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July 21, 2005

Critics: more different than similar

Allan Kozinn is on target in his comments about power. However I, too, want to return to the blog’s original subject.

Try all you want to discover differences in classical criticism between countries -- you will fail to find generalized meaningful distinctions other than language. Not only are classical critics too small a statistical number, but this is an extremely individualistic field. The vast majority of music critics in the world know much more about the field than their editors or publishers, giving us an enormous amount of latitude compared to other members of the press – even columnists or critics in other departments. This has engendered individual approaches everywhere to covering the scene. No two daily staff critics run the classical beat or critique concerts the same way. Not in the way a sports report or a film review are written. The classical critic is the institution. There are probably more differences within the London critics as there are similarities; likewise in New York. There are critics in London and Vienna I have looked to for inspiration and technique as much as any in the U.S.

Topics that are important to one’s region – and even Carnegie Hall or the Barbican fall into this category – shape one’s coverage. But there aren't any critical "schools" these days, are there? The true difference is in individual taste and makeup. Our training is so varied! I study scores every chance I get, but I know critics whose only qualifications is avid listening. Some of us have academic backgrounds; others have performed at a high level. Some of us are opera buffs; some prefer instrumental genres. Some of us write eloquently; some write bluntly. Some have high IQs; some EQs. Some of us like to please people; some revel in dispensing pain. We are markedly different from each other.

I am not praising this situation or decrying it, it’s just the reality. I sometimes think we should come up with a licensing board for critics, one that demands a passing of a test or display of knowledge, but that would never work because this is a broad field – there are more ways to write a good review than play a Chopin Etude. This doesn’t mean we aren’t accountable, but we should recognize how varied that can be accomplished.

Posted by adruckenbrod at July 21, 2005 11:51 AM


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