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The Critic's Notebook for February 1, 2016

by Benjamin Riley

Posted: Feb 02, 2016 10:08 AM

Paul D’Agostino, Zeit, 2016, Oil and Acrylic on Canvas, 60” x 60”/ Image Courtesy: Life on Mars Gallery


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: Proust, Pound, and Paul D’Agostino.

Fiction“Proust in One Hour,” with Véronique Aubouy, at Albertine (February 3): Are you guilty of perhaps the greatest literary sin of not having read your Proust? If À la recherche du temps perdu sits on your nightstand (as it does on mine), then perhaps all that’s stopping you from cracking the volumes is a little push. There’s certainly no better place to find that push than at Fifth Avenue’s Albertine, the francophone and Francophile bookshop and cultural center. This Wednesday brings an evening with Véronique Aubouy, the author of À la lecture, who will offer her take on the French master in a single hour. NB: the talk is in French, so those with rusty language skills will also have much to gain from attending. —BR

Nonfiction: 1924: The Year That Made Hitler, by Peter Ross Range (Little, Brown, and Company): On December 31 of last year, the seventy-year copyright on Mein Kampf—held by the state of Bavaria—expired, allowing Germany's Institute for Contemporary History to publish their own edition in January. Decades later, the idea to publish the work again in Germany is still deeply controversial (though the demand for the new edition, it is said, exceeded the print run by four times). Hitler started this influential work in 1924—a year that, as Peter Ross Range claims, was pivotal in forming the terrible figure Hitler was to become. In prison following the Beer Hall Putsch, living among the other awful characters that shared his dissatisfactions, Hitler was able to develop his political ideology. The world would soon be forever changed. Look out for some thoughts on the new edition of Mein Kampf by David Pryce-Jones in a forthcoming edition of The New Criterion. —RH

Art: “Paul D'Agostino: Scriptive Formalities,” at Life on Mars Gallery (February 5–March 6; Artist Talk February 13) and Sharon Butler at Theodore: Art (Through February 14): This Friday, the artist, poet, translator, collaborator, and unofficial mascot of Bushwick, Paul D’Agostino, opens his much anticipated solo show at Life on Mars Gallery. Called “Scriptive Formalities,” the exhibition explores D’Agostino’s “shared origins in matters of language, translation, and narrative.” A new series of paintings, “Chromatic Alphabet,” represents an alphabet of colorful shapes, while “Floor Translations” continues his storytelling around anthropomorphic paint splatters found on his studio floor. Meanwhile, down the hall in the gallery building of 56 Bogart, the exhibition of Sharon Butler’s latest paintings remains on view at Theodore: Art through February 14. In her latest show, the proprietor of the art blog Two Coats of Paint, who coined the term “New Casualism,” takes a formal turn with small, lyrical abstractions of tail lights drawn from her studio view overlooking the Manhattan Bridge. —JP

Music: Maria Stuarda, by Donizetti, at the Metropolitan Opera (February 1 and 5): Sondra Radvanovsky’s stirring performance in the title role of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena was one of the highlights of the fall. On Friday the American soprano was even better, taking on the second of Donizetti's three Tudor queens in Maria Stuarda. Battling through a head cold, she gave a riveting performance, combining breathtaking vocal artistry with a fierce portrayal of the doomed Queen of Scots. Radvanovsky’s quest for the triple crown this season is a historic achievement worth witnessing, and audiences have two chances this week to catch her, with Maria Stuarda playing on the Metropolitan Opera stage on Monday and Friday. —ECS

From the archive: The epic of Ezra, by Paul Dean: On the second volume of A. David Moody’s biography of Ezra Pound.

From our latest issue: Confucian confusions, by Eric Ormsby: On the final volume of A. David Moody’s biography of Ezra Pound.


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Oxford Sees the Light

by Roger Kimball | from PJ Media

Posted: Feb 01, 2016 07:17 PM

Who's Afraid of Cecil Rhodes?

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What to Do About the Bane of Inequality, A First Step

by Roger Kimball | from PJ Media

Posted: Jan 30, 2016 08:28 AM

Are Ivy League institutions too rich?

go to PJ Media

Week in review

by Benjamin Riley

Posted: Jan 29, 2016 03:30 PM

Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, via

Recent links of note:

The Humbling of the West
Daniel Henninger, The Wall Street Journal
As if the West's recent diplomatic capitulation to Iran weren't embarassing enough, the consequences felt in Italy make clear just what sort of "deal" we've gotten. President Hassan Rouhani visits Italy, and the Capitoline Museum covers nude statuary; later, Italy's President, Matteo Renzi refuses to serve wine at a state dinner. And here we see just how sinister the "deal" was. Not only must we now trade in Iranian goods, giving immense economic support to an almost unthinkably repressive regime, but we must also subordinate ourselves to the country's nugatory notions. As Daniel Henninger says in in the Journal, now that the onslaught has begun it's hard to foresee where it will stop.

