Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Portrait of the artist / Marin Alsop / It's still unusual to see a woman conducting an orchestra

Portrait of the artist

Marin Alsop


'Classical music is pretty hip right now - young people have much more eclectic taste'

'It's still unusual to see a woman conducting an orchestra.'

Interview by Natalie Hanman

Tuesday 28 November 2006 00.03 GMT

What got you started?
The first piece of music I remember feeling moved by was a string sextet in B flat major by Brahms. I was about 11.
Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?
Not being able to be at home that much, because I travel six months of the year. One has to make compromises in terms of personal life.
Is your work fashionable?
It can be. Classical music goes from being seen as elitist and stuffy to being hip and happening. It's pretty hip right now - there are a lot of exciting things happening in terms of digital music.
Is the internet good for art?
Fantastic, especially for classical music. Young people today are "echo boomers" rather than baby boomers. They have a much more eclectic taste in art, and that translates into classical music being part of their menu.
If someone saw one of your performances in 1,000 years' time, what would it tell them about the year 2006?
It's still unusual to see a woman conducting an orchestra. I hope in 1,000 years it won't seem that unusual - and hopefully it won't take that long.
Vinyl or MP3?
MP3, although I seem unable to get rid of my vinyl.
Classical or contemporary?

It's 50/50 for me. I love to look at the masterpieces juxtaposed with contemporary art, because one informs the other.
What one song would work as the soundtrack to your life?
My Way by Frank Sinatra.
Favourite film?
Witness for the Prosecution, with Charles Laughton. It's an old-style thriller with great acting and intrigue.
Favourite museum?
The Rodin museum in Paris. I love sculpture and three-dimensional art.

What's the greatest threat to art today?
The greatest threat to the world today, and this translates to art, is fanatical monotheism. And maybe that also translates into extreme conservatism.
What work of art would you most like to own?
My favourite painter is Kandinsky, but I couldn't pick from among his work. The way he uses colour is so inspiring.
Complete this sentence: At heart I'm just a frustrated ...
Carpenter and cook.
What do you know that no one else does?
That the only person who can really affect who I am and what I achieve is myself. You can choose to be your own best friend or your own worst enemy - that was a hard lesson to learn for me.
In the film of your life, who plays you?

A cross between Meryl Streep and Hilary Swank.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Leonard Bernstein said to me, in essence: "Don't try to be anyone else except yourself."
In short
Born: New York City, 1956.
Lives: Denver, Colorado.
Career: Became principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 2002. Recently appointed music director of the Baltimore Symphony, starting in 2007.
High point: "At the Tanglewood Music Center, in Massachusetts, when I conducted a concert with Leonard Bernstein."
Low point: "Getting started. You can't even practice - you have to have 40 people come round to your apartment."


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Portrait of the artist / Thea Sharrock / 'Bureaucracy is the greatest threat to art today'

Portrait of the artist

Thea Sharrock


'Bureaucracy is the greatest threat to art today - we're such a box-ticking society'

Interview by Natalie Hanman

Tuesday 21 November 2006 00.09 GMT

What got you started?
A play called The Suit, directed by Barney Simon.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Winning the James Menzies-Kitchin award for young directors in 2000, which enabled me to direct Top Girls by Caryl Churchill.
Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?
What one song would you choose as the soundtrack to your life?
Ain't Nobody by Chaka Khan.
What's your favourite film and why?
Fletch with Chevy Chase, because the Moon River part still makes me laugh.
What cultural tip would you give a tourist about Britain's arts scene?
Save up.
Vinyl or MP3?
Vinyl, every time. Some bits of history are worth preserving, and vinyl is going to be wiped out pretty soon - so someone's got to stand up for it.
What's the greatest threat to art today?
Bureaucracy. It's an extension of political correctness - the world we now live in is such a box-ticking society. Surely the arts should be the most important thing.

What work of art would you most like to own?
Any late Matisse.
Best thing on TV at the moment?
The Sopranos.
Complete this sentence: At heart I'm just a frustrated ...
Midfield playmaker.
What do you know that no one else does?
How much I love my husband.
In the movie of your life, who plays you?
Natalie Portman.
Who do you envy?
People who work nine till five.
Who would you most like to work with?
Paul Newman. He's one of the greatest actors we've ever been lucky enough to have, and to work with him on stage would be amazing.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
When I was assisting, the director Dominic Cooke told me: "Always try to work with people who are better than you." I will always remember that.
In short
Born London, 1976
Lives London
Career Directed Top Girls at the Battersea Arts Centre in 2000. Artistic director of the Southwark Playhouse, 2001-2004; artistic director of the Gate Theatre, London. Currently directing Eugene Ionesco's The Chairs at the Gate until December 16.
High point "I hope I haven't had it yet"
Low point "Fringe theatre wages"

