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Sorry Mr. Canning, your comments about not working for record cos. don't ring true because you've been caught on video! In the video presskit issued by Decca around a Vivaldi CD, there you are with Cecilia Bartoli strolling the streets of Venice and talking about Vivaldi. I wondered at the time, as a former employee of the late Philips Classics, how that it was possible for a critic to work both sides of the fence. So to hear you protest about the practice now is a bit much.

posted by Mary Jo | 07/26/05, 10:36 AM | permalink
re: US versus Europe

I love the idea that there is no more connection needed btween pop and classical music other than the fact that they are both music. There are so many connections that are ignored or denied simply because these artificial barriers have been erected between genres.

As far as the benifit to your readers of writing about more than one area, I would say (as one of them) that I love having the sense that you know how every piece you write about fits into a larger picture - not just within the history of a genre, but where it fits in TODAY's musical world.

If nothing else, perhaps the people who read your reviews of the latest White Stripes album will also turn to read your writing on the latest TSO concert.

I am curious, though - have you ever had an editorial problem with your language being too "pop" for a classical music review? Or to eriudite for a pop music review? Do you try and adjust between the genres?



posted by Claire Blaustein | 07/22/05, 02:11 PM | permalink
re: Who Cares If They Read?

It is interesting that the stated focus of this collective blog was to compare American and European journalism, and that almost no one said much about that. The first problem is the Anglo-American orientation. Not a single critic from the continent was included. This is ironic because both Germany and Austria have 23 times more full-time, year-round orchestra per capita than the USA, and about 28 times more opera houses.

These numbers create some astounding results. In any give week, there are probably more orchestral and opera performances in Germany and Austria than the rest of the world put together. So why leave them out of this discussion? The French government spends more per capita on culture than any other country in the world. Little Finland, with a population of only 5 million, is a dominant force in the world of classical music.
The list of examples could go on and on.

The Anglo-American orientation of the blog creates a kind of WASP provincialism that seems to characterize the demographics of American classical music. (Doug, this is a great idea, and the next time I can help you include some critics from the continent if you want.)

I do not think European music journalism has higher standards than America’s, but there are contextual differences that are significant. The first is that the intellectual and political climate on the continent (and even in Britain) is much more varied than in the States. The parliamentary system of government allows for a wider spectrum of active political thought. Parties ranging from Fascists to communists and everything in between usually have at least some small voice. Through the traditions of philosophers such as Adorno, Heidegger, Sartre, Habermas, Derrida, Foucault and many others, the range of accepted political discussion is much wider than in America. This also affects the range of political expression among musicians. Political artists such as Henze and Nono are well-known examples. (In the US, their entire political spectrum was eradicated (exterminated?) during the McCarthy era, even though it been quite vital during the 30s and 40s.) Naturally, the wider spectrum of European political discourse affects music journalism in ways that are probably obvious, and varies significantly from the cultural world shaped by America’s two party system – which at times is almost like a one party “Republicrat” government.

In Germany, for example, some of the country’s major papers are actually party organs, such as Die Zeit, owned by the Socialist Party (which currently governs the country) or Die Tageszeitung which is owned by the Green Party. Die Zeit is Germany’s intellectual paper of choice, a weekly with a position somewhere between The New Yorker and The New York Times. In Italy, several of the papers have an openly acknowledged party affiliation. This is quite normal for Europeans.

Another significant determining factor is the geographic density of cultural activity. In the Ruhrgiet of Germany, there are probably ten full-time year-round orchestras and opera houses within about one hour’s journey. (I don’t have time to look up and list them, though that is easily possible.) In Baden-Wurttemburg, where I live, professional orchestras are everywhere. Freiburg, with a population of 80,000 has a full-time opera including a ballet, a full-time radio orchestra, and a full-time spoken theater, as does Mannheim, Karlsruhe, and Ludwigsburg. Stuttgart, with a populating of 500,000 has two full-time symphony orchestras, one of Germany’s best opera houses, an entire complex of spoken theaters, and a world famous ballet (though it has fallen in recent years.) Constance and Reutlingen, which are even smaller than Freiburg, also have full-time orchestras. There are many others, but I can’t even remember them all. Any of these cities can be reached from my remote town in a couple hours. There are five State Conservatories of Music (Musikhochschulen) in Baden-Wurtemburg alone. They are lavishly funded, even in these hard times. I know it is hard to believe, but since the training is largely one on one, the State spends more training a musician than a Doctor! (In Germany, medical classes are often quite large.)

