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America’s leading review of the arts and intellectual life
- Harry Mount, the London Telegraph



Introducing The March in Memory: From Selma to Montgomery, by Peter Pettus

by Benjamin Riley

Posted: Aug 31, 2015 12:50 PM



Criterion Books, an imprint of The New Criterion, is excited to introduce to you Peter Pettus’s fascinating The March In Memory: From Selma to Montgomery. The photographs collected in this volume were taken during the 1965 Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Never before published, this is the work of an artist photographer who wanted to tell the story directly and simply, not as a photojournalist, but as a participant in this national and political demonstration. The camera looks deep into the faces of those who were there—black, white, old, young, Northern, and Southern—at the time when America approached one of its greatest times of crisis.

The pictures unfold here as a narrative. As the March moves along, we see participants and bystanders depicted in dramatic shades of black and white. Passing through the towns, people gather to wave, not quite believing what they are seeing. The expressions on these faces reflect a vast range of emotions: hope, fear, doubt, and joy. We see, as the March approaches Montgomery, the hundreds who have spontaneously joined up. The final photographs of the huge crowd streaming into the Capitol express the power of those words: “I Have a Dream.”

Peter's book is now available on Amazon.

 Our own James Panero also interviewed Peter on this historic event and the genesis of his book, which can be listened to below.

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In case you missed it

by Benjamin Riley

Posted: Aug 28, 2015 11:21 AM

O the Roast Beef of Old England (The Gate of Calais), William Hogarth, 1748, Tate Britain, London


Recent links of note:

Britain Can Do Better
Max Boot, Commentary
Add another voice to the chorus singing of Jeremy Corbyn’s increasingly likely election as leader of Britain’s Labour Party. While some, like Jay Nordlinger, see Corbyn’s rise as a cause for sadness, lamenting the demise of a once-great party, Max Boot sees a positive in Corbyn’s election: it could be the death-knell of the feeble party. With a man who “makes Bernie Sanders look like a John Bircher” set to lead Labour, Boot says that “odds are it will survive Corbyn, too. But it shouldn’t. Britain can do better.”

Crazy Like a Visionary
Roger Kimball, City Journal
This week in City Journal, our own Roger Kimball reviews Ashlee Vance’s new biography of Elon Musk, identifying in Musk a forgotten truth, namely that “individuals matter.” The dynamism, ambition, and continued success of Musk are to be admired, and when someone like Larry Page says “to the extent that the world still doubts Elon, I think it’s a reflection on the insanity of the world and not on the supposed insanity of Elon,” perhaps we ought to listen.

Why Walkability Matters
Gracy Olmstead, The American Conservative
We are fortunate in New York: blessed with a well-designed city and constant automotive gridlock, walking is no great thing. It’s simply how one gets from place to place. Not so in the rest of America, where cars dominate transport. The benefits of walking are countless but its chief virtue may be that “it breaks down insular barriers that keep us from knowing and appreciating our place, our moment.” As cities are constantly being redesigned, urban planners would do well to consider “walkability” first.

The Guardian declares war on the Sunday roast
Steerpike, The Spectator
“Steerpike,” the Spectator’s redoubtable home for “gossip,” (which doesn’t describe nearly the pleasures to be found there) takes on what some might deem an easy target: The Guardian, that bulwark of effete leftist orthodoxy. The latest thing to offend the paper’s delicate sensibilities? Britain’s iconic Sunday roast. The crime? The reinforcement of “a reactionary past of set values and set menus, of the exploitation of people and animals.” Now, pass the gravy. 

Notable & Quotable: The New New York
James Panero, The Wall Street Journal
We're delighted and honored to let our readers know that The Wall Street Journal has selected our own James Panero's recent piece for City Journal on homelessness in New York as its excerpted "Notable & Quotable" piece this week. Congratulations, James.

From our pages:

A sufferable snob
Bruce Bawer
A new collection of Henry James’s letters reveals the early development of the writer.


