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July 21, 2005

Baltimore counterpoint; In Search of Lost (press) Time

There's already been a wealth of wide-ranging observations on the blog, so I'm going to add just a couple points on issues raised by colleagues.

I agree with many of Allan's comments, particularly on the mutability of reviews. I disagree with him on the long-term impact of the Baltimore imbroglio. Even if calculated, I can’t see how the ongoing Marin Alsop/Baltimore Symphony saga has been anything but a public-relations debacle for the orchestra. The fact that they were appointing a woman as music director, and one as well regarded as Alsop, would have been sufficient to get headlines and good press without any kind of devious web-spinning. The players may well have had worthy artistic grounds to object to Alsop; I wasn’t a fan of her recent Brahms recording either. But by barreling ahead without getting the musicians on the same page, the BSO management created an international embarrassment for a fine conductor and ensured that a cloud will hang over Alsop's tenure for years to come.

On the desirability of assigning different writers for advances and reviews: probably 80% of us are the only people handling our beats at our papers. Without the staff or resources available, we wind up covering nearly all aspects of the music beat---news, obits, arts reporting---ourselves. I can’t say this is a bad thing. True, there are times when one is chasing a hot story and regular music coverage can suffer, but that’s part of what makes journalism unpredictable and exciting. Shortly after I took up my present post the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra went on strike---hopefully, there was no connection---and I was effectively a labor reporter for two months, which was draining but rewarding. I think being forced to wear an assortment of journalistic headwear teaches versatility and a certain mental discipline (or, perhaps, as Allan said, “schizophrenia”) when one writes a positive feature on an artist and then must dispassionately evaluate their performance in a review.

I wonder if anyone feels that the trend towards increasing tardiness of reviews appearing in print has the effect of making classical music coverage seem irrelevant, both inside and outside of the newsroom. When I was a freelance critic for the Chicago Tribune in the 1990s the paper had an Overnight Page on the back of the A section, which was full of reviews, many from the previous night, often with live color art. That page and the concept of overnight reviews in general seem to have gone the way of the dodo bird. There's a vigor and freshness to next-day publication that make the arts beat exciting and the paper more attractive to readers. That edge gets dulled when a review runs 3, 4, or 5 days after an event. I can get reviews posted more quickly on our website. But by going to the web to provide readers with timely coverage, we inadvertently accelerate the demise of the traditional, hard-copy newspaper. Who wants to read a stale review of a Friday night concert in Tuesday’s paper when you can get it online by Saturday noon for free?

Posted by ljohnson at July 21, 2005 06:45 PM


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