This plethora of cultural activity strongly affects music journalism, because even papers in small towns need to have large cultural sections to cover all of the activities. Rottweil, the small town near where I live, only has a population of 20,000, but the local paper, The Schwarzwalder Bote, has at least a full page covering “high” culture every day. (Entertainment and media news is in a separate section.) It reports on the various concerts, operas and plays in the region and also address productions in the big houses. The discussion often compares productions in various houses. Try to imagine this sort of thing happening in the States. Even major cities like Tulsa, Toledo, Spokane, Portland, Miami, Atlanta, etc., etc. etc. hardly ever have genuinely professional opera productions, much less the ability to compare the work of several regional houses.

This is one reason the genre of Regie Theater exists in Europe. A mere opera production in Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Holland, or Scandanavia might be a commonplace banality if it were not given some sort of special spin. As so it is, that the Stuttgart Opera did a production of Der Freischutz, and that during the Wolf’s Glen scene, a six foot tall pink rabbit came on stage and masturbated its huge penis. Naturally, this gives the journalists something to write about….. (Fortunately, the music-making was to a higher standard.)

All of these institutions are entirely funded by the State, in stark contrast to the cultural plutocracy in America funded almost exclusively by the wealthy. The US system is in many respects a manifestation of Anglo-American class traditions, and makes the demographics of this blog especially ironic – as if Europe were only the UK. It is exactly the continental perspective that would be of most interest. So where are they? On the other hand, I can understand that Doug would not want to venture into linguistic problems, but there are many journalists on the continent who speak English very well, and could actively participate in discussions such as this.

I could go on and on, but I am in New Mexico for the summer and need to get back to plastering my house – and avoiding the temptation to get plastered myself. But one last thought. Anne Midgette is right about New York City provincialism. I just spent five months there. My conclusion is that it has the most over-blown cultural estimation of itself of any major city in the world. A hokey plutocracy with a big financial nightstick. And perhaps some of you know of my criticism of certain things European.
My apologies for being outspoken. This was written in extreme haste. I forgot to clean my wheelbarrow and I am afraid the plaster will harden in it.

William Osborne

posted by William Osborne | 07/22/05, 12:30 PM | permalink
re: Absent Critic Weighs In Late

It might be that Norman Lebrecht’s commentary that music critics are out of touch with the larger social forces of society is overstated, but I still think there is something to his point. It was very ironic to read one panelist’s comment about anti-Semiticism in 19th century Vienna and its limiting influence on the music journalism of the time.

As if all of that were just something of a distant past.

Let’s look at an astounding example in today’s Vienna and consider whether music journalists are out of touch. Until recently (June of 2003 to be exact,) the Vienna Philharmonic forbade membership to all people of color, since they felt such individuals would destroy the orchestra’s image of Austrian authenticity.[1] This policy of exclusion was especially directed toward Asian musicians, since many have obtained degrees at the Wiener Musikhochschule, have reached the highest professional standards, and live in Austria. In 2003, the orchestra hired its first person of color, the Japanese tubist, Yasuto Sugiyama, but his appointment was controversial, and he has since been fired. The ensemble is once again the only all-white major orchestra in the Western world.

Is this not something to write about?

The Vienna Philharmonic’s racial employment practices have been thoroughly documented by two highly recognized sociologists at the University of Vienna. [See: Dr. Elena Ostleitner, Liebe, Lust, Last und Lied (Wien, Bundesministerium fuer Unterricht und Kunst, 1995) p. 6, and Dr. Roland Girtler, "Mitgliedsaufnahme in den Noblen Bund der Wiener Philharmoniker Als Mannbarkeitsritual", Sociologia Internationalis, Beiheft 1 (1992).]

And yet not one of the distinguished participants in this panel has ever spared a single word about this overtly racist practice. Why? Are we supposed to think this sort of racism in the world’s most famous orchestra is irrelevant? Or are you sometimes a little out of touch with important social issues in music?

It is very fortunate that there has been a sea-change in musicology. Social issues such as sexism and racism in music are now closely studied, because they deeply affect the ways we create and perceive music. This is one reason the Marin Alsop story has been followed, and why journalists now have a body of information at hand about sexism in orchestras to which they can refer. (In his Washington Post article about Alsop’s tribulations, for example, Tim Page quoted from one of my articles.)

