Grand Season Finale This Weekend

SEASON CLOSES WITH EPIC CHORAL WORK Our season concludes on Saturday evening, April 11 at the...

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BUDAPEST (Reuters) - It sounds like the musical equivalent of Hungarian goulash: take the gypsy fiddles of a leading folk band, blend them with the drums, bells and xylophones of the country's top percussion ensemble, then stir and season to taste.

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca left the audience roaring for more at the end of a recital in Budapest which might have seemed a little short on substance were her singing not so outstanding.

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese artist on trial for obscenity after making objects modeled on her vagina said on Wednesday that there was nothing wrong with her artwork and her arrest showed how far Japan was behind the West in terms of sexual equality.

ROME (Reuters) - Rome's opera house has brought down the curtain on years of losses and infighting and started breaking even after cutting costs, taking special state funds and reaching a peace deal with fractious employee unions.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A 1947 Giacometti sculpture is poised to set a record next month when it hits the auction block for the first time ever and is expected to sell for $130 million, Christie's said on Wednesday.

Sports News

(Reuters) - The Edmonton Oilers won the National Hockey League's draft lottery on Saturday, giving them the opportunity to select 18-year-old phenomenon Connor McDavid with the first overall pick in June's draft.

FAR HILLS, New Jersey (Reuters) - Gil Hanse designed the course that will stage the return of golf to the Olympics in 2016 for the first time in 112 years and knows the stakes are high for the sport.

(Reuters) - Unheralded American Troy Merritt moved one step closer to his maiden PGA Tour title by claiming a three-stroke lead after Saturday's third round of the RBC Heritage in South Carolina.

MANAMA (Reuters) - Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton expects resurgent Ferrari to be hard to beat in Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix and Sebastian Vettel hopes to prove him right.

MONTE CARLO (Reuters) - World number one Novak Djokovic laid down an early French Open marker when he reached the Monte Carlos Masters final with a comprehensive 6-3 6-3 win over eight-times champion Rafa Nadal on Saturday.

Science News

New York, NEW YORK - Scientists at Columbia University in New York have successfully built a camera that is capable of producing images using power harvested from the surrounding incident light. 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - The United States needs disruptive new technologies, new ways of acquiring equipment and bandwidth, and closer ties with global allies to stay ahead of growing challenges in space from China, Russia and others, the head of U.S. Air Force Space Command told Reuters.

Texas, Houston, U.S. - Driving NASA's Modular Robotic Vehicle (MRV) looks out of this world - and the leading space agency say this might one day be a possibility.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Everyone's body is brimming with bacteria, and these microbes do plenty of good things like building the immune system and helping digestion. But modern diets, antibiotics and hygiene seem to be reducing the range of microbes occupying our anatomy.

LONDON (Reuters) - A pioneering stem cell treatment for patients disabled by stroke has continued to show long-term promise in a clinical trial, the British biotech company behind the project said on Friday.

Movie Reviews

As districts are devastated above ground, other struggles rage underground. We’re not just talking Woody Harrelson’s straggly Games vet Haymitch Abernathy’s problems with “prohibition”, either. With her role beefed up from Suzanne Collins’ third and final Hunger Games novel, how can Elizabeth Banks’s future fashion grotesque Effie Trinket hope to look ab fab in a rebel hold-out with serious wardrobe issues?

Given Effie’s egregious situation, it’s a wonder she looks as presentable as she does. For Effie, read Mockingjay - Part 1. Even with the odds against him, returning director Francis Lawrence joins sturdy-handed writers Peter Craig (The Town) and Danny Strong (The Butler) to mount a rich, punchy, well-paced treatment of a tricky novel: an unlikely victory comparable to felling hoverplanes with arrows.

After all, the outcome was never certain. If Gary Ross’s first Hunger Games flick benefitted from lunging fast into the arena, Catching Fire repeated the trick and proved it stood repeating. Now that Katniss Everdeen’s revolt at Fire’s climax has pushed the future districts into a climate of unrest, countered by state oppression, there are no games to play but political ones. This time, it’s war? Yes, but for unwary viewers expecting the fun stuff of bonkers baboons terrorising teenagers it could just be a bore.

The issue of division is equally sticky. Tackling an already divisive novel with the divisive decision (see The Hobbit, Deathly Hallows) to divide it into two movies, the third and fourth Games films raise a question: how many divisions can a story take without collapsing?

