Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bah humbug! The classics we secretly loathe

In the spirit of Christmas grumpiness, arts personalities reveal the heritage classics they secretly can't stand

undefinedAndrew Marr, broadcaster, on jazz

Every properly cultured person admires jazz, not necessarily in its rumbustious, earthy form, but certainly in its great moderns. The Duke himself, but above all Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and their zillion followers. You have to, don't you, really? Well, sorry. I like early classical music and late classical music. I like opera, even Wagner these days. I like rock, pop, folk and (very much) the blues.

And then there's jazz. I don't mean the great singers, but the infuriatingly snazzy, oopla-poopla, jingly, endlessly self-referential up and down and roundabout stuff that takes itself sooo seriously and requires you to wear a martyred frown and a horrible striped jacket — and quite possibly unfortunate facial hair — to appreciate it.

What's it really about except showing off? Too many notes, as the Austrian emperor is supposed to have complained about Mozart. It doesn't make me excited, sad, wobbly, calm or indeed anything much. Jazz just goes up-down, back-forward, wurble, wurble — pointless. Friends have tried to open my ears. They're big enough, yes, but they aren't big enough for that stuff.

Stephen Hough, pianist, on Bach I'm quite embarrassed about this, but I don't like Bach. I admire him enormously, of course — who couldn't? Every bar he wrote is extraordinary. I hear people talking about the "universality" of it, and the "deep spirituality of it" and the expression and the romanticism, but it just doesn't reach through to me. I feel like a priest who's lost his faith. I really am meant to believe this, but somehow I don't.Occasionally I put the B Minor Mass on in the car thinking: "This is the greatest Mass ever written, get on with it," but within a couple of minutes my mind starts to wander.

I played Bach when I was learning, of course, but I always found the Romantic pieces more fun. That's something I thought I would grow out of, like someone who at first prefers a very sweet cream sherry rather than a drier one, but as we get older those things often change. Maybe I'm still a kid, but as yet I've not got to that stage. There's clearly some important screw missing in my musical mechanism.

Emily Maitlis, Newsnight presenter, on Romeo and Juliet

I think Romeo and Juliet is a terrible play and should be ditched in favour of West Side Story whenever possible. The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is, mainly, that it isn't a tragedy at all. It's just a postal mishap. Relevant to our times, perhaps, but hardly high drama. Basically, they fall in love (and we'll leave aside the paedophilic connotations of sex with a 13-year-old girl), run away and then come a cropper when a (fairly key) message fails to reach Romeo and it's suicide all round. Tragedy has to be about fatal flaws, about personal growth, about emotional annihilation — not a dicky delivery service and a hot-headed youth. These lovers had their wires crossed not their stars.

It's like hearing that someone died from tripping over a biscuit. It's odd and it's quite sad but more than anything it's just bloody ridiculous.

Nicky Haslam, interior designer, on Monty Python

It leaves me absolutely cold. Cleese and those other guys are completely up their own arses. It is humour made for dolts. I never made it through a complete episode of Flying Circus because it was so bad. I hate sacrilege too — so Life of Brian was an unfunny idea, too easy to sustain a whole film. It was the same with the Goons and Charlie Chaplin, who I could never stand — that kind of dopey, physically silly, male, oh-look-at-us humour. I prefer girls in backless dresses saying witty things in 1940s films, the kinds of movies that have a dry, crisp wit to them, and screwball comedies too. Python and its like rely on easy laughs — the parrot sketch is just ghastly — I prefer the kind of humour that creeps up on you, the kind that builds up so that, out of nowhere, you find yourself in hysterics. Humour should be subtle.

Jude Kelly, theatre director, on Rubens

I don't like Rubens. He's undoubtedly masterful technically. But I think there is a sentimentality to him and a sort of voluptuousness with regards to flesh — a combination of coyness and sexuality that I find very cloying and slightly disturbing. It's not that they are large; it's something about the way Rubens paints the texture of the flesh that is so clammy. I have always had the feeling that it's on the verge of titillation.

His cherubs seem far too knowing and they always seem to me to have a slightly sexual, devilish air. They always look as though they have eaten enormous amounts of chocolate. They seem to be the antithesis of spirituality, the way they prop themselves up with their head on their hands, sort of languorous. Where's their work ethic, that's what I want to know.

Edward Watson, principal dancer, Royal Ballet on The Nutcracker

I first danced in The Nutcracker when I was 17 and a pupil at the Royal Ballet Upper School. I joined the Royal Ballet the following year and then seemed to be in it almost every year for the next ten years. It feels as if I've danced practically every role in it — the Father, the Spanish dance, the Waltz of the Flowers, even the Sleigh Driver. I know every part inside out, so the whole thing drags along in a kind of Groundhog Day blur.

I danced the Nutcracker Prince in Tokyo a couple of years ago. I stood in the wings during the performance in a really uncomfortable outfit, feeling completely miserable. I promised myself there and then that that I wouldn't put myself through another one.

Matthew Parris, Times columnist, on the Beatles

I remember well enough the early Beatles in the 1960s. I was 14, a colonial boy in Africa, and listening to Jim Reeves, Ricky Nelson and Pat Boone — then along came these four lads from Liverpool, and everyone went crazy.

Exuberant, they said; a blast of fresh air. She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. Darling, it's so marvellously simple! Youthful passion, careless energy, innocent art. The sound that finally broke the spell of the Second World War. The Mersey beat (er, where is Mersey?) putting Liverpool on the map.

Well, it left me cold. I just thought it was crass. All that banging about, boring, babyish tunes and noisy choruses. I slightly fancied George Harrison, but that was all.

Tony Hall, chief executive of the Royal Opera House, on Gilbert and Sullivan

I don't really like Gilbert and Sullivan, and that's partly because when I was a child in Birkenhead, my great uncle used to sing in amateur operatic society versions of The Mikado and a variety of other Gilbert and Sullivans, and I just don't like it. It brings back memories of sitting through — even though I should be very proud of my great uncle's voice — some fairly ghastly productions, and I just find it all rather twee.

Chris Addison, comedian, on Charles Dickens

To be fair to Dickens, he never really stood a chance with me because, like many middle-class children brought up in the 1970s and 1980s, my first real exposure to him was in the form of turgid, cardboardy BBC adaptations. These were pre-Andrew Davies times, remember, but even now for me Dickens is inextricably associated with the depressing back-to-school miasma of a dark Sunday evening. I've tried to get past this but I merely have to pick up a copy of one of his books and I can smell the Vosene of hair-washing night and the fear of knowing that I hadn't finished my homework. Not to mention the resentment of the fact that I was missing Buck Rogers on the other side.


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