And needless to say, these social issues in classical music are of great interest to the public. Articles about them sell papers.

This comment by Fiona Maddocks is thus especially astounding:

“It doesn't mean we're not aware of changing attitudes in musicology but it's an ephemeral and secondary past-time [sic] compared with trying to understand the music itself.”

The first irony is that, so far, she is the only woman participating in this panel – a lone Queen Bee among a hive of men. But, of course, musicology’s concern with sexism is just an ephemeral pass-time…. [As I was about to post this, I saw Ms. Midgette’s belated posting, though that hardly changes the obvious imbalance.]

If journalists think they are above reporting about overtly sexist and racist practices in music, then one must ask what value they have. Music journalism is enormously valuable because it reaches to broader social and aesthetic concerns of music that are of special interest to a general readership. You create a bridge between music and the world, and musicians and the public, that is vitally important. This requires a special kind of expertise. Musicianship can be important for your work, but there are better resources when it comes to score reading and such. Your value lies in addressing the larger social and aesthetic meanings of music for laymen. Without this vital function, classical music could hardly exist.

So when you avoid, and even refuse, to write about newsworthy issues like the Vienna Philharmonic’s astounding racism, you are neglecting basic professional responsibilities toward informing the public of issues that are deeply relevant to us all.

It is no wonder that Norman Lebrecht is probably the world’s most famous music journalist. For one thing, he has risen above the elitist and limiting perspectives of Anglo-American cultural plutocracy. And for a second, he has shown the courage to tackle difficult and controversial issues, even when it has entailed considerable risk.

Bravo to you, Mr. Lebrecht. And may the rest of you learn something from him.

William Osborne

[1] For more information about the Philharmonic's racial ideologies see: “Symphony Orchestras and Artist-Prophets: Cultural Isomorphism and the Allocation of Power in Music: at http://www.osborne-conant.org/phrophets.htm See also: "The Special Characteristics of the Vienna Philharmonic's Racial Ideology" at:
http://www.osborne-conant.org/posts/special.htm)] There are also two publications in German by Austrian sociologists that document the orchestra’s racism: Elena Ostleitner, Liebe, Lust, Last und Lied (Wien, Bundesministerium fuer Unterricht und Kunst, 1995) p. 6, and Roland Girtler, "Mitgliedsaufnahme in den Noblen Bund der Wiener Philharmoniker Als Mannbarkeitsritual", Sociologia Internationalis, Beiheft 1 (1992).]

posted by William Osborne | 07/22/05, 10:57 AM | permalink
re: It's all in the stars

Does Douglas's newspaper have a corrections column? In my comment yesterday on Drew McManus's ArtsJournal.com analysis of ICSOM Music Director, Executive Director, orchestral leader, and orchestral musician compensation data, in the U.S., I meant to write "... as opposed to $750,000 for the concertmaster/mistress...". Sorry for the error.

posted by Garth Trinkl | 07/22/05, 07:28 AM | permalink
re: Reporting and Ink Measurement


You ask "what sense" there is in writing about both classical and popular music. At a personal level, this is easy for me to answer. I write about all kinds of music because I'm interested in all kinds of music.

To me, it makes less sense to fracture the field than to encounter it whole. I don't know any dance critics who would refuse to write about Salvion Glover or Lar Lubovitch just because the principles underlying their work are so different from those of ballet.

I know that my classical background has had a big effect on my writing about pop. Most pop critics are Aristotelians. They tend to describe what they're hearing in terms of existing genres and the works of other, more established musicians ("reggae meets thrash-metal;" "Beatles-like"). They don't tend to listen all that closely to the sounds they're hearing. That's something that my years of classical experience, especially with new work, have trained me to do. As a result, for better or worse, my reviews aren't like those of most pop critics.

I'm sure my pop listening has affected my classical writing, though it's harder to say exactly how. Classical critics are mostly Platonists. They relate everything to a fixed ideal, either a score or a "definitive" earlier performance or both. Only when they write about new work do they adopt the Aristotelean attitude ("quasi-impressionist," "Stravinskyan," etc). Fixed ideals imply a fixed universe. My experience with the fluidity of pop has confirmed my belief that a "timeless" music culture is a contradiction in terms. Probably it has also encouraged me to think more sociologically about classical culture, and to question its very conflicted attitudes towards pleasure and the body.

