When the choir of The Sixteen sings Bach, it is like switching on electricity. From a standing start, suddenly they are in the middle of flowing counterpoint: perfectly synchronised parts enter with imperceptible attack as the current picks up where it left off, usually two nights previously.
Made in heaven? Premium16 February 2017 | by Lucy Lethbridge
Channel 4 marked the eve of St Valentine’s Day with a documentary that held a scented candle to the rites of modern romance. Yet though it may not have been its intention, The Wedding Day (13 February) was both timid and snide.
The writer Nicholas Royle began his exploration of the world of the unreturned library book (9 February) at Manchester Central Library. Keeping his voice down, in what, he explained had been his teenage stamping ground, he confessed himself a serial offender.
Becoming popular after the Second World War, the so-called “State of England” play summed up political and social tensions through a suggestive setting: a music hall in John Osborne’s The Entertainer, a cabin cruiser in Alan Ayckbourn’s Way Upstream, a battered caravan in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem.
Slavery unbound Premium09 February 2017 | by Lucy Lethbridge
Exactly 40 years ago, the final episode of the television adaption of Alex Haley’s Pulitzer-winning novel Roots attracted 100 million viewers, a record beaten only by the finale of M*A*S*H a few years later.
Opera has often been about appetite – but never quite like this. Tarrare – it is a true story, or founded in truth – was an unlucky French boy in revolutionary Paris whose constant enormous hunger led him to wolf down anything he could lay his hands on – rocks, cats, trash, half a cow, you name it.
Margaret Forster died in February 2016 at the age of 77. A year on, this commemoration fronted by Roger Bolton (7 February) was resolutely informal, and consisted mostly of her husband and fellow writer, Hunter Davies, roaming through the houses they had shared in London and the Lake District, reminiscing about the six decades they had together and grimly setting about, as he put it, “dismantling a life”.
In November 1917, British troops arriving at Ventimiglia near Genoa were greeted with showers of carnations and barrels of wine. After the Italians’ disastrous defeat at Caporetto, the British had despatched an Expeditionary Force to the Italian defensive lines on the River Piave, and the change from the trenches felt as good as a holiday.
Postcards from the edge Premium02 February 2017 | by Lucy Lethbridge
Can a community be created artificially, or does it have to emerge organically? This is one of the questions asked in a documentary about Britain’s remotest island, Fair Isle, situated in turbulent seas between Orkney and Shetland.
When a country covets the soil of another, it also tends to want its soul. Colonialism and evangelism have often been linked, missionaries confirming on a Sunday the Western foundations laid by mining corporations and administrators during the week.
In 1937, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, that terrible prequel to the even bigger war that was about to engulf the whole of Europe, Pablo Picasso wrote: “I have always believed and still believe that artists who live and work with spiritual values cannot and should not remain indifferent to a conflict in which the highest values of humanity and civilisation are at stake.”
An urban jail Premium25 January 2017 | by Lucy Lethbridge
Last year I attended a conference in London during which a woman in the audience shouted: “I am not a slave.” She then started to berate the British press and Establishment and called for the release of Aravindan Balakrishnan, jailed for 23 years in 2015 for crimes including rape, false imprisonment and child cruelty.
Gyorgy Ligeti, author of Le Grand Macabre, knew a bit about death and absurdity: a Hungarian Jew, born in 1923, he lost most of his family in concentration camps, and then endured the circus of communism before escaping in 1956.
Too high a price Premium19 January 2017 | by Lucy Lethbridge
Antiques Roadshow, which first aired on the BBC in 1979, has remained almost unchanged for 40 years; playing to a very British appetite for historical anecdote as well as bargain hunting, it has been a Sunday evening ratings favourite.
It is one of the mysteries of life that the language of music, while being inadequate to describe a chair or what we had for lunch, can say everything there is to say about fear, love, awe and other complex emotions that words often struggle with.
The price of inheritance Premium12 January 2017 | by Lucy Lethbridge
Now that the British actor Tom Hardy has become a Hollywood star, he can choose his projects – and in the lavish new eight-episode miniseries Taboo (7 January), he told a newspaper, he was offered the kind of starring role he has always wanted: part Bill Sikes, part Hannibal Lector and with a dash of Mr Darcy thrown in.
Unusual choices of two seasonal shows put Catholicism unexpectedly centre stage in London theatre. In the final scene of one, a piece of wall falls down to reveal a hidden monstrance, while the other closes with an image of a sunlit altar set for Mass.
Richard Strauss’ best-known work looks like the popular idea of what opera is: an anguished soprano drifts around a drawing room in a big frock while the massive orchestra heaves and cascades around her in tones of impossible voluptuousness. What is she on about? Does it matter?
It is impossible not to feel overwhelmed by the British Museum. The antidote, as with all museums, is to home in on one gallery or period of history; or even one object – particularly if that object is the museum’s most significant recent acquisition, a comely 30in tall alabaster sculpture of the Virgin Mary and her infant son.
Outside the Imperial War Museum, a small boy runs to photograph the 15in naval guns on his father’s phone. During the holidays the museum is a magnet for boys of all ages, bursting as it is with military toys. But in the excitement over the monumental hardware, some smaller exhibits are being overlooked.
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