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Fairness for the fair sex

by James Bowman

Posted: Aug 27, 2015 04:27 PM

Times Square, October 1919

In a typically lumbering and awkward attempt at irony, Catherine Rampell of The Washington Post writes that “A new terror imperils New York, threatening to destroy all that it—nay, America—holds dear.” You could tell by the old-fashioned language in “nay” and the “holds dear” that she was being ironic. That’s good, because things that are non-ironically but putatively destructive of all we hold dear are rather a drug on the journalistic market these days, and one wouldn’t want to be blundering into yet another one of them by reading any further. But the relatively trivial matter which she wishes to trivialize further by her ridicule is the appearance in Times Square of bare breasted but usually body-painted women calling themselves desnudas who pose with tourists for tips. Some people don’t like this and are urging, not without result, the impeccably liberal powers that be in New York to do something about it.

Ms. Rampell, as you will already have worked out, thinks such people are all silly, puritanical, etc., etc., as well as getting things out of proportion. She mistakenly says that the New York Court of Appeals ruled in 1992 that “prohibiting women, but not men, from baring their chests in public amounted to discrimination on the basis of sex”— though in fact the ruling in favor of an earlier generation of desnudas was on a much narrower legal ground. Not that they wouldn’t stand a good chance of winning today on grounds of discrimination, even though such discrimination is of a sort that almost everyone above the age of puberty routinely engages in and considers merely commonsensical. That the law is a ass is no less true because doctrinaire feminists are demanding that it be a ass. Ms. Rampell, however, bases her own appeal on a slightly different rationale, pointing out that you can’t really put the complainers’ prudishness down to the patriarchy, at least not directly, since it is primarily women who are objecting. Instead, it is because “women are taught—it’s not innate, as clearly evidenced by the many unfazed young children who ambled by the desnudas on Sunday—to hate women’s bodies.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m not buying this. Feminists sometimes tell us that women are taught, by a culture that idealizes certain kinds of women’s bodies, to hate their own bodies for not measuring up to the ideal but, even if true, that’s hardly the same thing as hating women’s bodies. Presumably the desnudas don’t hate women’s bodies, though if their own are of the sort that our sexualized culture regards as approximating the ideal, they may be reinforcing a dissatisfaction with, if not a hatred of, their own bodies by less well-endowed females, which may in turn be why they are complaining. Yet if so, such complaints would then be a consequence neither of prudery nor of hatred of women’s bodies as such—their own or others—but of simple envy.

I’m not buying that either. It has become one of the more annoying habits of feminist thinking to identify any and every existing custom relating to sex and especially sexual difference as a result of “sexism” or some related social pathology. Our culture, like most others in the world, has never been without a sense of decorum about when and how far the exposure of female flesh—or, for that matter, male flesh—is and isn’t appropriate. Obviously, that sense has been changing and breaking down for much of the last century, but calling it either prudish or sexist does not make it go away or stop seeming necessary to most people even today. Feminists themselves rely on and appeal to a similar sense as they police the borders between public and private, male and female, though they conveniently forget the contradiction when they take up the cry for “equality.”

That’s now what the desnudas of Times Square and their ideologically motivated supporters are doing. “A few dozen” of them marched in Manhattan last weekend, according to The New York Times, “Seeking Equality, Not Tips.” As one of them explained to the Times reporter: “We have boyfriends that always take their shirts off, and we were like, ‘This isn’t fair.’” Interestingly, the article ended with the words of one of the women who won the1992 Appeals Court case in favor of women’s right to go bare-chested in public: “Women’s breasts,” said Ramona Santorelli, 57, of Rochester, “are very, very powerful.” Just so. In other words, unlike men’s. In other words, not equal. As everybody except the law already knows.


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Much too up and at life

by Jane Balkoski

Posted: Aug 26, 2015 02:20 PM

John Singer Sargent, Group with Parasols (Siesta), c. 1904–5, Oil on Canvas, © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Metropolitan Museum's exhibit “Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends" does not begin with a painting of an heiress or a picture of the artist, that deep crease between his grey eyebrows. It begins with a tall vertical window, a little larger than a full-body portrait. This window opens onto the show, forcing viewers to confront two unfortunate truths: a successful portrait painter cannot simply paint "from life." He must build a new world for his sitter, a world with nice lighting, good posture, and a striking composition. He also must let the sitter eclipse him; he must cultivate a fascination for his subject, but not himself.

