Is New York Times classical music critic Allan Kozinn being silenced with a reassignment as cultural reporter? Not if anybody plays their cards even remotely right. Rather than being muted, Kozinn could well be amplified with a larger, broader platform. As a longtime New York Times reader who believes that the publication’s strength and quality can only help bolster the newspaper industry at large, I’m tentatively hopeful about Kozinn’s reported release from the daily reviewing grind.
When I go through a stretch of writing nothing but reviews, whether for the Philadelphia Inquirer or Gramophone magazine, I start to feel like an opinion machine, partly because I’m writing only what I know. When reporting, I’m bouncing what I know off of any number of experts. This is not to suggest that arts reporting should consist of confirming my preconceived opinions. But coming to the assignment with solid research, I’m going have some strong impressions about the person or institution I’m writing about – impressions that may have to be tossed overboard, but can easily throw off some stimulating creative sparks with the news sources I’m dealing with.
In theory, any truly savvy journalist can report on the arts. One successful case history is Dan Wakin, the former hard news reporter who has turned to the arts with excellent journalistic chops and a good set of ears. But Kozinn’s cultivation, experience and other positive qualities (as extolled on Norman Lebrecht’s blog) may well bring a different kind of arts journalism to the pages of The Times. Someone of Kozinn’s caliber is likely to ask that one extra question that truly takes you to the heart of whatever matter is at hand. I also know from talking to him that he has a healthy skepticism – an essential characteristic of great reporters.
Also, journalists need deep insight into the musical process to handle the divas – singers, conductors, etc. – that inevitably come our way. Sometimes they’re more frightened of us than we are of them. But when they know that their art is truly understood by the person they’re talking to, they open up in all sorts ways that even they don’t anticipate. My experience: Christoph Eschenbach described the Philadelphia Orchestra’s previous management as amateurish, Audra McDonald talked about her suicide attempt while at Juilliard and, most shocking of all, Pierre Boulez actually admitted that he had been wrong. (Once.)
If I can get this out of them, imagine what’s possible when somebody as smart, amiable and curious as Allan Kozinn probes the best artistic minds of our time?