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Allan Kozinn: Will he be muted or amplified?

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?

Comments

  1. “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.” This has been my experience also. The bane of creative artists is having to talk to a journalist who has no artistic sophistication and is just operating on a quick & easy template of banal questions.

    I agree with you David, and I think Kozinn will take artistic reportage to a new level.

  2. Terrific article. My only worry is whether the Times will let him be as good as he is. I’ve been in “cultural critic” positions and a great deal depends on who your editors are. John Rockwell and Philip Kennicott did brilliantly; I flopped out, but it wasn’t entirely my fault. So much depends on the culture of the paper. Still, it would be wonderful if this were the beginning of something new for Allan — I know he has lots to say.

  3. Richard Lee says:

    I don’t doubt that Allan Kozinn can and will continue to inform, excite and challenge us all as a ‘cultural reporter.’ Certainly the outrage and sorrow we’ve all been venting this past week has been leavened by expressions of confidence from Allan’s colleagues, from performers & composers, and from discerning music lovers. But, I share Tim Page’s mistrust of the editorial direction at the Times, and I fear it represents a subtle devaluing of something precious and central to the whole enterprise of making music:

    We all spend so much time in order to make music – time figuring out how the instrument works, how our bodies work, time figuring out what the dots on the page actually mean, how to hear what has been set down on paper and imagine what hasn’t, time getting our bodies and instruments to produce what we hear in our heads, time collaborating, and arguing, and compromising in order to make music with others.

    We spend all of thiis time in practice and exploration in order to invite an audience to also spend time, to join us in a period of shared reflection, and hopefully to spend more time still pondering what we’ve come up with. The wonderful thing about Kozinn’s critical writing is that he always seems to have invested just as much time and consideration as we have in the enterprise, and was just as fully involved in the conversation that is a musical performance..

    Now the Times has told us that this most knowledgable and thoughtful critic can better spend his time reporting on the background and business surrounding the music, rather than being part of a shared engagement with the music itself . I’m sure noone involved in the decision to reassign Kozinn has thought about it this way (or taken the time to consider it deeply at all.) But, intentionally or not, this represents a dismissal not just of our indivdual efforts, but of the intellectual context in which we work, perhaps even of an entire ‘way of knowing.’

  4. Carole Bailis says:

    An interesting take, David, and one that I hope comes to pass.

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