Sign in  |  Register

The New Criterion

The New Criterion is probably more consistently worth reading than any other magazine in English.
- The Times Literary Supplement



Levine’s Offenbach

by Jay Nordlinger

Posted: Mar 16, 2015 08:36 AM

Matthew Polenzani in the title role of Offenbach's "Les Contes d'Hoffmann." Photo by Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera

In January, I offered a review of The Tales of Hoffmann at the Metropolitan Opera. This is the opéra fantastique of Jacques Offenbach, which bowed in 1881. Now I am back with another word. Why? The Met has a different conductor and cast.

The conductor is James Levine, the company’s music director. When he began the opera on Wednesday night, the music was precise, bold, and masculine. It had gravitas. How does Levine do that? How does he get that sound, in work after work?

I could describe Levine’s conducting in detail, act by act, or scene by scene, but maybe a few words would suffice. He conducted Hoffmann with the same intensity and grandeur he would accord Beethoven’s Fidelio or Wagner’s Ring. Apparently, no one has told him that Offenbach’s opera is a romantic French nothing. Levine was vital from first note to last, bringing out the work’s full character.

Honestly, he made the thing seem like a masterpiece. It probably is.

Singing the title role, Hoffmann, was Matthew Polenzani, the American tenor. First, the bad news: Polenzani is probably a size too small for the role. Now the good news: he is still Polenzani, and he sings beautifully, intelligently, and winningly. Shadowing him as the Muse was Karine Deshayes, a French mezzo-soprano. In her upper register, she was strong and appealing; in her middle and lower registers, she was less so. But she was still an efficient Muse.

A standout of the night was Laurent Naouri, a French bass-baritone who sang the Four Villains. He brings several things to the table: a beautiful, rich, and large sound; a sense of drama; and clear, beautiful French. His performance of the aria “Scintille, diamant” glowed malevolently, just as it should.

Incidental intelligence, as my colleague Martin Bernheimer would say: Naouri is married to Natalie Dessay, the famous French soprano.

Audrey Luna, an American soprano, sang Olympia, the mechanical doll. Her voice does not rival, say, Renée Fleming’s in beauty. But it sounds very good up high, and I mean way up high. You’ve heard of a high A? That is, the note a couple of steps below high C? Luna sang the A above that A—and sang it splendidly. The note was in tune, sustained, and rather otherworldly.

Another American soprano, Susanna Phillips, was Antonia, and she sang with evenness and confidence. Her sound is nicely focused, unliable to spread. A Russian mezzo, Elena Maximova, made a suitably sultry and haughty Giulietta.

But I must return to Levine—who had the kind of night that reminded you that he is a great conductor. I don’t say that he is ready to play lacrosse, given his medical struggles. But I have seldom heard him better, in decades of listening to him.

E-mail to friend

In Case You Missed It

by Christine Emba

Posted: Mar 13, 2015 03:15 PM

Kay Nielsen, They Saw that the Cottage Was Made of Bread and Cakes, 1924 


Recent links of note:

How the Grimm Brothers Saved the Fairy Tale
Jack Zipes, Humanities
Did someone say...Philology?

Picking Up The Torch: The Golden Age of the Continuation Novel
Rhys Griffiths, History Today
"The concept of one novelist ‘writing as’ another […] is an increasingly familiar feature of the contemporary literary landscape. My copy of The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory doesn't include an entry on the continuation novel, but future editions probably will. In recent years Sebastian Faulks has written as P.G. Wodehouse, William Boyd as Ian Fleming, Sophie Hannah as Agatha Christie, Anthony Horowitz as Arthur Conan Doyle, and more. ‘When you read Anthony Horowitz' new James Bond novel in September, you will think it is a lost Ian Fleming’, tweets literary agent Jonny Geller."

Metropolitan Museum of Art Names Daniel Weiss President as Emily Rafferty Steps Down
Alexandra Peers, The New York Observer
An art historian, academic, and president of Haverford College, his areas of specialty appear to be medieval art, the crusades, and the Byzantine Age.