And John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) was certainly a successful portrait painter. Though born to American parents, he grew up in Europe, where he studied with Carolus-Duran and León Bonnat. He first exhibited works in the Paris Salon in the 1880s, and soon became one of the most beloved painters of his time. He bounced between Europe and America for his entire career, collecting friends in London, Paris, New York, and Boston. While wealthy intellectuals and businessmen commissioned monumental Sargent portraits, the artist also painted many of his friends for pleasure. (He often gave these portraits to the sitters, and refused to accept a cent in return.) Both commissioned and non-commissioned portraits hang on the Met's walls right now, forming the expansive, astounding "Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends."

The curators have grouped the paintings in chronological, geographic order—the first room, bright and bold, holds paintings made in Paris between 1874 and 1885. This includes the “Portrait of Madame X” (1884), Sargent's most famous and scandalous work. The ravishing socialite preens at the back of the room, with a wall to herself. Her black velvet bodice absorbs incoming light, while her skin glows like a half-melted candle, almost dripping with arrogance. The room also includes a few unconventional portraits—despite his commercial success, Sargent had daring artistic sensibilities. In "A Gust of Wind," for instance, the viewer looks up from a sandy bank at Judith Gautier, who looms in a cream-colored gown. And in "Madame Édouard Pailleron," (1879) we look down at Marie Pailleron, who stands among crocuses. The garden has shadings of Symbolism, dappled and flat as a Kilmt plein-air painting.

The next room, far less regal, features the "Broadway" paintings, completed in England between 1885 and 1889. Here, Sargent tried his hand at intimacy and impressionism. In the small "An Out-of-Doors Study," (1889) Paul Helleu and his wife sit near a canoe, their faces obscured by straw hats. Helleu paints with a careful hand and rapt attention as grasses sway around him.

Sargent was close with Monet and admired his art, yet the American painter's stabs at impressionism were less successful than his realist works—they're a little dull, lacking his trademark vivacity. Still, the "Broadway" paintings also include informal interior scenes, nods to Degas and Manet rather than Monet. In "Le Verre de Porto (A Dinner Table at Night)," (1884) for instance, Edith and Albert Vickers enjoy a postprandial glass of port. The composition is startling: while Albert broods at the edge of the painting, Edith stares out from the center. She has a defiant, impenetrable gaze, like a Hopper figure's lonely ancestor. And a deep ruby red suffuses the room, glancing off silver lamps and a chalice. The painting has an uncanny resemblance to Matisse's "Red Room."

The curators dedicate a third room to his London paintings, made between 1889 and 1913. The large portraits of Ellen Tarry, La Carmencita, and Mrs Hugh Hammersley are resplendent against dusky blue walls. In this impressive room, it becomes clear why Sargent stopped painting portraits around 1907. The exhibit does a wonderful job of exhausting visitors, just as the endless sitters and subjects must have exhausted poor Sargent. Each placard sums up the life of another literary or artistic figure, from the haughty Gabriel Fauré to delicate Graham Robertson, personalities so vibrant they jump off the canvas. (An art critic of the time wrote that the Mrs Hugh Hammersley's portrait "literally vibrates with life.") Sargent never failed to capture a subject's spirit and these grand works feel like hurricanes, rushes and whorls of color spinning around a calm, exquisite face.

The exhibit's final rooms document Sargent's later work: candy-colored watercolors, plein-air paintings, lively charcoal sketches. The placards are no longer biographies—some even mention "unidentified figures" and "blurred features." In "Group with Parasols," (1904) for instance, Sargent painted four friends in an Alpine meadow. The grasses encroach on the figures, and the canvas seems almost abstract, a muddle of greens and whites and browns. These subjects don't eclipse Sargent; they don't demand recognition as Isabella Stewart Gardner does in her astonishing portrait. (It has the symmetry and splendor of an orthodox icon.) Instead, the artist's playful good nature lights up the last rooms.