Death of a Booster
Stephen Eide, City Journal
Buddy Cianci has died, and so America has lost one of its most entertaining politicians. Legendary on the east coast for his felony convictions and personal brand of "goofy showmanship," he is not often thought of as a stellar leader. But as Stephen Eide tells it, there was something charming about Cianci's commitment to his city, practicing a "boosterism" that transcended more typical mayoral styles. Cianci was a complicated man but according to Eide, he had a simple goal: to boost the city of Providence. 

From our pages:

Who speaks for Islam?
TNC asks: who represents the real faith?


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by Jay Nordlinger

Posted: Jan 28, 2016 02:35 PM

Jaap van Zweden. Image by Hans van der Woerd, courtesy IMG Artists.

I have heard some people say, “Congrats, Jaap!” They are referring to Jaap van Zweden, who has just been named the next music director of the New York Philharmonic. I’m more inclined to say, “Congrats, Phil.”—you got Jaap. And you chose well.

This decision reaffirms the Philharmonic’s commitment to being a serious orchestra. I don’t know what Jaap van Zweden brings you “politically.” But he is an excellent and potentially great conductor. On purely musical grounds, this is a wonderful choice.

Readers may remember that I jotted a “short list” back in November: a wish-list of mine, composed of five conductors. I wanted one of these five to become the music director of the New York Phil. Jaap was among them.

So, I am personally pleased. But I have been wrong about music directors before. Sometimes pleasantly wrong: I think that a guy is a poor choice, and he turns out to be good or better.

There is not much risk in Jaap, musically. He has been very well educated. He seems to have a thorough knowledge of music and a reverence for composers. This makes his music-making honest—not flaky or overly subjective or fake. He brings an intensity to what he does. An insistence on getting it right.

This can be wearing, to an orchestra.

Does Van Zweden have any faults, as far as I can tell? Well, maybe a certain hardness, from time to time. But that is not the worst of faults, heaven knows. Ask Szell, Reiner, Rodzinski, and lots of others. Including James Levine. (Toscanini, we should save for a separate piece. I am a dissenter on Toscanini, a bit: I admire the great man—and treasure some of his recordings—but the music could be very hard, sometimes.)

Get ready to squint, because I’m going to do some quoting. Some block-quoting. Alternatively, goose up the percentage on your computer, if you know what I mean.

This is from my “New York Chronicle” of a year ago:

I had heard of Jaap van Zweden, but I had never heard him. Which is odd. As a rule, I hear musicians before they are big. And Van Zweden is big: acclaimed as one of the best conductors now working. He does not have the starriest podium in the world. Since 2008, he has been the music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. But he has made worldwide waves from that podium. In former times, Van Zweden was the concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. He assumed this position when he was eighteen. A Wunderkind, obviously, although, because Van Zweden is Dutch, we should probably find the Dutch word. (Wonderkind.)

Van Zweden guest-conducted the New York Philharmonic, in a program of Mozart and Shostakovich. The Mozart was the Sinfonia concertante, in which the soloists came from the orchestra: Sheryl Staples, violin, and Cynthia Phelps, viola. Let me describe to you the exposition of the first movement, conducted by Van Zweden: It was crisp, vivid, and engaged. It had both taste and guts. This was strong Mozart, almost Beethoven-like, the kind favored by George Szell (and, after him, his apprentice James Levine). Let me say something about the second movement, Andante, as well: It had an unforced, unrushed momentum, which is a rare and wondrous thing. Also very Mozartean. They say that the test of a real singer is Mozart. If you can sing him, you can sing anything. Mozart may be the test of a real conductor, too.

The Shostakovich was the Eighth Symphony, which began with an arresting attack—that’s a good way to begin. The intensity of the piece never flagged (except when it should have). Van Zweden is clearly a leader. When he conducts, there is “energy in the executive.” Years ago, I asked Valery Gergiev what sets conductors apart from other musicians. He said, “Leadership.” There is nothing better than leadership coupled with musicality, when it comes to conductors. Van Zweden got from the Philharmonic a classic Shostakovich sound: clean, sometimes severe, sometimes growling. This Eighth was bristling, stony, and, in the main, riveting. The New York Philharmonic played like a great orchestra. One could see what all the fuss about Van Zweden is about.