A literary war
George Bornstein, The Times Literary Supplement
WWII Victory Books: "To heave one in the garbage can is tantamount to striking your grandmother."

Vatican knew about theft of Michelangelo letters, refuses ransom demand 
Rosie Scammell, Religion News Service
The Vatican does not negotiate with terrorists. 


From our pages:

The epic of Ezra
Paul Dean
A review of A. David Moody's Ezra Pound: Poet. A Portrait of the Man and His Work, Volume II: The Epic Years, 1921–1939.


E-mail to friend

A knight in recital

by Jay Nordlinger

Posted: Mar 11, 2015 03:30 PM

Sir András Schiff 

Being a critic, I will begin with a complaint: András Schiff began his recital in Carnegie Hall last night at 8:13. The scheduled time was 8:00. Does he think we have all night?

I’ll tell you when I like concerts to start on time: when I’m on time. If I’m running late, that is a different story. Typical, huh?

I saw by the program that the pianist is “Sir András Schiff” now. Frankly, I didn’t know he was British. He must be the most famous Hungarian “Sir” in music since Solti.

He played four sonatas, by Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert (in that order). The Haydn was the Sonata in C major, Hob. XVI:50. Its opening lines were beautifully sculpted—exemplary. Then Schiff got a little cute, with rubato, hesitations, and so on. Couldn’t he have at least waited till the repeat? Couldn’t he have let the music be relatively straight for a while longer?

Later in this movement, he had a memory lapse, or in any case a prolonged stumble. But he righted himself.

Rubato is a matter of taste, of course—so is interpretation in general. But I believe that Schiff did too much “interpreting” in this first movement. One can trust Haydn. He knew what he was doing. You don’t need to help him that much.

To my ears, Schiff played the second movement, the Adagio, like he was trying to make it special. But it is special already. The final movement went pretty well, with its humor.

The Beethoven sonata was the late E major, Op. 109. In the first movement, Schiff did some really good phrasing. But, again, interpretation is a matter of taste—and I think that Schiff erred on the side of looseness or self-indulgence. The music did not need the “help” he gave it.

In the Prestissimo, his fingers weren’t quite working. The notes were poorly defined, repeatedly. This was a rare technical letdown from Schiff.

The final movement, in my view, was a flop. Schiff could not stop interpreting. He played like someone pleased with himself. He would not get himself out of the way, to let us hear Beethoven. The music should be transfixing and transporting. Instead, it was all Schiff, pleased with himself (as I heard it).

At the end, the pianist warded off applause by keeping his hands on the keyboard for a long time. He was pretending he had created some holy moment. I regard this as cheap. If a musician has transfixed and transported the hall, he doesn’t have to ward off applause. They won’t applaud till they’re ready.

Given how the first half of the recital had gone, I could not have told you that the second half would be great. It was.

Schiff began with Mozart’s Sonata in C major, K. 545. The opening Allegro was beautiful and pure. For the next movement, Andante, Schiff chose an interesting tempo—an excellent tempo, which did not dawdle. It was almost a running tempo. And it worked very well. As for the closing Rondo, it had true Mozart style.

Last on the printed program was Schubert’s Sonata in C minor, D. 958. This is possibly the least often played of the late Schubert sonatas. It takes exceptional understanding. Schiff had it.

This was honest playing, with no artificiality or ego. The last movement was sensitive but not precious. The performance as a whole was first-class.

For an encore, I thought Schiff would play a Schubert piece—either an impromptu or a moment musical. He played a Schubert piece, all right, and I should have expected it, but failed: the Hungarian Melody. (Schiff started out in Hungary, remember.) The piece was smooth, balanced, and lovely.

Then came an impromptu—the one in E flat, with the tripping triplets. I have long associated this piece with Murray Perahia: it has been his first encore for decades. Schiff played it marvelously. The triplets were limpid. The B-minor portions were fiery but sane. Everything about this reading was right, and the crowd roared.

In my opinion, Schiff and the crowd should have gone home at that point. The evening had been capped. But the pianist quickly sat down for another encore, this time Beethoven’s Bagatelle in B minor. It was very well played but superfluous.