Thursday, November 16, 2006

My best shot / Mario Testino / Eva Herzigova

Mario Testino's best shot

Interview by Leo Benedictus
Thursday 16 November 2006 12.01 GMT

t the time, Eva Herzigova represented Wonderbra, which stood for exuberance, glamour, excess. But just because she could do glamour well didn't mean she couldn't do anything else. My reaction was: let's make her look the extreme opposite of what she is meant to look like. People were also seeing me as the person who had done Gucci, which is sexy, and this picture is completely the opposite. So it's saying: don't limit me.

The shoot took place one day at a studio in Paris. We bought a lot of blood from the butcher down the road - and we kept on bringing more. It was a disgusting experience, because of the stench, but Eva was a total sport. Blood also goes brown pretty quickly, so we had to work quite fast. We did eight pages with Eva as a butcher, but this image always grabbed my attention - I don't know why.

It's a daylight picture, with all natural light. I used a Pentax 67. I can't remember the film - probably a Kodak 400 ASA colour negative. In this case, the picture had to be as raw as possible, so it probably had no retouching.
The photograph represents a period in my fashion work I am very attached to. It was one of a series of pictures I did in 1997 with Carine Roitfeld, now editor-in-chief of French Vogue, which wasn't about the photography itself, so much as the content.

There are never any absolutes in the fashion business: one day you may like black and the next day you like colour. I think it's a good lesson that we should never believe too much in any one thing - because the next day it's out, and if we're stuck to it, we're out, too.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Portrait of the artist / Will Alsop / 'I've learned never to trust anyone with big feet and a small head'

 'I'd like to do a gap year' ... Alsop painting in his studio
 Photograph by Sarah Lee

Portrait of the artist

Will Alsop
'I've learned never to trust anyone with big feet and a small head'

Interview by Natalie Hanman
Tuesday 24 October 2006 12.03 BST

The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and clarifications column, Thursday October 26 2006
The architect who gave Will Alsop the advice that Alsop quoted in the interview below, was Cedric (not Sedrick) Price.

In 1,000 years' time, what will your buildings tell us about the year 2006?
I'd be very surprised if they were still standing. That very fact would tell you how much society decided to spend on their buildings at that time.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Winning the Hôtel du Départment building in Marseille, where it came down to two architects, and the other was Norman Foster.
If you weren't an architect, what would you be?

A sculptor. I seriously considered doing that when I was younger, and it's something I adore.
What would you most like to forget?
2004, because that was the year the Fourth Grace [the 'Cloud Building', planned for Liverpool's waterfront] I was working on was abandoned, and it would have been a great building. I felt a deep loss.
What tip would you give to a tourist about Britain's arts scene?
Find out where people meet to eat and drink, and go there. Museums and galleries don't reflect what is going on in the arts scene in Britain today.

What song would feature on the soundtrack to your life?
Bob Dylan's Girl From the North Country.
Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?
My wife.
Are you fashionable?
No, neither in myself nor my work. Fashionability is not a consideration for architects.
Who would you most like to work with?
The French architect Jean Lavallée.
What cultural form leaves you cold or confused?
Rap. It all sounds the same unless you spend the time trying to listen. When I do, I don't understand what they are talking about.
What would you do with £1m?
I lust after one of those two-seater Bentleys. I'd like to do a gap year - go round the world, in the Bentley, with my wife.
Who's the next you?
Possibly Sean Griffiths of FAT [Fashion Architecture Taste].
Is the internet good for art?
I think so. Art becomes more accessible to a larger number of people, but there is no substitute for actually going to a building.
What are you doing tonight?

Sitting in the garden, drinking like mad.
What work of art would you most like to own?
The Endless Column by Brancusi.
What's holding you back?
In the UK, a general lack of clients with true architectural ambition.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Cedric Price, who I used to work with, told me: "You should never trust anyone with big feet and a small head." I always thought it was a funny thing to say, but I've found it to be true.
In brief

1947, Northampton




Creator of modernist buildings, distinguished by their use of bright colours and unusual forms. Established Alsop & Lyall with John Lyall in 1981

High point

Peckham library in south London

Low point

Plans for the 'Cloud Building' on Liverpool's waterfront were cancelled two years ago due to rising costs and unrealistic design. Soon after, his practice went into receivership

Portrait of the artist / Siri Hustvedt / 'I don't read reviews'

Portrait of the artist / Michael Rosen / 'Kids don't get the chance to enjoy poetry'

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Robin Williams / 'I was shameful, did stuff that caused disgust – that's hard to recover from'

Robin Williams
Poster by T.A.