I reviewed this conductor a few months ago, too. Again, he had conducted the New York Philharmonic. The program began with Britten, the Sinfonia da Requiem, which

was conducted very, very well by Van Zweden. (Or should I say “Zweden” or “van Zweden”? This is an old, sometimes contentious debate, and I’m afraid I don’t know the maestro’s preference. Or whether he has one.)

From Jaap’s baton, the Britten was precise and intense. Obviously, this was a conductor of intelligence and command. The Sinfonia da Requiem can be lifeless, limp, as other Britten works can be, poorly performed. But definitely not on this occasion. Moreover, the score was clear even when it was cacophonous. …

Let me say something else about this intensity business. By “intense,” I of course don’t mean frenetic or loud. There can be an intense quietude, for example. At any rate, Van Zweden, in his intensity, reminded me of Mariss Jansons when he conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Or Osmo Vänskä when he started out with the Minnesota Orchestra.

Frankly, I don’t see how Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem could be better advocated. The music was correct and moving, done full justice.

Later on the program came Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

As expected, the first movement was precise, intense, disciplined—all those Van Zwedenesque things. But it was also somewhat dry—dry of sound. This was especially true of the horns. I don’t say that this dryness was bad or wrong. I’m saying it was so.

The tempo of the second movement, Andante con moto, is hard to get right. Van Zweden got it right. He neither dawdled nor rushed. Beethoven’s phrases were sometimes more carved, or etched, than sung, but they were no worse for that. And the woodwinds were uncannily balanced. They did not stand out, as they usually do. They blended. Let me emphasize that this is very rare.

I swear, the third movement had an unusual Sorcerer’s Apprentice feel. It really did. Never mind that this was Halloween Night. The music had that unusual feel regardless.

The finale was wonderful, needless to say. A little dry. And let me register this criticism—or rather this observation: There was not a lot of spiritual glory in the finale. It was more like a slightly angry, secular hymn, if you can imagine. Did that make it wrong? No, of course not. But it was a little different.

Now to a caution: Van Zweden has the reputation of a martinet: an old-fashioned podium tyrant, or semi-tyrant, in the mold of … well, some of the conductors I mentioned earlier: Szell, Reiner, Rodzinski, Toscanini. If he behaves this way in New York, will the players stand for it? The New York Philharmonic is a notoriously hard group to boss around, or even direct. An insider once told me, “Don’t think of them as an orchestra. Think of them as Local 802.” Chances are, however, that both conductor and orchestra will find a way to make their marriage work. And music will be the beneficiary.

To say it again, the New York Philharmonic has made a wonderful choice, and a bold one. In fact, its boldness is part of its wonderfulness, in my opinion. In an age of unrelenting hype and fashion and political correctness, they have named a real musician, whose values are timeless.

Of course, he does give you an excellent name for a poster or something: “Jaap!” And perhaps New York will be full of Jaapoholics. And the Philharmonic will sound its barbaric Jaap over the roofs of the world.

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Inside the Media’s Myth-Making Machine

by Roger Kimball | from PJ Media

Posted: Jan 26, 2016 08:50 PM

Remove the media sanction and the cold light of day floods in.

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Go Down Moses(es)

by James Panero

Posted: Jan 26, 2016 02:55 PM

Reggie Wilson Image 3 Eblast
”Moses(es) Moses(es),“ Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group, 

Timed to its annual conference, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters recently came to town and with it a "convergence of a dozen major performing arts industry forums and public festivals," which it called "January In NYC." These showcase performances ran the gamut from opera to chamber music to jazz. For those who follow dance, the Joyce Theater organized the first of what it promised would be an annual "American Dance Platform,” sponsored by the Harkness Foundation for Dance, this year curated by Paul King and Walter Jaffe of Portland's White Bird dance festival.

With eight companies paired up in four programs spread over the week, American Dance Platform matched the Martha Graham Dance Company with the Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group for two performances. The pairing made sense. Both New York-based, the two companies use the modern dance forms of successive generations to explore stories of origins, mass movement, and mythology: Graham as the great innovator of twentieth-century dance, most famously in Appalachian Spring; Wilson as a well-known choreographer now working in the twenty-first.

But differences more than similarities were on view at the Joyce for this double bill, as Wilson benefited from the fresh energy of a company at work with an active founder, while Graham wrestled with the challenges of a company contending with the long shadow of its departed mentor, who died in 1991.

