David Lister: Well done the Proms for showing you don't have to genuflect to the Olympics
The Week in Arts
A founder member of The Independent David Lister joined the paper in 1986 as Assistant Home Editor. He became the paper's arts correspondent in 1988 and is now Arts Editor and writes a column each Saturday. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Saturday 21 April 2012
This was the big week. The countdown to the event of the summer, with every newspaper along with TV and radio doing some version of the story. Yes, the Proms is just around the corner. But somehow the Proms neglected to present itself quite like that, and it was left to that other summer jamboree to garner the majority of the column inches. There is, though, something that links the Olympics and the Proms. At last an arts event has launched with the confidence and enthusiasm to show that the timidity and defeatism elsewhere in the arts is absurd.
While Andrew Lloyd Webber closes some of his theatres for part of July and August, and other producers delay opening big shows until 2013, and still more worry that tourists won't even be able to get to the West End, the Proms carry on regardless, knowing that Daniel Barenboim doing the cycle of Beethoven symphonies will sell out, as will the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras, as will the children's Prom with half of Wallace and Gromit. An array of other Proms, including no fewer than three appearances by one of Britain's most interesting young violinists, Nicola Benedetti, will also have queues round the block.
When I discussed this at the Proms launch party on Thursday night with Proms director Roger Wright and BBC Director-General Mark Thompson, we all failed to understand why anyone would doubt the ability of a key arts event like the Proms to compete with the Olympics, one of the many reasons, no doubt, why Thompson is, thankfully, happy to put millions of pounds of licence-fee money into the classical music festival.
Somewhere along the way, the arts have lost their nerve. Of course, there is the all-embracing Cultural Olympiad, but even that, by its very existence and name, gives out the message that in this year you have to be Olympics-related to woo visitors to a cultural evening out. So many shows, so many festivals this year are striving and straining for an Olympics connection that it's a refreshing relief to find that the world's largest classical music festival is happy to be its own event, and not seek to borrow the glory from any other.
There's a lesson there for Andrew Lloyd Webber and all the people worrying that the arts might take a back seat this summer. Get the product right, have confidence in the product, and the Olympics won't get in the way. If the product is top class, audiences will put up with crowded Tube trains and road closures. (To listen to the grim forebodings, one might almost be led to believe that pre-Olympics travelling on the Tube or driving in London was problem-free.)
Audiences will overcome the travel difficulties. They will even manage to record the night's athletics on TV. They will set out for an evening of top entertainment, and immerse themselves in it, just as they did last year, just as they will next year.
Isn't it time to face the music?
On the subject of classical music concerts, there was a mighty buzz around the Royal Festival Hall this week, as there always is when the charismatic Daniel Barenboim returns there. It was the hottest ticket in town, and I was enthralled by his conducting of Bruckner's seventh symphony on Monday, part of his Bruckner project in which he conducted three of the composer's symphonies over the week.
But, not for the first time, it struck me how odd the presentation is of a classical music concert. The chief attraction is the conductor, yet we see only the back of his head. I would have loved to see Barenboim's expressions and his facial interaction with the orchestra. Screens have to be the answer. It also struck me that the people behind the orchestra, facing Barenboim, with the Royal Festival Hall's cheapest tickets, possibly had the best seats in the house.
Mr Bond, we don't expect you to talk
The new James Bond film will, as is now well known, have Bond drinking beer – Heineken, to be precise – in a product placement deal worth £28m. In a break from shooting the other day, Daniel Craig, the current Bond, did an interview in which he defended this. He said: "This movie costs a lot of money to make; it costs nearly as much again if not more to promote, so we go where we can. The great thing is that Bond is a drinker. He always has been. It's part of who he is, rightly or wrongly. You can make your own judgement about it. Having a beer is no bad thing. In the movie it just happens to be Heineken."
It's all sound sense, no doubt, but it's a bit wimpish. Do we really want Bond to give such interviews? He drinks "rightly or wrongly", "this movie costs a lot of money". Craig should be aloof from it all, stop apologising, be strong and silent. He's not just an actor, he's Bond. Rule one is, Bond drinks martini, shaken not stirred. Rule two is Bond should not give interviews.
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