Whether we needed a third encore or not, this was a very satisfying recital, with stretches of greatness.

E-mail to friend

A walk through the art fairs

by Brian P. Kelly

Posted: Mar 10, 2015 03:58 PM

Diana Copperwhite, Shadowland, 2014

There were two really great things about this year’s Armory Show. The first was that I didn’t have to take a bus to get to Volta, since that fair relocated from SoHo to the pier adjacent to its bigger, flashier cousin. The second was that so many of my friends hate-liked my photo of Mickalene Thomas’s bronze pair of Crocs that my Klout Score went up two whole points.

Which is to say that the Armory Show itself might not have been the highlight of New York’s most important week in contemporary art. (There were of course several stand-outs at the fair. To name just two: Daniel Arsham’s crumbling sculpture of a Hasselblad cast analog photographic processes as ancient history; Sverre Bjertnæs’s multimedia installation for Galleri Brandstrup blended fantasy with bleak reality and featured a fantastic bronze sculpture of a dog.)


Daniel Arsham, Rose Quartz Hasselblad Camera, 2014

Next door in its new home, Volta continued to play the role of Armory’s smaller, edgier counterpart. Two of my favorite Bushwick-based galleries had strong booths: Robert Henry showed Derek Lerner’s blue-ink-on-paper works that evoke obsessively detailed cellular structures, and Slag featured the work of Naomi Safran-Hon and Dan Voinea. Safran-Hon, an Israeli, takes photos of spaces in her hometown of Haifa that have been abandoned following a Palestinian exodus, then alters them using cement, paint, and fabric to create images that challenge traditional conceptions of home and ruin. The penumbral works by the Romanian Voiena feature hazy figures caught in moments loaded with symbolism from his country’s troubled past: workers struggling in the dark, a man hovering menacingly over a woman. New to me was the work of Ira Svobodová at Los Angeles’s CES Galery. Using acrylic gels, Svobodová builds dimensionality into simple geometric works on canvas. The subtle palettes—grays, browns, pale pinks, white, and black—seem to glow from within.


Naomi Safran-Hon, Wadi Salib: Home with 4 windows and a door (Kanafani's house on Bourj Street), 2015

Last year I mentioned that Volta was far and away the best show I had seen. It didn’t stand out as much this time: not because of any lack of quality work, but because there was so much else worth seeing at the other fairs. Pulse, for example, now in its tenth year, wins my vote for most-improved compared to its outing last year. Diana Copperwhite, an Irish painter living and working in Dublin, deserves more attention than she currently receives. Her “Shadowland,” a colossal, color-filled expressionist work humming with energy, brings to mind Richter and others from the new European school. Working on a similar scale, Elisabeth Condon’s paintings pull in elements, both visual and technical, from her time spent in Shanghai and her studies in traditional East Asian arts. This is art of a truly globalized variety. Her work is a mashup of hyper-modern financial buildings, a traditional Chinese junk, and East Coast marketing adapted to a Chinese metropolis (in the form of a small “I love SH” sign), all painted in sparkly West Coast colors. I’d be remiss not to briefly mention photography, considering Pulse’s impressive offerings in that medium. Some might be quick to write off Fabiano Parisi’s work as just another collection of ruin porn, but his photos of crumbling theaters in Detroit and abandoned palaces in Italy are of the highest caliber. David Magnusson’s portraits of fathers and daughters dressed and posed like they are heading to prom, are entrancing—if also more than a little creepy.

New this year to the ever-expanding crop of Armory Week fairs was Art on Paper. If the crowds and the work on display were any indication, it will be back again next year. The Missouri-based artist Julie Blackmon photographs her extended family in carefully staged compositions that capture the chaos of domestic life. These charming photos, especially “Concert,” are the Jan Steens of twenty-first-century suburbia. Other noteworthy pieces at the fair included the cut-and-pasted work of Meg Hitchcock, who carves up books (often religious texts), then reassembles them into elegantly simple lines from prayers; Gilbert Garcin’s French-cinema-inspired photographs; the geometric photograms of Richard Caldicott; and Rupert Deese’s radiant color studies, so clearly influenced by Matisse’s cut-outs.