As for what this does for my readers, I can't say. All I can do is to write as well as I can about things that capture my interest, and hope that someone will find the result worth reading. I would be curious to know how many look at pieces from both sides of the "great divide." I suspect the proportion is larger than you might think. The "classical audience" is no longer a community unto itself. When I asked Adrianne Pieczonka what was on her iPod, just before she sang Sieglinde with the Canadian Opera Company, she said "The White Stripes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs."


posted by Robert Everett-Green | 07/21/05, 02:52 PM | permalink
re: Who Cares If They Read?

Colin raises some interesting questions. Personally, I have become less interested in traditional reviews where subjective opinion is king and more interested in the kind of analysis of a piece, of a plot, of reflections on a performance or insights into the world of the musician, the audience, the way music works, etc. Not the "business" of music (although that can be interesting) but the way it works behind the scenes. It may be that music needs not more business stories but more stories that tell us more about how things are working as reports in the sports or business sections do -- who thought about what and who can do what- and who's hot and who's not and why? What is Mr Boulez thinking right about now and why does it matter? And Zarin Mehta? And do the Americans suffer from a lack of access to European composers? What impact does the radio have on people's musical taste. What do people really want to hear? And why does it cost so much to go to a concert? Why can't musicians afford to go to concerts?
I think features, analysis, what's going on in music, including concerts - and also an overview of concerts;. This week there are 28 piano recitals in NYC and the repertoire being performed includes:Ades, Ndodana, Bach, Kancheli, etc,
THere could be a chamber music look out info center: news form everybody's favorite string quartets (all 150 of them) - who is learning what repertorie and who is commissioning which composer and who is looking for a new violist and what is happening in their residency. What does UNiversity of Illinois in Champagne Urbana do when composer X comes to town - and what is the impact of the residency of the St Lawrence Quartet in Stamford. More and more musicians are doing residency activity - maybe this is a newsworthy as the wrong note in the Eflat Brahms sextet.. People might actually be interested in this kind of information. It may be of more interest than an ongoing avalanche of appreciations of the performance of the second theme in the scherzo movement of the Shostakovich cello sonata. What are the kinds of things that you like to talk about in the intermission? What are the tid bits that you pick up? What about the special access that music critics have to the press office - there is surely information there that would be of interest to interested readers at least as much as the notes on stage. Not to say that the appreciation is not welcome. But it is only part of what we are looking for in music. THe concert experiences, the love of music, the appreciation of its importance and of the living, breathing musicians who make it goes beyond just the notes on the page, which we hope come off the page. There is also the deep appreciation of context of the creation or of the new context of the current performance, which can lead to a sense of the place of the music in its moment.

If music critics or writers could do a better job of communicating the breadth of the sense of music which holds ones imagination and which makes some of us come back for more and more of old, new and yet to arrive music and musicians this would be the great achievement.

posted by Barbara Scales | 07/21/05, 01:09 PM | permalink
re: "just" a features writer

I think perhaps that the criticism Eatok imagines, a "hybrid, combining the feature, the review and what’s often called the 'think piece,'" already exists--on a small scale--not in print, but on the radio. A local example from Cleveland: Frank Hruby, Jerome Crossley and I offer "Considered Opinions" on WCLV 104.9FM after performances of The Cleveland Orchestra, Red, Apollo's Fire and other local entities. Our comments often touch on all three aspects in our three-plus minute spots (can't have too much talking on a classical music radio station--and rightly so). Coverage is not in depth and it's certainly compressed, but one hopes it might spark listeners to investigate on their own--and, as we know, things one discovers for oneself are often the things best-learned.

Hmm. Much as I love print and consider it my daily bread, perhaps what classical music critics need to do is look for other venues such as Yes! CNN.
Can't you see it now?
"CNN brings breaking news. William Preucil, injured last season in a serious bowing incident, walks back onstage and reclaims his concertmaster position. [sounds of cheering]."

Maybe it's not classical music that's in danger of being ignored; maybe it's print.

posted by Laura Kennelly | 07/21/05, 07:14 AM | permalink
re: "just" a features writer

"And as a bonus, the orchestra knows that everyone will tune in again in three years, when Ms. Alsop's first contract is up for renewal."