But Part 1 holds up, mostly, with Jennifer Lawrence doing some proper heavy lifting. On the page Katniss initially lacks her old spark, a point flagged on screen by District 13 President turned rebel Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) when she tells rebel-leader Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), “This is not the girl that you describe.” As Plutarch and Coin slowly coerce Katniss into becoming a symbol for revolt against the venomous President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) decadent Capitol, the plot rests less on scraps than strategy; less on action than debates about how to start the action; and less on Katniss than the absence of the girl on fire. With heavy doses of recap and semi-meta stuff about making propaganda movies stacked on top, the focus shift threatens to distance viewers.

But J-Law tugs us in to Katniss’ fraught humanity, invoking memories of Aliens’ harrowed Ripley as she wakes from troubled sleep in District 13’s rebel base. (And yes, the ginger cat is here.) These layers of trepidation firm up Katniss’ position as a reluctant hero we can engage with, not a superhero: qualities rare enough in some A fiction, let alone YA fiction.

Francis Lawrence pushes YA boundaries further as Katniss visits districts decimated by Snow’s army, where streets spill with skulls. When Katniss, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and a rag-tag propaganda film crew explore the devastated District 8, a makeshift hospital oozes with what censors like to call “injury detail”. If the reverence for Katniss among the wounded verges on cheesy, the rubble-strewn war-zone images and ear-bashing hoverplane attacks imbue Katniss’ subsequent big speech with a sense of high-stakes potency. As she “becomes” Katniss again here, Lawrence steers her fear and rage into air-punching “Get away from her, you bitch!” terrain.

If one particular District 8 atrocity seems torn from today’s headlines, the rebel debates about how to use the media as a weapon are equally, achingly of the now. But Mockingjay isn’t a course in Advanced Media Know-how: the two-part split provides the elbow room needed to flesh out a boosted character count. In his last bow, Hoffman invests Plutarch with weathered heft. Judiciously expanding the novel beyond Katniss’ perspective, added Coin-age benefits from Julianne Moore’s authoritative delivery. Good, no-nonsense ground-level support comes from Natalie Dormer’s Cressida, sort of Kate Adie with face tats.

Less successful is the decision to boost Effie’s role: like Derek Zoolander gate-crashing Fury to pimp a tank, she lightens the tone but draws sniggers. The vote’s still out (and probably out for good) on the narrative value of Gale’s charisma vacuum, though less is more for Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta. Seen largely through ambiguous TV broadcasts, his arc ranges smartly from turn-coat interviews with Stanley Tucci’s Capitol creep Caesar to well-administered shocks.

Even with the pace-dampening burden of time spent on Katniss visiting old haunts, Francis Lawrence makes up for the arena’s absence with punch-packing action jolts. The rebel assault on a dam is Lord Of The Rings-sized. Later, a tense night-time raid on the Capitol successfully splices sprawling effects work with grounding war-movie grit.

These beefed-up action beats are well integrated with Katniss’ viewpoint, especially when the Capitol incursion runs parallel to a tense vid-screen stand-off between two key verbal combatants. That poised weighting holds until the climactic cliffhanger, a better-paced send-off than the sudden drop that closed The Desolation Of Smaug.

Francis Lawrence faces more trials tackling Collins’ rushed finale in Part 2, but the two-film split could give him vital air, assuming he doesn’t go all Return Of The King on us. “I’m optimistic,” shrugs Plutarch at one point, facing a new dread. On the strength of this gutsy, considered rewrite of the Games’ rules, there’s reason to be.