Julie Blackmon, Concert, 2010

SPRING/BREAK returned this year and really hit its stride. In its new space at Moynihan Station, curators' individual rooms allowed for mini-shows, providing one new experience after another as viewers walked through the fair. “Luminessenz,” an installation by Visualpiolots featuring Atari-like projections, was hypnotic in its immersiveness. Using a single PA system and hanging strips of cloth as multiple screens, it transported visitors into what felt like an ’80s-era computer simulation.

But the curator Antoine Lefebvre had the most interesting project of the week, continuing his study of financial systems by creating a literal social currency: “Zollars,” an analogue to American cash.



Jazon Frings, “Erotic,” “Fellowship,” “Friendship,” “Love,” and “Superficial” Zollars, 2015

The Zollars correspond to a variety of relationships—“Love,” “Hate,” “Superficial,” “Fellowship,” “Erotic,” and “Friendship”—and their value fluctuated throughout the week based on visitor demand. While I’m not an economist, judging by the quality of work on display at the fairs last week, I’m bearish on “Superficial.”

E-mail to friend

Critic's Notebook for March 9, 2015

by Christine Emba

Posted: Mar 10, 2015 12:29 PM


Loren Munk, "Bushwick Map (study)" (2010-2012), 42 x 36 inches, oil on linen.


Sign up to receive “Critic's Notebook” in your inbox every Monday—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: Heroes, valleys, and “A Happy End”

FictionThe Discreet Hero, by Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. Edith Grossman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux): In this witty, perceptive new novel, Nobel Laureate Llosa returns to the small towns of Peru. The novel follows two main characters: Felicíto Yanaque in Piura and Ismael Carrera in Lima. The former is a small-time businessman who finds himself the victim of blackmail, while the latter is the successful owner of an insurance company who devises a plan to avenge himself against the two avaricious sons who want him dead. —CE

Nonfiction:  ISIS Exposed: Beheadings, Slavery, and the Hellish Reality of Radical Islam, by Erick Stakelbeck (Regnery Publishing): Stakelbeck, an investigative reporter, correspondent, and terrorism analyst for CBN News, has written in ISIS Exposed a comprehensive account of the Islamic State. Stakelbeck starts at the beginning, explaining how and why ISIS gained so much momentum and so quickly, how ISIS troops were able to defeat the Iraqi army so easily, and how Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s release from a U.S. military prison in Iraq led to the current situation. He then goes on to explain the inner realities of ISIS, its plans for the future, and why it is so successful in attracting young people from abroad, in a way Al-Qaeda never was. Stakelbeck’s book is a warning siren and we all must heed the call. –RH

Poetry: From the Valley of Making: Essays on the Craft of Poetry, by David Wojahn (University of Michigan Press):  Pulitzer Prize finalist, Guggenheim Fellow, and Pushcart Prize winner David Wojahn sets out to examine the state of American verse as it enters the first decades of a new millennium. Throughout the nine essays that make up From the Valley of Making, Wojahn makes an impassioned argument against the marginalization of poetry in contemporary American society, while highlighting the challenges and opportunities the art form facesas it attempts to adapt to the cultural, technological, and political transformations of a new era.  —CE

Art: "Views of Art in Bushwick" at the National Arts Club (Tuesday, March 10th): Come to the National Arts Club this Tuesday at 8pm for what promises to be a lively discussion about the past, present, and future of Bushwick. Organized and moderated by Charlotte Kent, the panel will bring together Chloe Bass (Arts in Bushwick), Caroline Burghart (Luhring Augustine Bushwick), Ad Deville (Factory Fresh), Paul D’Agostino (Centotto), Annelie McGavin (Studio 10), Tim Kent (artist), Loren Munk (artist), and James Panero (me!).  —JP

