Arts Diary

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MR EDWARD Smith from Birmingham had a letter in The Independent yesterday, noting with some surprise that the salary being advertised for the new Arts Council director of music to replace the departing Kathryn McDowell is pounds 50,000, while for the new director of communications to replace the departing Phil Murphy it is pounds 70,000. Could Edward Smith, I wonder, be Ed Smith, managing director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra? In any case, I think I can supply the answer. The director of communications is worth pounds 20,000 more because he or she has to draft the chairman Gerry Robinson's speeches about music, such as the chairman's annual lecture, which last year stated that British orchestras should learn from their American counterparts about how to take music out into the community. The director of communications has to do all of this while also having to ignore the advice and factual input from the lower-paid director of music. And when it emerges that Mr Robinson had got it plumb wrong and that the US orchestra he cited had hired experts from British orchestras to advise them, the director of communications has to field all the flak and avoid apologising to the director of music. All that stress surely is worth the extra pounds 20,000.

GWYNETH PALTROW has made Shakespeare hip again, apparently. Now it is the turn of Ralph Fiennes to do the same for Pushkin. Fiennes has just been directed by his sister Martha in Onegin, based on Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. The film is released in the UK this summer, but brother and sister are insisting that the premiere be held in St Petersburg to coincide with this year's celebration of Pushkin's bicentenary.

Fiennes tells me: "It is almost impossible for us to understand what Pushkin means to the Russian people. He is regarded as the father of Russian literature. St Petersburg is very much Onegin's city, and Pushkin spent his last years there before his death in a duel. We shot part of the film in the city and Martha and I are determined to premiere the film there."

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WHAT DO a publisher and an arts minister talk about when they meet? Government policy on literature? The demise of the net book agreement? No. This was the conversation when Robin Baird-Smith, managing director of George Duckworth, went up to the arts minister Alan Howarth at the WH Smith Literary Award on Tuesday. "Hello. I'm Beryl Bainbridge's publisher. Your father used to beat me at Winchester."

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POP QUIZ compilers should check out the lower regions of this week's singles chart. At number 36 is a song called "Precious Time" by Van Morrison (left). This, amazingly, is the first top 40 hit he has registered in solo career. Van the middle-aged man is 53. Much has been made of Debbie Harry getting back into the charts in their fifties. Surely there's a thesis somewhere on the boost for a chap in his middle years doing it for the first time.

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