Despite this turn towards his own artistic interests, Sargent painted only a handful of self-portraits, two of which appear in the exhibit. They're easy to miss, lost among towering pictures. (In fact, they were both commissions.) He wears the same solemn expression in both, his body at angle, his face obscured by shadows. The curators write that "Sargent was not naturally self-reflective; he was too much up and at life for that." In other words, he was too often with other people, painting them, sketching them, watching them sing and act and play the piano.

As they leave the exhibit, visitors walk through a gift shop. A large mirror greets them, a counterpoint to that original window. Though the mirror has a commercial function (for those trying on scarves and Sargent-themed jewelry), it's an interesting end to the show, creating a parallel between artist and visitor. Just as John Singer Sargent reclaimed his own identity after years of painting portraits, so too must the visitor reclaim his own identity after such a comprehensive exhibition."SaS

Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends, which opened on June 30, can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, until October 4, 2015.


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New England in Austria

by Jay Nordlinger

Posted: Aug 25, 2015 02:25 PM

Andris Nelsons/Photo: Marco Borggreve

Here at the Salzburg Festival, the Vienna Philharmonic is king—the resident orchestra. But sometimes interlopers get in, and sometimes those interlopers are American. In 2008, the Cleveland Orchestra came (albeit under an Austrian music director, Franz Welser-Möst). This year, the Boston Symphony has come.

Its conductor is Andris Nelsons, the young Latvian, who has been with the BSO since last fall, and with whom the orchestra is expecting a long relationship. He is a protégé of Mariss Jansons, his great countryman, who has been the music director in Pittsburgh, Amsterdam, and other places.

At the Grosses Festspielhaus last night, the BSO played one work: the Mahler Sixth. The day before, in the same hall, the Vienna Phil. played one work: the Mahler Ninth. Rather than give you a review of the Bostonians, I thought I would jot a cultural note or two.

There they were, warming up onstage, the Bostonians. Why do I mention something so prosaic? Well, American orchestras warm up onstage. European orchestras, as a rule, warm up behind the scenes, then take the stage, then tune, then start.

Give you another cultural difference: When we Americans pass through a row in a theater, we do so with our backs (and butts) to the people already seated in the row (or standing to let us pass through). In Europe, they pass while facing the people.

When I first started attending performances in Europe, I found this custom strange and awkward. But I adapted, mainly.

We Americans, as a rule, like ice in our drinks. Others, of course, do not. One could go on. Vive la différence! (And to heck with conformity.)

Before the Bostonians came, I had been listening to the Vienna Philharmonic for about two weeks. And, frankly, the American orchestra, warming up onstage, sounded needlessly cacophonous to me. Jarring. Also, it was like the music was starting before it really started, if you know what I mean.

In the midst of this cacophony, the people who run the Grosses Festspielhaus played their cellphone announcement—their recorded announcement telling people to be sure their phones are switched off. You could barely hear it. So, after the orchestra quieted, they played that announcement again.

The concert was scheduled to begin at 9 o’clock. Over here, the concerts usually begin right on the dot. At home—in New York, at least—there is always—always—a five-minute grace period. If the performance is at 7:30, there is no music until 7:35, at the earliest. Or rather, the recitalist or the conductor does not appear until 7:35.

Last night in the Grosses, 9 o’clock came and went. Some patrons around me looked at their watches, apparently confused. Maestro Nelsons walked out at 9:05, just as we would back home.

Was there five minutes’ grace because there was just a single work on the program (and thus no intermission)? Was there five minutes’ grace because there would be no late seating, no seating between movements? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Just a few more notes, while I have you on the line. At one point during the Mahler, Nelsons did a classic Jansons leanback move. I smiled. I thought I was looking at Jansons himself. I could glimpse Jansons in some other moves, too.

Some years ago, the New York Philharmonic had an assistant conductor, a young woman from China. One night, I watched her execute some classic, and classy, Maazel moves. I almost fell out of my chair.

Of course, Michael Tilson Thomas is now a senior statesman of the podium, and he’s still doing what I still think of as Lenny moves (i.e., Bernstein moves)—including that side-to-side thing, that swish. Makes me smile. 


