a little misleading. Certainly, there are savings to be made in the labyrinthine, pathologically-left-leaning quangocracy which generously bestows public money more in proportion to political correctness than artistic merit. But, my goodness, we need to be a little careful before we equate the RSC with a bloated BBC; the LSO with the inefficiencies of the NHS; our museums and galleries with otiose Harrier jump-jets; or the local school film club or drama group with rubbish collection and pot-hole filling. Continue reading →
Whenever the BBC broadcast a major national celebration or royal event, they wheel out a Dimbleby to maintain the hereditary principle. If they want a probing political interview, they sacrifice the victim to the snarls of Paxman or the claws of Humphries. If they want election night gravitas, up pops the psephologically effervescent Peter Snow. They are all Auntie’s heavy hitters; sans pareil when it comes to pomp, circumstance, inquisition and exposition.
The Corporation has never really nurtured a broadcasting aristocracy for the arts and culture. So perhaps it comes as no surprise that they poached Baron Bragg of Wigton (aka Melvyn) from ITV to present their flagship documentary to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. Maybe “poached” is unfair: ITV ditched his South Bank Show a couple of years ago, since which time he’s been available for hire. To many, he is the doyen of high-arts-fused-with-popular-culture broadcasting, so you might expect a state-broadcast flagship documentary about the inspired Authorised Version by the enthused Melvyn Bragg to be, well … inspired and enthused. Continue reading →