Music: Manon at the Metropolitan Opera (March 9-28): Diana Damrau as Massenet's Manon strikes me as a curious casting choice. It's not a completely bizarre pairing, but the role doesn’t sit squarely in Damrau's wheelhouse; we tend to associate her more with dramatic coloratura roles such as Gilda, Violetta, or the Queen of the Night. But that only makes me even more thrilled to hear this great soprano take on this famous role—Damrau has excelled when stepping out of her comfort zone before, and I suspect her performances of Manon will be outstanding. Manon opens tonight at the Met, with the energetic Vittorio Grigolo co-starring as Des Grieux and Emmanuel Villaume conducting. —ECS

Other: “A Happy End,” at June Havoc Theatre (through March 29th): This March, Iddo Netanyahu, the younger brother of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, makes his NYC debut as an off-Broadway playwright. ”A Happy End,” depicting a Jewish family living in Berlin as the Nazis rise to power, is staged by the Abingdon Theater Company at the June Havoc Theatre, where it will run through the end of the month. The play was written in 2007 and has been produced in Italy, Germany, Israel, and the United States, but is being performed in New York for the first time. —JP

From the archive: The genius of Wodehouse, by Roger Kimball: A consideration of the auther, occasioned by the publication of the first uniform series of Wodehouse books.

From our latest issue: Fun facts and fascism, by Sarah Ruden: Revisiting the lessons from Rich Atkinson’s An Army at Dawn

E-mail to friend

An exercise in exercises

by Jay Nordlinger

Posted: Mar 10, 2015 11:52 AM

Kirill Gerstein

Kirill Gerstein is a Russian-born pianist who has lived in America since his youth. He must be the most famous Kirill in music since Kondrashin (the late conductor). Last night, he played a recital in Zankel Hall. His program comprised Bach’s Three-Part Inventions on the first half and Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes on the second.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a most unusual pairing. I don’t think I have ever seen it before. It is certainly clever.

Before launching into Bach’s inventions, Gerstein played one brief piece: the Chromatic Invention III of Bartok, from his Mikrokosmos. Obviously, Gerstein was making some musicological point (as with the program in general). He went from the Bartok to the Bach without pause.

I always say that a concert hall is not a classroom. But people want to turn it into one (and often no harm comes from it).

Gerstein played the Bartok in a clear, intelligent manner. The piece was even a little jazzy, which was nice. His Bach inventions were very well defined. He obviously understands the pieces inside out. Maybe my favorite invention was the E major: ebullient, almost cleansing.

On the negative side, Gerstein’s playing was a little mechanical, a little dry, at least for my taste. I could have used more legato, and a little more lyricism. The inventions are exercises, to be sure. But they are also music (as Gerstein well knows).

In any event, I love that Gerstein loves Bach, and that he programmed these inventions. As he played, I thought of something that a violinist once told me in an interview: “Bach is the Old Testament.” It was the linkage of Bartok to Bach, probably, that brought this statement to mind.

After intermission, as you know, came the Transcendental Etudes—complete. (The Three-Part Inventions had been complete, too.) Last December in Carnegie Hall, another pianist, Daniil Trifonov, played the Transcendental Etudes—complete.

For years, I have been writing, and complaining, about the “completeness craze,” as I call it. In fact, I have just done so for the upcoming issue of The New Criterion. The occasion was a recital by Behzod Abduraimov, the young pianist from Uzbekistan. “His program was a virtuosic one,” I wrote, “beginning with the four ballades of Chopin.” Thanks to the completeness craze,

[t]hings are played in sets, even when they are not intended to be played that way. In recent years, lots of pianists have played the four ballades, one after the other. It is getting so that to play one ballade seems almost wrong—which is absurd.

At any rate, what is needed for Liszt’s etudes? Lots of things, including supreme technique, and dynamism, and a Romantic spirit. The etudes require, if you will allow an oxymoron, a controlled recklessness.

I will knock Gerstein before I praise him: he was guilty of some tightness, and some missed notes (which are eminently excusable in these pieces), and the occasional paucity of flair. And now the praise: he was orderly, intelligent, and brave. He did not let the pieces get away from him. He was a bit of a lion-tamer, or Liszt-tamer.