Speaking of the art and economics of classical music, would that be $1.5 million or $2.0 million later in terms of Ms Alsop's compensation package (as opposed to $1.5 million for the concertmaster/mistress and $225,000 for the base pay for the musicians)? [ See Drew McManus, at www.artsjournal.com/adaptistration for details on his analysis of the 2005 ICSOM Compensation Report on the economics of being an orchestral musician; much less a composer or librettist].

I agree that the leaking of Ms Alsop's selection was a publicity ploy, especially given Mr Glicker's careful nurturing of the public relations of the Artistic Director Search as a highly process-oriented and transparent professional effort.

I guess "Advice and Consent" has different meanings in the world of democratic national governance and jurisprudence, and the still haphazard, and stratified, world of the "classical music biz."

Back to the latest London terror alert ...

posted by Garth Trinkl | 07/21/05, 06:16 AM | permalink
re: Reporting and Ink Measurement

With all due respect to Peter McCallum and his very interesting and provocative post on compositional creativity, criticism, and public culture in contemporary metropolitan democracies, I think that he should explain further his view that London is suffering from a dearth of compositional creativity. At this season's Proms alone, there will be commissions and premieres of works by Hans Abrahamsen, Thomas Ades, Michael Berkeley, Unsuk Chin, John Corigliano, Marc-Andre Dalbavie, Henri Dutilleux, Detlev Glanert, Sofia Gubaidulina, Morgan Hayes, Tatjana Komarova, James MacMillan, Stuart Macrae, Thea Musgrave, Paul Patterson, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Bent Sorensen, Fraser Trainer, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Huw Watkins, and John Woolrich. (With thanks to the UK's superb "On An Overgrown Path" blog.)

London has given the music world several new operas by Sir Harrison Birtwistle and new Symphonies by Sir Peter Maxwell Davis. And if those names are too modernist for the assembled critics here, London has also given the music world works of John Tavener, Michael Berkeley, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Steve Martland, Thomas Ades, and many others, as well as British/Scottish composers who may live outside of London but who often have works performed there such as James MacMillan, Nicholas Maw, Robin Holloway, and many others. I also think that British composers have won a representative share of Grawemeyer Prizes, which I believe has to be one indication of compositional creativity and impact on the world of classical music worldwide.

posted by Garth Trinkl | 07/20/05, 06:39 AM | permalink
re: Looking For A Critical Connection

But DO critics speak for the audiences? How many times have we read the phrase "it was panned by the critics, but a commercial success" and vice versa?

posted by Daniel Munson | 07/20/05, 06:29 AM | permalink
re: Looking For A Critical Connection

I'm not sure about the "halcyon days" when critics weren't reporters. Critics for newspapers in all disciplines must, first and foremost, be reporters. When you write a review, you are reporting -- honestly and fairly -- on your educated reactions to the performance. The great theater critic Brooks Atkinson considered himself a reporter and even took leave to cover the Pacific Theater during World War II. Historically, the role of classical music critic, which requires somewhat more specialized knowledge than a theater critic, may have been different. But isn't a critic enriched by her or his reporting?

posted by Richard LeComte | 07/19/05, 06:14 PM | permalink
re: Touting Two Tims

Norman Lebrecht is misinformed regarding the number of daily broadsheets offering music criticism in New York. It is not a "one-party town," as he put it, hasn’t been ever since the launching of the estimable New York Sun a little over three years ago.

The Sun’s principal music critic, Jay Nordlinger is, for my money, as good as any critic writing today and better than most. When I read a review of a concert that I have not heard I want two things from a critic. One is new and interesting insights about music—about music itself, about the piece under review, about performing and the performer, and so on. The other is enjoyment, the sort that comes from reading a well-written account of what touched (or annoyed) an informed listener of kindred sensibility. Often he gives me both.

Since the role of critics is one of the themes under discussion this week, let me recommend “Who Cares What Critics Say,” a talk that Mr. Nordlinger gave two years ago under the auspices of the American Friends of the Salzburg Festival. Anyone who enjoys reading music criticism and who cares about its state today, especially (of course) readers who are not music critics themselves, will want to read what this critic has to say on the subject. Near the end he reveals that in preparing his talk he had “a good deal of fun.” It shows.

Look for it at , or search at Google by entering “American Friends of the Salzburg Festival” (in quotes) followed by “Who Cares What Critics Say” (in quotes).

