The Week in Arts: There are times when a few slips are irrelevant

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There can be argument over which has been the best Prom so far this year; but there can be no argument over which was the most emotional. Last Tuesday night Alfred Brendel gave his last Prom. The 73-year-old pianist not only received the predictable standing ovation. He also received a presentation from Proms director Nicholas Kenyon and a speech in his honour.

There can be argument over which has been the best Prom so far this year; but there can be no argument over which was the most emotional. Last Tuesday night Alfred Brendel gave his last Prom. The 73-year-old pianist not only received the predictable standing ovation. He also received a presentation from Proms director Nicholas Kenyon and a speech in his honour.

Brendel's own speech was extremely short: "The Proms are the crowning glory of the British musical life," he said. "There is nothing like them anywhere in the world." That, too, brought the house down. And the audience walked beaming and still buzzing into the pouring rain talking animatedly about the evening they had witnessed.

I too was in a higher state, having enjoyed the unforgettable occasion. So it was sobering to read the critics' reviews. The Independent's critic was not alone in delighting in the occasion but pointing out, sotto voce, that the septuagenarian had "occasional finger slips and... a brief lapse of memory near the start of the third movement." It was clear why the pianist had decided not to perform any more in front of broadcast microphones.

I suspect these slips would have been commented on more prominently and more adversely if it had been a younger pianist or a different occasion. And the highly knowledgeable audience would have made one or two barbs under their umbrellas. But on an occasion such as this slips seemed superfluous, a technical detail, an irrelevance.

Similarly, at the stunning Brian Wilson concerts this summer, the sense of occasion was paramount. Here was a man who had no right to survive mental breakdowns and drug addiction, but was back with a fantastically good backing band and reworkings of his greatest hits. With emotion tangible, who would be so discourteous as to point out that he didn't hit the notes in the first lines of his classic anthem "God Only Knows".

Sometimes a performance becomes an "event." The point of an event is to be there. And, just as the evening has moved beyond a normal arts experience and has become an event, so the critical judgements of the audience have to move beyond the normal aesthetic criteria into event criticism. In event criticism we are so thrilled at seeing the best in the world on evenings laced with emotion and poignancy that we ignore slip-ups and always, always, as an audience give the event five stars. Four for the performance and one for the privilege of being there. It may not be criticism at its purest; but an event is not a pure performance. It's a celebration.

Barring critics from Fringe shows is cuckoo

The one sour note at this year's Edinburgh Fringe has been struck by the production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest with the movie star Christian Slater. Critics were barred from the first performances. And one arts writer from The Scotsman, who did sneak in, was told to leave.

So much for the radical, anarchic Fringe. The whole point, I thought, is that everyone is equal and they take their chance. Also, if these performances were officially previews, why were audiences not paying reduced prices?

What is particularly depressing is that the team protecting the actors from the critics are Fringe veterans. The producer is Nica Burns, chair of the Perrier Award judges; the man who runs the Assembly Rooms, where the show is on, is William Burdett Coutts, another estimable veteran of the Fringe. Even the show's PR, Anna Arthur, is a well known face at Edinburgh. It's sad that such stalwarts now see their job as kow-towing to Hollywood stars, rather than protecting the rugged integrity of the Fringe.

¿ It's been striking on the Fringe how many stand-up comedians give their routines a title. Demetri Martin's show is called Spiral Bound; Steve Hughes has a show called At War With Satan; Michael Dwyer's act is entitled Mickey D Has Detention Deficit Disorder; the Irish comedienne Sheila Hamilton has an act named My Granny Was A Leprechaun.

In fact, it's hard to find a stand-up who hasn't given their act a rather inflated title. Why is this, I wonder? Comics used to be content just to have their name on the tickets. Is it because a title makes a stand-up routine sound more like a piece of theatre or performance art? Is it that they are all actors manqué? Never mind; at least they allow the critics in.

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