mon 04/03/2024

Listed: theartsdesk's Greatest Hits | reviews, news & interviews

Listed: theartsdesk's Greatest Hits

Listed: theartsdesk's Greatest Hits

To celebrate theartsdesk's fifth birthday, we share your favourite reads

Can you identify them all? Tell us in the comments box

To celebrate our fifth birthday, we offer you an insight into what you, the readers, have devoured in the greatest numbers across the various art forms in both reviews and features.

Google Analytics has taught us a great deal about your reading habits, which we try to cater to while always remaining faithful to the original instincts which prompted us to found the site: to provide prompt and knowledgeable coverage of the arts, to be reliable and also provocative, to go deep where necessary or, if less so, skip lightly over the surface. We’re nothing without you lot. Thank you for reading us so loyally over the past five years.


theartsdesk Q&A

When we started in 2009 we felt strongly that we needed to offer a depth that you can’t get elsewhere. The interview is a staple of all media, so we decided to rejig the format by offering longform transcripts of career-overview conversations with substantial figures from the arts. The writer gets out of the way so that the readers can imagine themselves in the room. We’ve met everyone from Pierre Boulez to Michael Fassbender. But Joe Muggs’s encounter with the DJ Coki has proved the hugest hit of all.


Not all cultural coverage is about artistic expression. Ismene Brown was alive to news breaking in Moscow about ructions in the Bolshoi ballet, and brought to the UK a series of hugely influential articles to complement our unrivalled dance coverage. Most widely read was the first, breaking the news of the horrendous assault on Sergei Filin.

Last night on the small screen

This wasn’t a scheduled review, but such was the shock of watching Lord Fellowes kill off his first major character in Downton Abbey – even if it was at the request of actress Jessica Brown Findlay – that Jasper Rees knocked off a rapid reaction. The spoiler in the title got us into a bit of trouble. But readers have flocked to the review from all over the world as if in search of a place to grieve.

First Person

From the start we have always invited artists to guest on the site. Contributors to our First Person column include comedian David Schneider, choreographer Hofesh Shechter, novelist Jamila Gavin, KIng's Speech scriptwriter David Seidler, playwright Rona Munro, artistic director Barrie Rutter and poet Tom Paulin. Those were all commissioned in advance. The mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly would much rather not have had to write about her experience at this summer’s festival in Aix-en-Provence, but she felt compelled to do so and the result is a brilliant and immediate account of an opera performance disrupted by protests.

Last night on the big screen

Film is a competitive environment for online reviewers: there are a lot of sites all poring over the same releases. So which film review has been most read in our five years? Was it 12 Years a Slave or Harry Potter or a cult horror film? Was it hell. Emma Dibdin’s review of Magic Mike, all about male strippers, is a highly entertaining number one.

theartsdesk in…

In order to forestall the suggestion that our sole focus is the UK capital, we early on instituted a regular column known as theartsdesk in… We've been pretty much all over the planet from Banff to Taranaki. Frequent flyers include part-time Muscovite Tom Birchenough, Kieron Tyler travelling to all parts of Scandinavia, and one-man world music encyclopaedia Peter Culshaw getting to most corners of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Biggest read of the lot so far is Natalie Wheen’s report about ructions at La Scala in Milan, which shone a sharp light into a murky corner.


Our Opinion column is an outlet for venting outside the formal space of the review or the feature. This typically reasoned rant from Alexandra Coghlan was a response to a traumatic experience at the Proms, addressing the ever-vexed question of audience etiquette.

Last night live

Working out what you want to read about is an imprecise science, especially in the extremely broad church that is music. Other things are a dead cert: Tim Cumming’s review of the last night of Bob Dylan’s residency at the Royal Albert Hall lured countless Dylanologists eager to see the gig memorialised.


On theartsdesk we don’t have an obituary page. But when a major cultural figure dies, there is a writer on hand to assess his or her legacy, often simply from a profound knowledge of their work, sometimes by recollecting an encounter with the deceased. Readers flocked to Graeme Thomson’s concise and moving tribute to the Fife singer-songwriter Jackie Leven, including a clip of him performing.