Robin Williams: 'I was shameful, did stuff that caused disgust – that's hard to recover from'

His new film, World's Greatest Dad, is a glorious return to form. But a mournful Robin Williams would rather talk about his battle with drugs and alcohol – and recovering from heart surgery

Decca Aitkenhead
Monday 20 September 2010 08.00 BST

In the normal order of things, an interview with a Hollywood actor observes the form of a transaction. The actor wants to promote their film, and ideally talk about little else – least of all anything of a personal nature. The newspaper is mildly interested in the new film, but hopes they can be tempted to talk about other matters – best of all their private life. Sometimes the agreement is explicit, but most of the time it is mutually understood, and so the interview tends to proceed rather like a polite dance, with each party manoeuvring in its own interests. On this occasion, however, the convention appears to have been turned on its head.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Javier Marias / In search of lost time

Javier Marìas

Javier Marias: In search of lost time

The bestselling Spanish writer Javier Marias has been tipped as a future winner of the Nobel prize. Christina Patterson meets a masterly magician
Thursday 27 July 2006 23:00 BST

The King of Redonda lives in a flat in Madrid's oldest square, next to a medieval tower which was once a prison for King Francis I of France. His own kingdom is far away: a rocky island in the Caribbean, first named by Columbus and inhabited largely by goats. It is, says King Xavier I, who resumed the (metaphorical) throne in 1997, "a realm inherited through irony and writing, never solemnity and blood."
King Xavier I knows a great deal about irony. He knows a great deal about writing, too. He is better known, in fact, as Javier Marias, the Spanish novelist tipped as a future winner of the Nobel prize. Sales of his books worldwide have now topped five and a half million - and it's not hard to see why. Once bitten by the Marias bug - a mesmerising mix of fantasy, meditation and memory - readers are hooked. "Nothing will stop me from devouring all Marias's previous books," said Antony Beevor after reading his last novel, Fever and Spear. Well, Beevor can rest easy. Dance and Dream, the second volume in the trilogy (Chatto, £17.99; translated by Margaret Jull Costa), is published this week.
A Marias sentence is like a labyrinth. It is a place of infinite richness and surprises, a place full of fascinating byways and glimpses of a distant landscape that hoves into view and then fades away. It was, Marias tells me, in sentences that match the meandering quality of his written prose, a style he discovered only with his fifth novel, The Man of Feeling. His first novel, published when he was 19, was written in "much shorter sentences, like a script". After a second youthful effort, published when he was 21, he didn't publish anything for six years. At least, he didn't publish anything in his own name. Instead, he worked as a translator from Spanish to English, tackling not texbooks or travel guides, but Updike, Hardy, Faulkner and Conrad.