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The Critic's Notebook for August 24, 2015

by Benjamin Riley

Posted: Aug 25, 2015 08:36 AM

The Park Avenue Armory via


Sign up to receive “Critic's Notebook” in your inbox every week—it only takes a few seconds and it's completely free! “Critic's Notebook” is a weekly preview of the best to read, see, and hear in New York and beyond, compiled by the editors of The New Criterion.


This week: Whitman, Wilson, and Sonic Wind.

FictionThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark (Folio Society): I’ve long been a great admirer of the work done by the Folio Society, a niche British imprint that creates beautiful editions of (mostly) classic literature. Though the editions are a bit dear, bibliophiles recognize the value of a stunningly illustrated book (a personal favorite is the cover of the Society’s Lucky Jim, which features the characteristic honeycomb half-pints recognizable to any frequenter of British pubs), and Beryl Cook’s plates for Muriel Spark’s timeless novel certainly justify the price. The book, which takes place in 1930s Edinburgh (that most English of Scottish cities), concerns the eponymous Brodie, a domineering schoolteacher at a girls’ day school who imparts onto her provincial pupils a love of things foreign, including Italian fascism. With the school year set to begin anew, it’s high time to revisit this stylish meditation on the follies of youth. —BR

Nonfiction: Sonic Wind: The Story of John Paul Stapp and How a Renegade Doctor Became the Fastest Man on Earth, by Craig Ryan (Liveright): Hardly anyone thinks twice today about stepping into a car or an airplane. Yet it was just a few short decades ago that travel by either method would put you at great physical risk. We can thank John Paul Stapp for this progress. The U.S. air force officer and doctor spent much of his life researching the effects of deceleration and acceleration, volunteering himself as the test subject for many of his experiments. He also studied (again, using himself as test subject) how fast a pilot could fly in a jet with no canopy and remain unharmed (he made it up to 570 miles per hour in his fastest run), and was one of the first to practice skydiving. One of his greatest contributions to humanity, however one that reveals a great deal about Stapp himself—is his discovery of Stapp’s law: "The universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle." —RH

Poetry: Drum-Taps, by Walt Whitman, edited by Lawrence Kramer (New York Review of Books Poets): I had occasion the other day, as I often do, to stroll by the Park Avenue Armory (correctly the Seventh Regiment Armory), an imposing, hulking red brick Gothic revival edifice occupying the entire city block between 66th and 67th Streets and Park and Lexington Avenues. Now a performance space with a decidedly experimental bent, the Armory was once the administrative headquarters for the Union Army’s Seventh Regiment, colloquially known as the “silk stocking” regiment for its patrician members. The interior (with original designs by Stanford White and Louis Comfort Tiffany, among others) still retains an air of martial gentility, with old wood and decorative panels, and one can still detect an air of hanging smoke in the stunning Board of Officers room. All this reminds me of Walt Whitman’s Drum-Taps, his 1865 collection of Civil War poetry, now 150 years old. The titular poem, which depicts Manhattan on the verge of war, is a study in naïveté, radiating enthusiasm for a just war without acknowledging the inevitable and horrific consequences. The poem concludes with these characteristic lines: “Often in peace and wealth you were pensive, or covertly frown’d amid all your children/ But now you smile with joy, exulting Old Mannahatta!” Let us be thankful that today’s Manhattan is pensive in its peace and that we may read the recently reissued edition of Drum-Taps without the “silent cannons—soon to cease [their] silence!” —BR

Theater: American Century Cycle, by August Wilson (Through August 26): There are just two days left to appreciate the American Century Cycle of the playwright August Wilson in its entirety, and in sequence, through a historic recording made two years ago in the Greene Space of WNYC. Available for free streaming through Wednesday, the superb recordings bring Wilson's Hill District of Pittsburgh to life, decade by decade, through resinous language and interconnected, mythological storytelling. The series features such award-winning works as Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, and Gem of the Ocean, all voiced by some of today's finest actors, several of whom, such as Phylicia Rashad and Anthony Chisholm, appeared in the original stage productions. —JP

Music:  Dmitri Shostakovich: Under Stalin’s Shadow, performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andris Nelsons: A new CD from Deutsche Grammophon brings us a live recording of Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony, which, along with the Eighth, represents the darkest and most harrowing of the composer's symphonic output. Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra give a haunting performance on this disc, which also includes the brash passacaglia from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Look for Jay Nordlinger's review of this album and others in our September issue. —ECS

From the archive: Whitman’s spell, by Thomas M. Disch: In this piece from October 2008, Thomas Disch surveys the acolytes of Walt Whitman, who praised the poet and burnished his lofty self-image.