Everybody does lists. They’re basic clickbait trotted out by all the broadsheets online: 10 Best This, 20 Worst That, 100 Sauciest Whatevers. We’ve tried to make our Listed column more surprising. We pooled our thoughts, for example, to list television's longest runners, actors playing themselves, female buddy cops and, when she turned 70, our favourite songs by Joni Mitchell. None has been more pleasurably perused than Fisun Güner’s tour of poems inspired by paintings.


Sometimes it’s not words that readers want. Hence the gallery. We’ve now covered five BBC Proms seasons, at the end of each of which we publish a hugely popular gallery of conductor portraits by Chris Christodoulou, who has been taking pictures in concert halls for more than 30 years. This year we’re going to try something slightly different, but here is last year’s incomparable selection.

Last night at the opera

In a culture which doesn’t quite know what to make of the art form, we make a constant case for opera with reviews that respond deeply and thoughtfully and sometimes (we make no apology) lengthily to operatic performances. David Nice’s magisterial review of Der Rosenkavalier at this year’s Glyndebourne is, typically, an archival account of a production readers won’t find anywhere else at the mere click of a button. 


Like everyone else we like to make a fuss when prizes are handed out to artists. Nobody obsesses over the Academy Awards like Matt Wolf, who has been sitting up for them for years. For the past five he has got up the next morning and filed an immaculately wry and witty piece about what went down in Los Angeles while the rest of us slept.


We reckon we’ve covered more festivals all over the world than any other outlet, online or in print, most notably the London Film Festival, Edinburgh and in Caspar Gomez’s illicit reports from the green fields of the music circuit. Biggest read of all – in length and popularity – was Caspar at Glastonbury in 2011. Fasten your seatbelt.

Last night in the concert hall

No arts outlet covers more classical recitals and concerts than theartsdesk. They're by no means all in London, and none has been more widely read than this overview of the 2012 Leeds piano competition by our classical CD columnist Graham Rickson

10 Questions

We introduced the 10 Questions slot for those shorter Q&As which don’t cover a life and a career but focus on one specific part of it (and don’t ask for quite so much of the readers’ time). It’s not always 10 questions exactly, but as near as makes no difference. Russ Coffey’s intriguing encounter with Yoko Ono produced a memorable, not to mention highly tweetable quotation about her role in the break-up of The Beatles.

Last night on the console

A couple of years down the line, we could no longer ignore the claim of gaming to art-form status, and the reviews are always compellingly readable even if you’ve never knowingly handled a console. Simon Munk’s assessment of Assassin’s Creed IV has so far proved the new release that, more than any other, gamers wanted to read about.

Disc of the Day

Radio 4 has Tweet of the Day. We have Disc of the Day: five CDs and two DVDs a week, the latter usually on Tuesdays and Fridays, a daily assessment of the new releases in music and film. You can set your watch by it. Bruce Dessau’s review of The Killers' Battle Born had Brandon Flowers fans flocking in its direction.

Last night laughing

There was only one contestant for this: the biggest moment in comedy in this or many other years. When Monty Python's Flying Circus reconvened a group of leathery gerontosaurs, 20,000 people were there to watch, including Veronica Lee.

theartsdesk's finest hour

In 2012 as part of the World Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare's Globe on the Thames mounted a season of 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 languages from all around the world. It’s our proudest hour as a collective that we covered the lot of them, giving equal weight to every single production. When the theatre's artistic director Dominic Dromgoole accepted the Critics' Circle special award last year for mounting Globe to Globe, in his speech he paid tribute to theartsdesk for championing the season.

And finally...

Early we took on board that what TV viewers really want to read about is not just the first episode but the last. We’ve covered a lot of series finales, most recently The Honourable Woman. But Adam Sweeting’s farewell to The Hour, though less than complimentary, has been the most popular read of all.


We felt strongly that we needed to offer a depth that you can’t get elsewhere

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