"Look!" says Marias, leaping up from his big, squashy sofa. "I have a letter from Conrad." He grabs a wooden frame from where it's propped up on the bookshelf, and takes it over to the window. Together we look at the polite words of that other word-perfect Anglophile, written to a prospective publisher in 1914. We are, in fact, surrounded by the literary greats. This room, overlooking that ancient square, is Marias's "English library". It is, like the whole flat - and another one downstairs - lined with beautiful old books. Collecting books is, as he explains in his memoir-cum-novel Dark Back of Time, one of Marias's obsessions. So, it seems from the piles of DVDs and videos, is film. And so are tiny tin soldiers.
"A translator is a very privileged reader," says Marias, returning to the sofa,and lighting a cigarette, "but he's also a very privileged writer - because he does rewrite a sometimes wonderful book. There is not such a big difference between writing and translating as people usually suppose... The way I write my own novels, I make a draft, and once I have a draft, even if it's a very rough draft, I work in a way that's not so different. I type it once and again, and then I make corrections and amendments, and then I retype it again. People are always telling me that I should use a computer, but I'm not interested in going fast. Precisely one of the reasons I type novels is to lose time."
Certainly, only someone with a major interest in "losing time" would have undertaken one of Marias's early translation projects, a Spanish version - with more than 1,000 footnotes - of Tristram Shandy. Sterne's "novel in digressions" clearly had a profound, and enduring, influence on his own work as a writer. "One of the things I learnt," confides Marias, "and Sterne learnt it from Cervantes, of course, is that the novel is the genre, or even the art, in which you can do more unlikely things with time. What interests me in a novel is to make exist the time in life that life doesn't allow to exist at all."
In The Man of Feeling, the narrator, an opera singer who lives much of his life in hotels in foreign cities, muses on a possibility glimpsed and then remembered. In that novel, the possibility, evoked with such extraordinary intensity that it sometimes makes you gasp aloud, is of romantic love. In A Heart So White, it is the possibility of a different version of the past, one triggered by a reported memory - the suicide of the narrator's father's previous wife - and one that will have a profound impact on all the relationships across the generations. "We have this tendency to tell what did happen," explains Marias, as he fiddles for another cigarette, "and we forget that we are also made of the things that didn't happen, of the things we discarded."
Marias has, in fact, devoted an entire book to this realm he calls, in a phrase culled from Shakespeare, the "dark back of time". Dark Back of Time was written as a follow-up to All Souls, a novel that drew heavily on his own experience as a young lecturer in Oxford. His witty portrayal of a community immersed in one-upmanship and gossip was greeted with an enthusiasm that proved remarkably literal-minded. Some of the greatest minds in the country were, it seemed, unable to distinguish between fact and fiction. Marias decided to set the matter straight, or at least to pretend to, in a book he playfully called "a novel", describing the reception of All Souls and the varieties of paranoia it provoked.
One of the characters whose fictionality was not questioned was, in fact, real: the "ill-fated, calamitous and jovial writer", John Gawsworth, whose real name was Terence Fytton Armstrong, but who also bore the splendid title "Juan I of Redonda". It was Marias's obsession with this wild beggar poet that led to the literary wild goose chase that ended, in a series of surreal twists, with his own inheritance of the Redonda crown. It is hard to think of a more appropriate metaphor for the wafer-thin line between truth and fiction, that "dark back of time", according to Marias, that "happens only in a sphere that isn't precisely temporal, a sphere in which writing, or perhaps only fiction, may - who knows - be found."
Marias's new novel, Dance and Dream, the second in a trilogy with the overall title Your Face Tomorrow (a trilogy that Marias claims is one long novel, published in three parts) continues to explore this theme, this time in the more dramatic fictional context of surveillance and espionage. In Fever and Spear, the narrator, Jacques Deza - yet another Anglophile Spaniard - is approached at a party in Oxford by an enigmatic figure whose occupation remains hazy. Deza is invited to work for a mysterious group whose activities seem to be based largely on the close observation of people's character and the prediction of their future behaviour. The prediction, that is, of their "face tomorrow".
Dance and Dream is based around a single evening in a nightclub, one that culminates in a violent scene with a sword in a disabled toilet. This being a Marias novel, it also drifts back to memories of the narrator's failed marriage, conversations with an old friend, the host of the party at Oxford, and with his father. At the heart of the novel is his father's betrayal by a close friend in the Spanish Civil War, a betrayal Marias's own father actually experienced. "We think we know people's faces," explains Marias, "we think we know more or less what we can expect from them.
"My father," he continues, "suffered a tremendous disappointment, but we have all had disappointments. Sometimes, afterwards, we think, yes, I did see this coming - or yes, I did see it, but I didn't want to see it. In the middle of a war," he says, "you can find the very worse behaviours and probably the very best as well. Everyone has his possibilities inside his veins, and it's a matter of time and it's a matter of circumstances. In a way that's the terrible thing in this book, you don't even know what you would do."
Marias is half way through the third volume in the trilogy and he doesn't yet know how it will end. "With the third volume," he declares, with a rueful smile, "I might ruin the whole thing, of course". I suppose he might, but I doubt it. This writer, who has always "felt like a foreign writer in my own language and in my own country"; this writer who lives in Madrid but writes a weekly column in El Pais attacking Spanish culture; this writer who inherited the crown of a legendary kingdom and who keeps the legend - and the joke - alive, has always done exactly what he wants - and he has done it brilliantly. "I just do my own thing," he shrugs. And then he lights another cigarette.
Biography: Javier Marias
Javier Marias was born in Madrid in 1951. He spent some of his childhood in the United States and wrote his first novel in Paris when he was 17. After studying literature in Madrid, he worked as a translator, translating the work of writers ranging from John Updike to Wallace Stevens. He has held academic posts in Spain, the United States and Britain and his books have been translated into 34 languages. They include the IMPAC-award winning, A Heart So WhiteAll SoulsThe Man of Feeling and the first two novels in a trilogy: Fever and Spear and Dance and Dream. Following the abdication of the "reigning" king, Jon Wynne-Tyson, in 1997, Marias was made King of Rodonda in 1997. He runs a small publishing house, Reino de Redonda.