From our latest issue: The heaven-taught ploughman, by Neilson MacKay: On a new edition of the collected works of Robert Burns.

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A bit of Elon

by Benjamin Riley

Posted: Aug 24, 2015 02:53 PM

Elon Musk/Photo: Art Streiber/August Image via

Add another rejoinder to the old leftist canard that the "Great Man" theory of history is dead. In his review of Ashlee Vance's new biography of Elon Musk, our own Roger Kimball says:

One moral we can derive from Elon Musk’s career thus far is this: individuals matter. That may seem like a trite observation, but in age of incremental corporatism, where more and more of life is subject to the plodding guidance of rule- and regulation-bound committees, Musk has demonstrated the power of individual initiative. This is something that Musk’s friend Larry Page memorialized when, in 2014, he said that, should he die, he would rather give his billions to Elon Musk—someone with “really big ideas”—than to some philanthropy. Still only in his mid-forties, Musk has helped revolutionize online banking, brought us closer to transforming the way that electricity is produced and distributed, and has upended the automotive industry. To top it off, he has injected new life and ambition into the aerospace industry. A decade ago, it would have been easy to dismiss Musk as a dreamy utopian crusader out of touch with the business world’s hard realities. Now that he is at the helm of several multibillion-dollar enterprises and commands a personal fortune in excess of $13 billion, that criticism seems misplaced. 

Head over to City Journal for the full review and more thoughts from "an unlikely fan of Elon Musk."


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A masterly morning of Mahler

by Jay Nordlinger

Posted: Aug 24, 2015 10:25 AM

Daniel Barenboim and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / © Salzburger Festspiele / Marco Borrelli

Some musicians are hit-or-miss, and some are steady on (for better or worse). There have been many hit-or-miss musicians, and I’ll name four of them—two conductors and two singers: Lorin Maazel and Valery Gergiev; Jessye Norman and Plácido Domingo.

Frankly, Horowitz was hit-or-miss too. People like to remember him as godlike, and he was—but not all the time. He could play like a dog. Today, only the godlikeness is remembered, which is right.

Daniel Barenboim is one of the great hit-or-missers. This is true whether he’s on the podium or at the piano. I could tell many stories, but will confine myself to just one. (New Criterion readers have heard all my stories anyway.)

Years ago—it was in 2005, Google tells me—Barenboim came to Carnegie Hall with his Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It was, in fact, his farewell tour with that orchestra. On three different nights, they played three major symphonies: the Bruckner Fifth, the Schubert Ninth (i.e., the “Great C-major”), and the Mahler Fifth. The Bruckner and the Mahler were okay—you know, good enough for government work. But the Schubert? It was surpassing. It was probably the most musical, most powerful, and most arresting performance of this symphony I’ve ever heard (and I’ve heard everybody conduct it, I believe).

What happened? I have no idea. I doubt Barenboim would either. Or the Chicagoans.

In any event, Barenboim conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra here at the Salzburg Festival on Saturday morning. There was one work on the program: the Mahler Ninth. This is the composer’s last will and testament, so to speak, although he certainly didn’t want it to be: he tried to avoid the Curse of the Ninth, and he lived to finish a movement of a tenth, but . . .

Was Barenboim a hit or a miss? A hit, definitely, and so was Mahler.

At the outset, the work was orderly, warm, and singing. The conductor showed a sense of pace and architecture. These Mahler symphonies are long journeys, like Bruckner symphonies. A conductor has to bear in mind what has come before and what will come after.

Occasionally, the VPO was sloppy in the first movement, and Barenboim simply bulled his way through. He does that at the piano, too.

I thought of Paul Johnson, the great British historian. His advice to writers who feel themselves stuck is, Be like a rhino. Just put your head down and charge ahead. (See a 2006 column, “The Rhino Principle,” here.)