Stills of Tom Hardy pursing his lips at a puppy might have made Twitter melt, but The Drop did well to change its title from Animal Rescue. This is no cutesy romcom or inspirational adventure but rather a downbeat, character-driven crime drama set in a squalid neighbourhood of Brooklyn. Facial stubble and handguns are de rigueur, for this, as the opening voiceover goes, “is where all the things happen that you’re not allowed to see.” Running bar for his Uncle Marv (James Gandolfini in his final big-screen role), Bob Saginowski’s (Hardy) life turns upside down when he’s robbed at gunpoint. The money belongs to the Chechen mob – they were using Marv’s bar as the drop point for their bookmaking business – and Bob and Marv need to get their hands on $5K fast. Enter Twitter’s favourite pup, found by Bob in a trashcan on his way home. The bin belongs to Nadia (Noomi Rapace), and the dog, it transpires, was stuffed there by her headcase ex Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts). Bob takes it home and begins a tentative friendship with Nadia, his actions inevitably met by sinister visits from Eric and an escalating tension that promises violence. The US debut of Belgian filmmaker Michaël R. Roskam (2011’s Bullhead), The Drop, based on Dennis Lehane’s short story, melds European sensibilities with the tropes of an American crime picture. The dilapidated setting and its hardscrabble inhabitants are observed with an outsider’s eye and an insider’s knowledge, while the narrative simmers rather than bubbles over like so many Hollywood thrillers. Gandolfini, in Nike tracksuit and leather jacket, is as tough and tender as ever, and a hesitant, slouching, mumbling Hardy evokes Stallone’s Rocky and Brando’s Terry Malloy – perhaps a little too consciously. Over-familiarity clings to The Drop, but it’s a crafted, admirable picture with a halo of hope around its melancholic heart – a melancholy deepened, of course, by Gandolfini’s passing.

With a title like The Imitation Game, you’d be forgiven for expecting a contemporary CIA thriller – rather than a carefully constructed character study of one of WW2’s largely unsung heroes. It’s centred on Alan Turing, the man responsible for cracking the Nazis’ Enigma cipher, thus helping end the war. Enemy dispatches, however, are not the only guarded secrets. Bletchley Park’s efforts to outthink the Germans’ most cunning device has been covered before in Michael Apted’s Enigma (2001), where Dougray Scott played a vague approximation of Turing. But this digs far deeper. Adapted by first-time screenwriter Graham Moore from the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, the story begins in 1952, several years after Turing’s moment of triumph, when the police (led by Rory Kinnear) investigate a suspicious break-in at his house. Benedict Cumberbatch swiftly and compellingly differentiates Turing from his other ‘genius’ roles – Stephen Hawking, Sherlock – though the latter flashes through when the narrative winds back to 1939, as Turing enters Bletchley for the first time. Arrogant and assured, he’s also uncompromising and unpopular, divorced from the Matthew Goode-led codebreaking team. When Turing demands to be put in charge, even petitioning PM Winston Churchill, it seems never in doubt that he’ll solve the riddle of the Enigma machine, a device that changes its settings every 24 hours to make detecting coding patterns nigh-on impossible. But this achievement, aided by Keira Knightley’s crossword-fanatic Joan Clarke and under the watchful eye of Mark Strong’s MI6 operative, is only part of The Imitation Game, which takes a darker turn with revelations that Turing is gay. The result is less a portrait of WW2 innovation than it is of a man drowning in secrets at a time when homosexuality was illegal. He even asks for Joan’s hand in marriage – but theirs was always more friendship than frisson. Given the frequent shots of Turing in training (he was also a marathon enthusiast), you’re left to wonder if he’s running from himself – or public censure. Director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters), essays the same attention to detail that fellow Scandinavian Tomas Alfredson brought to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. If The Imitation Game doesn’t emulate that film’s dazzling direction, it equally captures the texture of past British life and features a similarly exemplary Cumberbatch-inclusive ensemble. Only this time, he leads from the front, pouring body and soul into Turing. Cracking, you might say.

The world’s most influential film critic, the late Roger Ebert knew the importance of good direction. That Ebert chose Steve James to direct this exceptional documentary, based on his own memoir, says much about its subject’s character. Ebert always believed in cinema as a machine for generating empathy, citing James’ Hoop Dreams as a classic example. With full access to Ebert during the final months of his life, James brings the same insight here. Critical peers debate his legacy here: did Ebert’s famously populist, “thumbs up” approach to cinema dumb things down, or help to pioneer the internet’s renaissance in grassroots criticism? Meanwhile, directors like Martin Scorsese recount the double-edged sword of Ebert’s patronage: every good review a boost, every bad notice a blow. A truly rounded, complex character emerges, especially in the central relationship with TV show co-host Gene Siskel, Ebert’s equal and opposite. Yet, as the title suggests, there was more to Ebert than watching movies. James reveals parallel lives: the student editor who spoke out for civil rights; the rambunctious reporter nearly destroyed by alcoholism; the mischievous screenwriter behind Russ Meyer’s manic Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. James follows each facet thematically as much as chronologically; the mosaic resembles not only Ebert’s beloved Citizen Kane but also the treasured jigsaw puzzle that provides a stand-out moment. Latterly, of course, there was Ebert the cancer sufferer, robbed of his voice but reaching new readers via his blog. Ordered by Ebert to show “the full reality”, James achieves an unvarnished, desperately sad portrayal of this once towering figure reduced to frailty and discomfort. Ebert eventually becomes too ill even to reply to emails – yet the film’s power lies in its use of archive footage, voiceover and even Ebert’s computerised speech translator to keep the writer’s voice alive.