Here comes a confession: I am not anti-Liszt, and would gladly hear the Mephisto Waltz No. 1 right this second—but I think it may be time for me to stop trying to like the Transcendental Etudes. I have always found them unnourishing, musically, even barren. Maybe if a pianist played one or two or five of them, instead of the complete set?

By the enthusiastic, well-pleased audience, Gerstein was called back many times, and I thought he would play an encore—specifically, a Bach invention, either a two-part or a three-part. Or maybe another Bartok micro-piece! But he played nothing. Given the Transcendental Etudes, he had probably played enough notes for one night. 

E-mail to friend

A human voice

by Jay Nordlinger

Posted: Mar 09, 2015 11:59 AM

Anna Caterina Antonacci

Anna Caterina Antonacci sang a recital in Alice Tully Hall on Thursday night. The hall also turned into an opera house, as I will explain in due course.

Antonacci is an Italian soprano who has established a career in French music. Zino Francescatti, the late violinist, was a Frenchman. Roberto Alagna, the tenor, is a Frenchman. Anna Caterina Antonacci, however, is an Italian who, by choice, is semi-French.

I have called her a soprano, and she calls herself that—but she is a ’tweener: a singer who dwells between soprano and mezzo. This can be a nice space from which to work.

When Antonacci took the stage on Thursday night, the applause for her was long and loud. This surprised me. She is well-known in Europe, but I didn’t realize she had a reputation here in the States.

Her program was all-French, and the first half brought five composers: Berlioz, Debussy, Duparc, Poulenc, and Ravel. To my ears, Antonacci does not have an especially beautiful voice. It is an interesting and useful voice. It is rather bold, forward, and pointed. You would not think it particularly suited to French music. This repertoire depends a great deal on subtlety and delicacy.

Antonacci depends a great deal on musicianship—which she has in abundance. She also has a solid technique. Only rarely did her intonation waver in this recital. Furthermore, she is a “singing actress,” as they say. You can tell this about her even in songs. She reminds me of America’s own Catherine Malfitano, and, as I have said in the past, there is a taste of Callas about her.

I could go over the first half of her recital song by song, but maybe I will make just a few remarks. One or two songs lacked beguilement. Beguilement is almost the French composer’s bread and butter. But every song had a case to make. Every song was sung with care (though not intellectualization, thank heaven).

The first half ended with Ravel’s Kaddisch, which may be thought of as a Hebrew scena. Antonacci had a bit of a “spread” in the voice. But she sang this piece with power, emotional and otherwise.

Accompanying her was Donald Sulzen, an American pianist who lives in Munich. He played knowledgeably and confidently, all evening long.

The second half was given over to an opera: La voix humaine, by Poulenc. This is a one-act, one-woman opera, based on the play by Jean Cocteau. Poulenc composed it in 1958, a couple of years after his masterpiece Dialogues of the Carmelites. There are touches of Dialogues in Voix.

In the latter opera, a woman speaks on the phone to the lover who has just left her for someone else. The opera depicts the woman’s disintegration.

I did not really review the performance, mentally, as Antonacci sang, and acted. I took very few notes. I just listened and watched. Antonacci was superb. She was Malfitano-like indeed, and also Callas-like. I’m trying to avoid the cliché “tour de force.” It’s hard.

From what I can tell, Antonacci did not put a foot wrong or a note wrong. There was no scenery-chewing whatsoever. No overstatement. She understands that the power lies in the words, music, and situation, and she brought it out with great intelligence, musical and theatrical.

Allow me to quote from a review I wrote in 2005. Antonacci had just sung the title role of Gluck’s Alceste at the Salzburg Festival. I said I could pick on her a little, and did. But

she is the kind of singer who seizes you, and whom you root for. Her singing was packed with emotion, though it did not offend Gluckian taste, and she involved you in every note and thought. She sang as though it mattered—and that is not encountered every day. I guess what I could say, more succinctly, is that there was an honesty about her singing. A rare and priceless quality in music.

So it was on Thursday night.