As the leader of his Fist and Heel Performance Group, named after a derisory term for the drum-less dance forms of the African diaspora, Wilson was ever-present. “Moses(es), Moses(es),” a dance that has recently been performed at Jacob’s Pillow and other venues in various forms, filled the program. Wilson began by stepping onto stage, not as a dancer but more as a silent narrator, telling his story through his company’s movements. He distributed candy to a few chairs in the first row and swept a path through a pile of tinsel reminiscent of foamy water at the center of the stage, which his dancers then traversed as they introduced themselves to the audience. For most of the rest of the performance, Wilson sat on folding chairs observing and clapping from a corner of the stage, putting a personal frame around this narrative performance while setting it up as an evolving work in progress.

The opening image of parting waters set the stage, so to speak, for Wilson to merge the story of Moses and the Red Sea with the travails of the Middle Passage, mixing the history of Jewish and Black enslavement in a constant swirl of singing and movement. Drawing a line between ancient and modern forms, at one time Moses(es) might recall Egyptian hieroglyphics, at another the “Soul Train” line dance.

In this historically Afro-Caribbean dance troupe, where some seasoned members have been in company nearly since its founding in 1989, such as Rhetta Aleong ('92), Lawrence Harding ('93), and Paul Hamilton ('99), the relatively recent addition of Anna Schön, a young and dynamic Jewish dancer, spoke to the shared histories of Wilson's diaspora story, and what Wilson calls “the many iterations of Moses in religious texts, and in mythical, canonical and ethnographic imaginations.” Reminiscent of Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer, Schön herself has had to navigate between the worlds of the orthodox yeshiva and modern dance.


Martha Graham Dance Company, "Steps in the Street"

After the intermission, Janet Eilber, the longtime Artistic Director of Martha Graham, introduced her program by thanking Wilson for upping “our cool factor." Well intentioned, the comment nevertheless came off as superficial and tone-deaf, eliciting groans from the audience—and foreshadowing the production to follow.

I have commented many times on the substandard quality of recorded music at live performances. A well-known maestro recently told me he walked out of a holiday performance of “Lord of the Dance” on Broadway because of the music’s overamplification, only to find that the ushers had ear plugs at the ready to distribute. (Too bad they didn’t also have eye masks to give out.)

For “Steps in the Street,” an anti-war dance from 1936, Martha Graham animated her company into attacking phalanxes, at times moving in zombie-like lockstep, at times paralyzed by their own spiritless inertia. The brassy score is by Wallingford Reigger, and the recording used at the Joyce sounded as old as the dance itself, with low fidelity that did little to help the true fidelity of this live performance. Both shrill and muffled, the recording washed out the dance’s essential sharp movements. It would be truer to Graham’s vision to employ recordings up to modern standards, even if that means revisiting original scores.

For "Lamentation Variations," Eilber continues her initiative of commissioning contemporary choreographers to create work inspired by "Lamentation," Graham’s 1930 solo work. At the Joyce, we were presented with a recording of Graham explaining “Lamentation” along with an original film of the dance projected onto the stage (again, in desperate need of remastering). The company then performed “variations” by the contemporary choreographers Bulareyaung Pagarlava, Sonya Tayeh, and Larry Keigwin. The Graham history lesson was much appreciated, but whether a comment on the singularly of Graham or the quality of contemporary choreography (or some combination of the two), none of these works came close to the skin-crawling, visceral feel of Graham’s original dance, settling instead for decorousness (Pagarlava), histrionics (Tayeh), and distance (Keigwin). At the Joyce, we were fortunate to see these programs through the showcase of Dance Platform, but one takeaway is that the vitality of Graham needs no variation.

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The Critic's Notebook for January 25, 2016

by Benjamin Riley

Posted: Jan 26, 2016 09:46 AM

Ernest Hemingway, Milan, 1918. Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum


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: The Prose Factory, Papa, and Beethoven at the NY Phil.

Fiction“Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars,” at the Morgan Library (Through January 31): Perhaps more than any other writer, Ernest Hemingway stands as the quintessential American scribe. He has all the qualities we like to imagine are particularly American: his stoic disposition, his adventurous spirit, and his large- and hard-living. Much of the popular image of Hemingway was a meticulous act of self-myth-making, owing as much to his novels as it did his safari photo-shoots in Life magazine and elsewhere. Those interested in peering behind Hemingway’s intricately fashioned mask would do well to hop over to the Morgan by Sunday. There, an exhibition featuring numerous artifacts from Hemingway’s fertile interwar years shows the man behind the myth. Seen in tandem with a reading of the recently released volume of Hemingway’s letters (reviewed in our forthcoming February issue by Bruce Bawer), the exhibit will offer a necessary corrective on the man who called himself Papa. —BR