The feature debut of Irish director brothers Rob and Ronan Burke, Standby is a gentle, funny rom-com for which the term ‘heart-warming’ might have been coined. Alan (Brian Gleeson, son of Brendan) lives a dead-end life, manning the tourist-info desk at Dublin airport, when back into his life swims Alice (Mad Men’s Jessica Paré), with whom he shared a brief romance eight years ago in New York. Her NYC flight’s not till the next day, so he offers her a night on the town – strictly on a platonic basis, of course. Ok, you can guess how it’ll end – but getting there is a delight.

CD Reviews

- Sukhdev Sandhu

This history of Bristol’s erstwhile independent record store Revolver is a bittersweet homage to a hallowed place

As an undergraduate at the University of Bristol in the early 1990s, Richard King spent almost as much time in the city’s record shops as he did in the library. One shop in particular – Revolver, founded in the early 1970s, lacking a window display and accessible only via a small flight of stairs, offered him an alternative education in the wilder shores of jazz, reggae, post-punk and country music. He even worked there for three years after leaving college. Original Rockers, its name taken from an Augustus Pablo LP, is a remarkable memory fugue, a work of rapture and reverie, a bittersweet and often moving tribute to a hallowed place.

Revolver didn’t stock only independent records, but it liked to honour independent-minded artists such as Captain Beefheart, Townes Van Zandt and the English improv trio AMM, one of whose albums King describes as operating “beyond tonality, noise or improvisation... the sound of ideas having a black mass or, occasionally perhaps, an orgy”.

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- Guardian Staff

What the critics thought of Peter Ackroyd’s Alfred Hitchcock, Irvine Welsh’s A Decent Ride and Philip Glass’s Words Without Music

Reviewing Peter Ackroyd’s Alfred Hitchcock in the Daily Telegraph, Duncan White points out that both subject and author “were brought up in strict Catholic households in lower-middle-class London and both were boys in whom there was a contradictory mix of shyness and ambition. Both developed an insatiable appetite for work. Both publicly declared themselves celibate.” What’s more, “Ackroyd, who is gay, points out that homosexuality is ‘almost a leitmotif’ in Hitchcock’s films.” So while the book is “without any fresh revelatory material”, as the great films roll by “and Hitchcock refines his Hitchcock act, Ackroyd exploits small insights to extrapolate a tangible personality”. For Louise Jury in the Independent, “while no life of Hitchcock can be entirely dull, it is hard not to conclude that Ackroyd on Hitchcock was something of a quick-fire exercise in precis … For all the felicitous phrasing, a sneaking suspicion of a book written in haste remains.” Ian Thomson in the Financial Times was more positive: “Ackroyd’s biography is a deft synthesis of numerous other studies of ‘Alfred the Great’; it is well written … and unusually well attuned to the religious element.”

Reviews of Irvine Welsh’s A Decent Ride, described by his publishers as his “filthiest book yet”, have been cagily positive, though have treated it perhaps as something strange or exotic. “I think it’s safe to say,” wrote James Walton in the Spectator, that Welsh “is not a writer who’s mellowing with age. His latest book sees the return of ‘Juice’ Terry Lawson from the novel Glue … now an Edinburgh taxi driver in his mid-40s but still, in the face of some competition, possibly the most priapic character Welsh has ever created.” For a while the novel “looks as if it might resemble an extended prose version of Sid the Sexist from Viz comic” yet “Terry is extremely good company: funny, often quite kind and with a genuine, if highly individual, sense of morality … Readers looking for literary decorum or flawlessness should definitely look elsewhere. If, however, you fancy an authentic and often thrilling blast of full-strength Irvine Welsh, then you’re in for a treat.” According to John Sutherland in the Times, “Bubbling underneath all the merry filth is the question ‘Who owns Scotland?’. Recent surveys record that half of the country’s land is owned by 500 people, overwhelmingly non-Scots. The owners used to be English aristocrats who valued grouse above crofters. Nowadays it’s more likely to be the internationally mega rich … The Scots, this amusing and thought-provoking novel implies, are mad as hell about it.”