Louis Torres
Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts)

posted by Louis Torres | 07/19/05, 05:06 PM | permalink
re: the world revolves, music criticism stands still

As a American expat freelance writer living in Paris, I am in a good position to assess the difference in the level and amount media coverage of culture in France versus the US. The French newspapers cover the major music events. Not with the consistency of say, the NY Times, where opera cast changes result in reviews, but with a noteable thoroughness. The amount of writing is staggering. There are three widely-distributed magazines for classical music, not counting the one for opera and piano. The popular news magazines, like l'Express, routinely write about music and sometimes review major events. The television evening news often has a classical music or ballet segment when it is important. In a word, culture is part of the journalistic landscape, not just a marginalized interest, like beekeeping.

I have, over the last 50 years, watched the steady decline of American arts coverage in the media. When I was young, Renata Tebaldi might appear on the Sunday night Ed Sullivan Show, not to speak of the Bell Telephone Hour. Much later, Solti and Mehta might appear on the cover of Time Magazine and Sills and Pavarotti were on Johnny Carson and in People Magazine. Not anymore.
Classical music writing is in crisis but so is media attention to art and theater. The future relevance of culture to the American scene is in crisis.

posted by Frank Cadenhead | 07/19/05, 08:52 AM | permalink
re: One view from New York

Douglas, I will agree with you that Tim Page's obituary, for the Washington Post, of prize-winning pianist Alexei Sultanov was a superb piece of writing and a service to the classical music profession and industry. No one can doubt that Mr Page is an absolutely superb music writer, and that he easily deserved his Pulitzer Prize for music writing -- both journalistic and biographical. Furthermore, Mr Page's coverage, for the Washington Post, of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's current new music director search has been exemplary, from his article on yesterday's front page of the paper, to today's "Style" front page story on "Where is the Ms. in Maestro? Major Orchestras Still Shy Away from Female Conductors" ("Women may be CEOs, University presidents and cabinet secretaries, but few run major orchestras...").

But I believe that a distinction needs to be made between music journalism and writing, and music criticism. I thought that it was largely to the profession of music criticism that Mr Lebrecht addressed his essay in 2004, which you linked to as a basis for your discussion.

In my opinion, Mr Page has repeatedly, and inaccurately, down-played conductor Mstislav Rostropovich's contribution, over 18 years, to the National Symphony Orchestra, and the National Capital's cultural life and importance, based upon, I believe, very few occasions on which Mr Page actually heard the NSO under Rostropovich. In my view, Mr Page has repeatedly pointed to Mr Rostropovich's alleged "short-comings" in his conducting of Mozart, Mahler, and maybe Schubert, while failing to confirm for his readers the widely-held belief of many musicians and music patrons that Rostropovich put Washington, D.C. on the international musical and cultural map for 18 years by his performances of twentieth century music and his never-to-be-repeated performances of the cello repertoire from Haydn to the more than three or four dozen major international composers who wrote concertos for him (including, of course, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Britten).

Who was it that performed the American premiere of Krystof Penderecki's Polish Requiem, before the fall of the Berlin Wall? Who was it that commissioned Stephen Albert to write his "Riverrun Symphony", which won the American Pulitzer Prize? Who was it that commissioned Russian composer Vyacheslav Artyomov, at the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union, to composer two symphonies in his symphonic tetralogy "Symphony of the Way" for the NSO? Who was it that invited Walton, Tippett, Ginastera, Lutoslawski, Penderecki, Schnittke, Gubaidulina, and many other composers and performers to Washington and to the concert hall of the Kennedy Center? It is to such matters that I feel music criticism can properly be addressed in the 21st century, rather than simply to whether local performances of Mahler symphonies are up to the levels of those commercially released on DG, EMI, or London/Decca.

posted by Garth Trinkl | 07/19/05, 07:40 AM | permalink
re: Call Off the Attack Dogs!

Maybe the musical criticism in the English-speaking world may decline, in the Netherlands there's another situation.
Two large publishers of daily newspapers, Wegener the by an Engelish fund financed PCM, have joined forces in order to stop the on-going running down of the sales of their newspapers. They push aside the fact that it's a publisher's task and responsibility to distribute and avoid any decline. They have planned to let eight (8!) seperate titles disappear in a merger, serving both national and regional news. Per next September this will be a fact. For the arts this means that, with the rise of populism during the last three years in mind, anything will be done to economise and to put aside subjects that - to the editor's and publisher's opinion - may be too serious or even not read at all by the readers. Therefore, the estimated 635.000 readers will not be sufficiently enough informed about the artlife in a substantial part of our country, the cities of Utrecht, Leiden, Den Haag and Rotterdam.