Rhino-like or not—bull-like or not—Barenboim has heft, gravitas. He can put his shoulders into music, and an orchestra responds.

The VPO is a lavishly praised orchestra—deservedly so—but it does not always play well. For one thing, you never know who’s going to be in the orchestra. (Neither does a conductor, believe me.) Hordes of players rotate in and out.

Do you know this old expression? “Once a man has established the reputation of an early riser, he can sleep till noon.” No matter how the VPO plays, they will be cheered and praised. But on Saturday morning they played very well indeed. This was true of the orchestra as a whole and of individual players. The principal horn, for example, was like butter. So was his section at large.

On the podium, Barenboim embraced Mahler’s oddness. He was willing for passages to be obnoxious and unpretty. He also brought out a streak of anxiety, which can be embedded (too much so). In addition, the strings applied just the right amount of portamento. This makes a big difference in a Mahler performance. Too much or too little is harmful.

The ending of the first movement was rather like its beginning: orderly.

The second movement was rightly sassy, puckish. It had a proper amount of dryness. Then it had gaiety, a whirling carnival atmosphere. The third movement—the Rondo-Burleske—was bristling, a demonstration of ordered madness.

Before the fourth and final movement, Barenboim allowed an unusually long pause. That was wise (and the fruit of experience, probably). The atmosphere of the Rondo-Burleske should be cleared out before this finale—this Abschied (farewell)—begins.

The Abschied should tear your heart out, and it pretty much did in the Great Festival Hall on Saturday morning. (Actually, it was past noon at this point, the concert, and the symphony, having begun at 11.) Barenboim had the VPO making a huge sound. Too big? Possibly, but Barenboim had a big, glorious instrument at his disposal, and he wanted to air it out. Plus, when he wanted, and needed, yet more sound, he got it.

The symphony ended with its peace. Or is it resignation? Is there a difference? Oh, yes, I think so. And, in this performance, the ending was ambiguous. So it is in the score, I suppose. A masterpiece of masterpieces.


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In case you missed it

by Benjamin Riley

Posted: Aug 21, 2015 11:06 AM

James Bradburne, new Director of Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera © James O'Mara

Recent links of note:

‘The Contemporary Novel’: an essay by T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot, The Times Literary Supplement
Recently unearthed by the TLS, this essay, which had previously appeared only in an obscure French translation, offers Eliot’s characteristically pointed thoughts on the state of the then-contemporary novel. In the modern style Eliot discerns the malicious influence of “psychology” on the novel, leading to an increased perversion of traditional forms. He reserves his most vicious invective for D. H. Lawrence, calling him a “demoniac…with a gospel” whose characters, in their more intimate moments, “seem to reascend the metamorphoses of evolution, passing backward beyond ape and fish to some hideous coition of protoplasm.”

Frankenfoods vs. Frankenlaws
Steven Malanga, City Journal
I’m frequently amused by the standard progressive position on genetically modified food (GMOs, generally). The progressive abhors GMOs, deriding them as unnatural, unhealthy, and abominations against nature. And this same progressive is the bore at the party going on about how the government does nothing to address adequately the global hunger problem, unaware entirely that GMOs are a potential solution to the issue. In this reasoned piece, Steven Malanga addresses the real villain in the GMO story: the laws that, without proper scientific support, vilify the crops.

Italy appoints 20 new museum directors
Ermanno Rivetti, The Art Newspaper
For the first time in Italy’s history, its national institutions, including its museums, will be led by non-Italians. Out of the twenty posts announced this week, seven were awarded to foreigners, marking a departure from previous flag-waving appointments that rewarded birthright over competence. Bravo!

Community-Based Chaos
James Panero, City Journal
This week in City Journal, our own James Panero offers sound evidence that the de Blasio administration’s feeble and wrong-minded policies towards vagrants are not only ineffectual but in fact designed to enrich homeless-industry cronies. Panero, a longtime resident of the Upper West Side, presents relevant data and his own observations of his proud neighborhood’s decline to definitively identify the current mayor’s program as the cause of increased vagrancy.

