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Michael Shmith

Michael Shmith

Michael Shmith is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. His latest book, Merlyn (Hardie Grant, 2021) is a biography of the widow of Sidney Myer.

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics (Victoria and Albert Museum / Royal Opera House)

ABR Arts 27 November 2017
Opera is not a small artform. It is labyrinthine, multi-faceted, fraught with things that can go disastrously wrong (Wagner, especially), and it can be dreadfully expensive, formidably divisive, and astonishingly complicated. At the same time, opera is so necessarily crucial to culture as a reflection of history, thought, and society that one simply cannot imagine a world without it. The question ... (read more)

Michael Shmith reviews 'Ernest Newman: A critical biography' by Paul Watt

November 2017, no. 396 26 October 2017
Recently, the chief classical music critic of The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini, adroitly summarised the nebulous perils of his job: ‘Music, especially purely instrumental music, resists being described in language. It’s very hard to convey sounds through words. Perhaps that’s what we most love about music: that it’s beyond description, deeper than words. Yet the poor music critic has ... (read more)

Why I quit as opera critic of The Age

ABR Arts 14 August 2017
There was a time not that long ago when the arts pages of quality daily newspapers were regarded as essential reading as much for those inside the arts industry as outside it. Just as these newspapers were themselves papers of record, their arts pages existed primarily to record and sustain strong and informed critical opinion. Considered criticism has always been and will always remain the vital ... (read more)

Michael Shmith reviews 'The Day the Music Died: A life lived behind the lens' by Tony Garnett

December 2016, no. 387 30 November 2016
Tony Garnett, one of the most respected figures in British television drama, is also one of its most reclusive. Most people these days have almost certainly never heard of him, or, if they have, probably think he is a distant relation of Alf Garnett, of Till Death Us Do Part fame. Even though the cantankerous Alf was a fictional character (played by the great, late Warren Mitchell), there is a sl ... (read more)

A Survey of Classical Music Boxed Sets (Universal Music)

ABR Arts 14 November 2016
Part of the enduring attraction of CDs, is that the format is still the nonpareil of repertoire and artistry for dedicated collectors. The boxed set, which is of course not a new idea (think of Karajan’s 1960s set of Beethoven symphonies for Deutsche Grammophon), is ideally suited to CD, not just for technical convenience and historical importance, but for what you might call display purposes. O ... (read more)

Green Room | Michael Shmith interviews Brett Dean

September 2016, no. 384 22 August 2016
Brett Dean, perhaps Australia's pre-eminent composer and certainly one of its most productive, is personable, witty, and engaging. He talks with heartfelt eloquence about his work, but always with a refreshing directness and clarity that illuminates rather than obscures. Humour, too. This takes a special talent when the subject is Hamlet. The gloomy Dane is uppermost in Dean's mind at present, as ... (read more)

An A-Z of Alfred Brendel by Michael Shmith (Alfred Brendel: The Complete Philips Recordings. 114 CDs)

ABR Arts 01 August 2016
Why an A-Z of Brendel? Well, this is what the man himself has to say in the preface to his slim volume, A Pianist's A-Z: A piano lover's reader (2013): 'This book distils what, at my advanced age, I feel able to say about music, musicians, and matters of my pianistic profession ... Comprehensiveness is not an issue – my literary sympathies tend towards the fragment and the aphorism.' Brendel's ... (read more)

Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft: The Mono Era, 1948-1957

ABR Arts 29 April 2016
It is one of the most recognised symbols in the classical-record industry: German graphic designer Hans Domizlaff's crown of stylised tulips that constitutes the colophon (or logo, as we would now say) of Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft. Domizlaff sketched out the colophon in pencil on tracing paper in 1949. By this time, DG was an already venerable recording company (it was founded in 1898), an ... (read more)

Stage Door | Michael Shmith interviews Leo Schofield

April 2016, no. 380 24 March 2016
In the early 1990s, after Leo Schofield was – not without controversy – appointed the artistic director of the Melbourne Festival, Clive James referred to our own emerging cultural tsar as 'Australia's Diaghilev'. Which, I guess, retrospectively makes Sergei Pavlovich Russia's Schofield. There is an element of truth in James's witticism, especially these days when one considers the artistic a ... (read more)

Michael Shmith reviews 'Sinatra' by James Kaplan

January-February 2016, no. 378 18 December 2015
Just in time for the Frank Sinatra centenary – 12 December should be a gazetted public holiday – comes the thumping second part of James Kaplan's monumental biography. Taken together, Volume I – Frank: The Voice (2010, 786 pages) – and its behemoth successor, Sinatra: The Chairman (979 pages), comprise a formidable and scrupulously detailed account of the rise, fall, and resurrection of Sa ... (read more)
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