I believe that Poulenc’s title, and Cocteau’s title, has more than one meaning. “The Human Voice” is the right title because we hear just one person’s voice, one side of a phone conversation. But the woman is Everyman too, or many people: she represents the common predicament of being hostage to romantic love, and killed by it.

Incidentally, Antonacci held the receiver of the phone to her ear for almost the entirety of her tour de force. I myself would have been tempted to use a modern headset.

E-mail to friend

In Case You Missed It

by Christine Emba

Posted: Mar 06, 2015 11:56 AM

Carla Gannis, The Garden of Emoji Delights (detail).
Photo by Sarah Cascone, via Instagram

It's Armory Week!


Recent links of note:

How Music Hijacks Our Perception of Time
Jonathan Berger, Nautilus
A composer details how music works its magic on our brains.

Harper Lee tells iniquisitive journalist to 'go away!'
Alison Flood, The Guardian
This has been your weekly Harper Lee update. 

Music to Shoot You By: Taking Beethoven on a Ride-Along in First-Person-Shooter Games
Ted Gioia, The Daily Beast
"The grandiloquent sounds of the 19th century are still alive in the new millennium … but only when someone is getting bludgeoned, bloodied, blown-up, or decimated with automatic weapons." That, or when you're squeezing past immovable aisle-seaters just as intermission ends, am I right?

Foreign Service Rules for Handling a Visit From William Faulkner
Greg Barnhiser, Slate
"To ensure future goodwill tours would be equally successful, [FSO] Picon devised some “Guidelines for Handling Mr. William Faulkner on His Trips Abroad” that were discreetly circulated to all foreign posts before a Faulkner visit. Among the guidelines were “keep several pretty young girls in the front two rows of any public appearance to keep his attention up,” “put someone in charge of his liquor at all times so that he doesn’t drink too quickly,” and “do not allow him to venture out on his own without an escort.”

David Geffen Captures Naming Rights to Avery Fisher Hall With Donation
Robin Pogrebin, The New York Times
Reports state that the new name will be—you guessed it—David Geffen Hall, but I'm holding out for something a bit more evocative. Risky Business Hall, say, or The Sonic Youth Memorial Hall. Other suggestions?


From our pages:

Homer in the Tropics
Alexander Suebsaeng
On teaching classics at Kamuzu Academy in Malawi. 


E-mail to friend

Critic's Notebook for March 2, 2015

by Christine Emba

Posted: Mar 02, 2015 07:15 PM


Julia Sinelnikova, Cyrstal Fragments, 2014-15


Sign up to receive “Critic's Notebook” in your inbox every Monday—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: False prophets, buried giants, and meaningful marginalia.

FictionThe Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf): Ishiguro’s first new novel in a decade, The Buried Giant is set in medieval England—not the cheery land of Arthurian tales, but a gloomy, foggy country still recovering from recent Saxon invasions. Axl and Beatrice, an elderly, ailing couple, embark on a pilgrimage to the village of their half-forgotten son, setting into motion a revisiting of their own past and a resonant story of love, vengeance, and war. —CE

Nonfiction:  Liberty’s First Crisis: Adams, Jefferson, and the Misfits Who Saved Free Speech, by Charles Slack (Grove Atlantic): Readers of The New Criterion know of the many threats to the First Amendment today. But this is hardly the first time we’ve been faced with the possibility of losing one of our most cherished rights. In Liberty's First Crisis: Adams, Jefferson, and the Misfits Who Saved Free Speech, Charles Slack describes one of the first great threats to freedom of speech: the 1798 Sedition Act, which ignited a fierce fight between the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. Slack shows how passionately and skillfully Americans of the early republic fought to preserve their hard-won freedoms. –RH

Poetry: The Opposite House, by Claudia Emerson (Southern Messenger Poets): The late Emerson, a 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winner, filled her last work with detailed portraits of subjects ranging from inanimate objects to archetypal characters. These depictions are rendered in spare, discreet strokes that nevertheless convey emotions sharply felt.   —CE