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- Tim Ashley

Royal Festival Hall, LondonJuraj Valcuha masters complex orchestration and opulent textures with rigorous control in one of the most thrilling performances of the year

Juraj Valcuha inherited his latest Philharmonia programme from Lorin Maazel, who scheduled it before he died in July last year. Maazel’s taste for complex sonorities and opulent textures frequently led him to a late 19th- and early 20th- century repertoire that links post-Romanticism extremes to burgeoning modernism. In this instance, he elected to place Respighi’s Roman Trilogy alongside Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain.

It’s a tricky programme. Both works are masterpieces of orchestration that examine national preoccupations in terms that we are apt to find exotic and, in Respighi’s case, sometimes extravagant. This is music that risks interpretative self-indulgence and the danger of overload. It has also become commonplace to argue that the final part of Respighi’s trilogy, Feste Romane, lags behind its companion pieces, The Fountains and Pines of Rome, in quality.

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- Caroline Sullivan

Barbican, LondonO’Connor’s remains a singular character, conjoining sacredness and earthiness in a set that spans nearly every filament of her career

It takes a certain courage for a singer who is not yet 50 to announce on stage that she’s about to become a grandmother, but Sinéad O’Connor has been there, done that and literally got the T-shirt. It’s purple and says “Grandma” on it, with a pink star beneath the word. Halfway through her set, she gestures at it and says: “I’m wearing this T-shirt because it’s all about being a granny.” As the audience “aaaah”s, she adds: “This song’s for my little grandchild.” It’s The Healing Room, a burnished country-rock track that starts with the lyrics, “I have a universe inside me / where I can go, a spirit guides me.”

As both granny-to-be and artist of 30 years’ standing, O’Connor is a singular character. Few other singers so seamlessly conjoin sacredness and earthiness: even when grumbling about ill-fitting in-ear monitors or dedicating Dark I Am Yet Lovely to “a certain gorgeously smelling man I met recently”, she exudes an otherworldly aloofness. It’s magnified during a solo acoustic segment. Singing Black Boys on Mopeds – which fetches the loudest applause of the night for its first line: “Margaret Thatcher on TV, shocked by the deaths that took place in Beijing” – she’s vulnerable yet untouchable.

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- Sam Wolfson

Sam Wolfson hurls himself at the week’s new tracks and, in Madonna’s case, wishes he hadn’t...

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Book Reviews

Top 5 at a Glance1. THE CONFESSION, by John Grisham2. WORTH DYING FOR, by Lee Child3. AMERICAN ASSASSIN, by Vince Flynn4. THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, by Stieg Larsson5. SIDE JOBS, by Jim Butcher

Top 5 at a Glance1. LIFE, by Keith Richards with James Fox2. BROKE, by Glenn Beck and Kevin Balfe3. EARTH (THE BOOK), by Jon Stewart and others4. THE LAST BOY, by Jane Leavy5. AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN, VOL. 1, by Mark Twain

Top 5 at a Glance1. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, by Stieg Larsson2. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, by Stieg Larsson3. THE FINKLER QUESTION, by Howard Jacobson4. LITTLE BEE, by Chris Cleave5. CUTTING FOR STONE, by Abraham Verghese

Top 5 at a Glance1. THE LOST SYMBOL, by Dan Brown2. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, by Stieg Larsson3. THE RECKLESS BRIDE, by Stephanie Laurens4. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, by Stieg Larsson5. 61 HOURS, by Lee Child

Top 5 at a Glance1. EAT, PRAY, LOVE, by Elizabeth Gilbert2. INSIDE OF A DOG, by Alexandra Horowitz3. STONES INTO SCHOOLS, by Greg Mortenson4. THE GLASS CASTLE, by Jeannette Walls5. THREE CUPS OF TEA, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

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‘Send This Instead’ App Gives Kids an Alternative to Sexting

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