Nonfiction: The Prose Factory: Literary Life in England Since 1918, by D. J. Taylor (Chatto & Windus): There’s nothing a writer likes more than a bit of literary gossip. But gossiping about one’s contemporaries is a dangerous gambit; better to stick (mostly) to forebears. D. J. Taylor does just that in his forthcoming study of English literary life after the First World War. The Prose Factory proves an illuminating survey of not just literary England in the twentieth century, but also of the (excuse me) prosaic aspects of being a jobbing writer: how exactly one makes a go of it in a notoriously poorly compensated job. Interspersed are the sorts of entertaining anecdotes that could probably fill many more volumes, as long as someone were willing to publish them. Until that day Taylor’s book will serve as a resource well worth consulting. —BR

Art: The Winter Antiques Show, at the Park Avenue Armory (Through January 31): What does it say about the state of antiques now that the Winter Antiques Show features contemporary work? For years, the cutoff date for this esteemed sixty-two-year-old fair has been creeping up, most recently to the Old Master era of 1969. By dropping the requirement that objects have any claim to antiquity whatsoever, the fair looks “less brown,” at least according to The New York Times. But does the shift also speak to uncertainties in the European antiques market and a rising cultural ambivalence, if not contempt, for the symbols of the past? We have until Sunday, January 31, to decide for ourselves at the Park Avenue Armory, where at least this fair’s frozen forecast remains consistent year to year. —JP

Music: Beethoven Violin Concerto & Bruckner, at the New York Philharmonic (January 27–30) and The Orchestre National de France, at Carnegie Hall (January 28): The violin is rarely underrepresented as a solo instrument, but the next few months in particular look to be a banner winter and spring for violinists, including two major concerto appearances this week alone. First up, on Wednesday and continuing through the weekend, James Ehnes joins the New York Philharmonic for Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, one of the shining pearls of the repertoire and a notable exemplar of the composer's “middle period.” Balancing the program is Bruckner’s massive Symphony No. 6, under the baton of the BBC Philharmonic’s Juanjo Mena. 
Thursday night, the Orchestra National de France visits Carnegie Hall with an impressive program of three concert staples. Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth frame the program, and Julian Rachlin joins to perform Shostakovich’s scathing Violin Concerto No. 1, one of the true masterpieces of the twentieth-century concerto repertoire. Daniele Gatti, the fiery music director of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, conducts. If you can't make it to Carnegie Hall that night, watch the concert live on—ECS

Other: Wasted Words: The Essential Dave Hickey Online Compilation, by Dave Hickey, edited by Julia Friedman (PCP Press) and Dust Bunnies: Dave Hickey’s Online Aphorisms, by Dave Hickey, edited by Julia Friedman (PCP Press): How should this one be filed? Under art? Books? Internet culture? Let's settle for “other.” Between June 2014 and April 2015, the curmudgeonly libertarian art critic Dave Hickey took to Facebook with a reported 3,000 posts and replies, generating some 700,000 words in response. The exchanges were not always pretty as the vinegary critic dripped and dribbled over the otherwise sweet crude of art-world social media before calling it quits. In the ephemeral online world, we thought that might be it. But edited by the art historian, writer, and curator Julia Friedman, Hickey’s exchanges have now been collected in Wasted Words: The Essential Dave Hickey Online Compilation, a 586-page paperback of "polyphonic digital discourse." Friedman has also created a companion publication, Dust Bunnies: Dave Hickey’s Online Aphorisms, as a 124-page distillation of the full Hickey. —JP

From the archive: Hemingway’s prelude to Paris, by Bruce Bawer: Before seeing the Hemingway show at the Morgan, read Bruce Bawer on the author’s early years.  

From our latest issue: The Obama Library double parks, by John Vinci: On the way plans for the Obama Presidential Library may destroy historic Chicago. 


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They Don't Make Liberals Like They Used To, Redux

by Roger Kimball | from PJ Media

Posted: Jan 26, 2016 06:24 AM

The Good Side of Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

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Montgolfier Trump

by Roger Kimball | from PJ Media

Posted: Jan 25, 2016 07:22 AM

Is it only a matter of time until the bubble bursts and he plummets to earth?

go to PJ Media

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In the Aeneid, the Roman poet Virgil sang of "arms and a man" (Arma virumque cano). Month in and month out, The New Criterion expounds with great clarity and wit on the art, culture, and political controversies of our times. With postings of reviews, essays, links, recs, and news, Armavirumque seeks to continue this mission in accordance with the timetable of the digital age.


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March 29, 2016

Friends and Young Friends Event: The Climate Surprise

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