Art: Beat Nite with Norte Maar (Friday, March 6): If you find New York Art Fair Week has gone from fizz to fizzle, Friday's Bushwick Beat Nite is a welcome tonic. This biannual late-night gallery crawl, organized by Norte Maar and this time curated by the critic Ben Sutton, is the perfect way to survey this outer-borough art scene. And unlike on the piers, we are all on the full-access VIP list. The select galleries are open 6-10pm, with an after party (10-1am) at The Vasquez (93 Forrest Street, Bushwick, Brooklyn). —JP

Music: Neighborhood Concert: Ensemble ACJW at Carnegie Hall (Sunday, March 8): Musicians from Ensemble ACJW, Carnegie Hall's young artists program, come together on Sunday to perform two of the greatest works of the chamber repertoire. Six musicians will present two trios, Beethoven's famous "Ghost" trio and Brahms's Horn Trio in E-flat Major, the first and greatest piece for such an instrumentation. The concert at Our Saviour's Atonement Lutheran Church on 189th Street is free and open to the public. —ECS

Other: Readers Make Their Mark: Annotated Books at the New York Society Library (February 5—August  15): Marginalia matter—while texts themselves tend to be the main attractions, the oft-uncensored commentary from other readers can provide useful (or hilarious) new insight. Readers Make Their Mark explores the practice of reading through the many handwritten notes left in the margins of books from the New York Society Library’s Special Collections. The handwritten finds span a wide range, from a Renaissance-era schoolboy’s notes in his copy of Virgil to George Bernard Shaw’s annotations on a proof of his play Too True to be Good. —CE

From the archive: The false prophet, by Anthony Daniels. On the false profundity of Kahlil Gibran.

From our latest issue: Piano plays Harvard, by Peter Pennoyer: A review of the new Harvard Art Museums, designed by Renzo Piano.

E-mail to friend

Music from discord

by Eric C. Simpson

Posted: Mar 02, 2015 12:42 PM

Julian Wachner

I heard an ambitious concert at Carnegie Hall a Saturday ago: Julian Wachner, who commands the musical forces of Trinity Wall Street and the Washington Chorus, brought just about every musician at his disposal to perform two comparatively rare works.

About the first, Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 4, I won’t say much other than that it is a strong (if somewhat scattered) piece that received a strong (if somewhat scattered) performance.

The second piece, Ginastera’s Turbae ad passionem Gregorianam, was entirely unfamiliar to me—as I’m sure it was to the rest of the audience. It received its premiere in 1975, and since then has been performed only a few times, no more than a dozen or so. It is a revelation.

The Turbae is a difficult work to listen to, much as Hedda Gabler is a difficult play to watch, or Heart of Darkness a difficult book to read. It is emotionally trying—terrifying, really. The speeches of Christ, the Evangelist, and the other characters (Judas, Longinus, etc.) are simply intoned by three soloists, but they are not the main attraction. Ginastera distills the narrative of the Passion to its crowd scenes, making the chorus the driving force of his work.

There is not much in the way of beauty here, at least not superficial beauty—there are some moments of lyricism to be found, but the music mostly impresses by sheer force, the violent discord of the chorus reminding the listener of his insignificance, his helplessness. Much of the chorus’s text is whispered, chanted, hissed, or even screamed. To these furious episodes the speakers’ occasional interludes act both as a soothing antidote and a point of comparison, exaggerating the madness of the crowd.

But to say that Saturday’s performance was “ugly” or even “unpleasant” would be missing the point. Listening to Wachner and his musicians produced an adrenal thrill—the tumult of the crowd was repellent, but at the same time it had a certain allure. Even as I felt surrounded, threatened on all sides, I had a sense of just how easily one could be swept up in the fanatic frenzy of the mob.

When the concert finished, a sense of relief washed over the hall as Wachner held up the enormous score in triumph. After the chorus had roared at the audience for an hour, it seemed only too appropriate that we should roar back.

E-mail to friend

The New Criterion

About ArmaVirumque


( AHR-mah wih-ROOM-kweh)


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.


Follow us on Twitter:




To contact The New Criterion by email, write to:



Subscribe to our newsletter!

* indicates required