From our pages:

Curing American sclerosis
Charles Murray
A lecture delivered by Charles Murray after he received the third Edmund Burke Award for Service to Culture and Society.

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Greek guts in Salzburg

by Jay Nordlinger

Posted: Aug 20, 2015 11:03 AM

Cecilia Bartoli (Iphigénie) and Christopher Maltman (Oreste) / © Salzburger Festspiele / Monika Rittershaus

Among the offerings at the Salzburg Festival this year is Iphigénie en Tauride, Gluck’s opera from 1779. It is based on Euripides. There are three main roles in this show: Iphigénie, her brother Oreste, and his pal Pylade. To fill those roles, Salzburg hired three stars—starting with one big, big star.

That was Cecilia Bartoli, the Italian mezzo-soprano. She is Iphigénie, of course. Oreste is Christopher Maltman, the British baritone. And Pylade is Rolando Villazón, the Mexican tenor.

The orchestra, chorus, and conductor all come from Switzerland—Italian Switzerland, to be specific. I Barocchisti (a period band, as you can tell) and the Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera are conducted by Diego Fasolis. Last year at this festival, he presided over a Schubert evening at the Mozarteum. Bartoli was the draw on that occasion, too.

Iphigénie has not one stage director but two: the team of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier. More about them, and their production, later.

Last night, Bartoli sang as she can be relied on to sing: with intensity and commitment, as well as accuracy and assurance. Everything matters so much to her. She sings as though her life depended on it. By the way, in this production, Iphigénie tries to kill herself at the end of an aria. That’s Bartoli.

Her intensity and commitment can be spread to her fellow singers, and others involved in a production. I suspect that this is occurring in Iphigénie.

Can Bartoli actually be too intense? I sometimes think that she would sing “Pass the salt” as though her life depended on it. But Iphigénie does not suffer from Bartoli’s intensity, not at all. Last night, she invested the opera with life (and death).

But so did the conductor, let me tell you. Fasolis is a musician of judgment, taste, and integrity. Passion too, when that is called for. His pacing of Iphigénie was superb. His orchestra could be a little rough, but, under his direction, they were entirely musical. And the chorus sang with precision, style, and beauty.

Christopher Maltman was brave and convincing. Why do I say “brave”? His pitch was not always perfect, but he was fearless in soft, exposed music (for example). And he acted with much pathos.

Villazón sang some beautiful phrases, which I was pleased and relieved to hear—he has faced vocal and other problems in recent years. But often, his voice was tremulous and overexcited. Also, his middle range gave him trouble. The higher or lower he went, the better off he was.

This is a tenor who tries so hard. It can be painful to watch and hear. And yet, this was an evening for extreme passion, so he fit right in.

There were other singers in this show, including Michael Kraus, an Austrian baritone who portrayed the Scythian king, Thoas. He owns a beautiful, somewhat booming instrument, and if his pitch occasionally strayed, his sheer sound made up for it.

The Leiser-Caurier production is set in the present day, apparently. Characters are dressed casually. You know the expression “Come as you are”? The characters do so, by the look of it. They are in sweatpants, sneakers, and the like.

In the climactic scene, Maltman wears nothing at all. His hands are cupped over his privates, forming a fleshly figleaf. Time was—do they do this still?—directors seized every opportunity to take Nathan Gunn’s shirt off. (He is an American baritone, or “bari-hunk,” as some people say.) Maltman is built like a soccer or rugby star. Iphigénie’s directors could not resist, evidently.

One of the best moments in this production is the appearance of the goddess Diana, near the end. All of a sudden, there she is, a vision in gold—her face is gold, too. Striking.

Leiser and Caurier have put together an intelligent production. It is 100 percent defensible. They have a case to make. Ultimately, however, their production is not for me, for one main reason: It and the opera do not really match, in my estimation. They are at odds. The ear hears one thing—a late Baroque or early Classical opera (played by a period band, moreover)—and the eye sees another.

Do I demand an Iphigénie in which the characters are dressed in togas and move in stately fashion? Of course not. But . . .

My biases aside, the Salzburg Festival has done well by Gluck’s opera, milking its drama for all it’s worth.


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