As critic on opera, classical and world music for the Rotterdams Dagblad, this means that I need to shorten my writings over and over again - if being published at all, not only because of the change from broadsheet to tabloid but also because of editorial negligance towards the arts. This ends up in a way too short and superficial report of what is going on in the theatres and concert-halls.
Thus publishers are trying to get grip on the contents of the new newspaper, in order to commercialise further for the sake of a foreign financer and his share-holders.
In this way, art-criticism in general is threatened, not by a lack of quality, but by lack of interest of both editors and publishers. If only they were so honest to admit their own lack of interest instead of blaming it on the assumed unwillingness of buyers of the newspapers to read artnews and critics.
Willem Jan Keizer, Rotterdams Dagblad

posted by Willem Jan Keizer | 07/19/05, 05:40 AM | permalink
re: Where did I put that periwig?

Hi Robert,

This is as good a place as any to wonder at your juggling of classical and pop music. You may indeed have the best of both worlds. But what are these worlds? Are they two worlds? Many? Or just a very long continuum?

Now that I have a teenage daughter, I am exposed to more popular culture and pop music than I ever was when I was a teenager in New York. And while there is much that I can enjoy and appreciate for its skill, and pleasing qualities, I do not see much similarity between Pop and "Classical" music. It seems to me that the approach to tonality, to rhythm, to the human experience, to thought, to anything I care about - is categorically different in classical (or composed or concert) music than what it is in pop music. At the very least we can define the two as having characteristics which at the extremes are quite different. And while there may be some work which overlaps on the Venn diagram, the similarites are less interesting than the differences.

So aside from the fact that you have a lot of fun, and can speak a language that my daughter can understand (which is no doubt of great value and more than I am able to do at times) what is the sense of being a critic of classical and pop music? What is the benefit toyour readers? to the musicians of either form? What have you learned about music from being a critic of both (or teh continuum of) forms?

posted by Barbara Scales | 07/18/05, 07:14 PM | permalink
re: Who Cares If They Read?

Douglas, I would like to point out that Washington, D.C. has more than one prime critic covering musical events. While Tim Page may be the authorial critical voice of the august Washington Post, the Washington, D.C. region, for over the past two years, has also had Charles T. Downey's (and Jens F. Laurson's) expert criticism and reporting on "Music, Art, and Literature from Washington" at ionarts.com, an internationally- respected and tightly focused web-blog on Washington, D.C. cultural affairs. Mssrs Downey and Laurson cover virtually all of the important musical events in the Washington region, and they are often able to offer more in-depth reporting than does the Washington Post due to lesser space constraints.

Also, Downey and Laurson -- one a distinguished local PhD. musicologist, and the other a recorded- classical music industry
expert with experience both in Germany and the U.S. -- are willing to be more critical than Mr. Page, at the Washington Post, is usually willing to be. Mr. Page's close association with the American orchestra industry, through his past association with the Saint Louis Symphony as an artistic advisor, has often made him pull his critical punches in his coverage of, for example, the National Symphony Orchestra. While Mr. Page has become increasingly critical of the leadership of the NSO, many of Washington's intelligentsia abandonned the Post years ago, in musical matters, due to its under-criticism of leading local musical organizations.

posted by Garth Trinkl | 07/18/05, 08:00 AM | permalink
re: Critics - Pick A Role

These are some questions that I have long wanted to ask of critics:
1- is your judgement important and if so to whom? What role does it play in the performance, self-reflection or self-knowledge of the artist? What role does it play in the knowledge or understanding of the public? And what impact does it have on future ticket sales (assuming there is a future for a particular concert) or touring sales? Do you think about these matters when writing a review? Should you?
2- Can music critics engage in a dialogue with the public and the musical world which can enflame passion for music if there is less and less access to music education with a resultant decline in music "literacy"? What considerations, if any, do you make for the decline in music literacy among your readership? Does this make any difference to you?

posted by Barbara Scales | 07/18/05, 07:55 AM | permalink
re: Critics - Pick A Role