From Macy Halford on The New Yorker’s Book Bench blog:
While enjoying a typical New York Sunday morning yesterday–coffee, two eggs on a roll, the Times,
NPR–I had an unexpected moment of empathy for someone much, much richer
than myself: Yann Martel, who reportedly got three million dollars for
his new novel, “Beatrice and Virgil,”
a Holocaust parable about a donkey and a monkey who meet a terrible
fate at the hands of a taxidermist. Also about a writer who resembles
…I am sitting there, rereading Michiko Kakutani’s review
(“misconceived and offensive”), wincing, laughing, biting my nails,
marvelling at the power of the critic and also at the baseness of the
critical pursuit, when I hear a voice, elegant, subtle, drifting from
my Sony boombox (vintage 1994). It’s Yann Martel.
When asked by the NPR host if he reads his reviews, Martel responds:
Mr. MARTEL: Yes and no. It’s interesting, this book has
been very divisive ’cause there was a terrible review in the New York
Times, a terrible review in the Washington Post and a terrible review
in the San Francisco, I think it’s called the Chronicle, Im not sure.
Mr. MARTEL: Then there was an extremely positive in other papers –
the Cleveland Plain Dealer, I think it was called, a very good one in
the Huffington Post, I think it’s called, which is interesting and
perhaps to be expected. We are very cautious about the Holocaust, which
of course we should be. But let’s compare it with war.
“Anywayz, back to the Holocaust…” I don’t even know what I would do if one of my artists said the words, “I think it’s called the Chronicle” to NPR. I would maybe just take the $50 out of the First Chair account, get on the first plane I saw at LGA, and go teach sophomores history somewhere.
Two Decembers ago, I wrote a blog post wondering if critics intended for artists to read their reviews and if not, what was the point? I rambled:
Think about all the answer combinations to the question, and then
consider the power dynamics, or, more accurately, the perceived power
dynamics, that ensue: 1. Critic writes review intending to change an
artist’s performance; artist reads and changes the way he or she
performs. 2. Critic writes review intending to change an artist’s
performance; artist never reads review, or would never change
performance based on review. 3. Critic writes review to comment on, but
not actually change, an artist’s performance; artist reads review
anyway and changes the way he or she performs. 4. Critic writes review
to comment on, but not actually change, an artist’s performance; artist
never reads review, or would never change performance based on review.
Alex Ross was among the very thoughtful commenters, adding to the discussion:
Actually, I believe there are two different issues here: institutions
and artists. I do occasionally hope to have some impact on how
institutions think and act. I’m cautiously proud of a couple of
instances where my writing may have had a bit of influence.
Institutions have a tendency to make decisions by committee, and
decisions made by committee can often be poor. Critics certainly have a
role to play. It’s good for someone to stand up and say, you know,
moving the Philharmonic back to Carnegie Hall is a really bad idea.
When it comes to individual artists, however, I am pretty horrified by
the idea that something I say might lead them to make a change. I
believe artists should entirely tune out the critics. Indeed, most do.
The criticism that counts is that which comes from trusted colleagues.
Even a critic’s praise can be a dangerous quantity. Glenda Dawn Goss
made a good case in her book on Sibelius and Olin Downes that Downes’
incessant hero-worship contributed to the shutdown of Sibelius’
creativity. I feel my most precious asset as a critic is my enthusiasm,
and yet I know full well that passion can cause harm. On the whole, I
like the idea of being read, but I don’t like the idea of my writing
having a measurable effect. That’s one reason I was never comfortable
at the New York Times, where the effect was immediate and obvious.
All that said, the outcome I did not anticipate in my list above–#5, if you will–was an artist publicly announcing that he hated a critic in the presence of that critic. Nope, did not see that coming. On Friday, April 16th, New York Times‘ Classical Music and Dance editor James Oestreich posted the following on the Times blog ArtsBeat:
Musicians never read reviews. Just ask them.
But don’t believe a word of it. They read, all right, and they remember, however selectively.
Andrew Parrott, the English conductor and early-music specialist, was in town yesterday, in his function as music director of the New York Collegium. The occasion was the annual Clarion-Collegium Week, a collaboration with the Clarion Music Society. As you may have heard, Monteverdi’s great “Vespers of the Blessed Virgin,” the so-called 1610 Vespers, is enjoying quite a run in its 400th-anniversary year, and on Monday evening, Steven Fox, Clarion’s artistic director, will conduct the groups in the work’s fifth prominent New York performance this year, at the Park Avenue Christian Church.
So Mr. Parrott, a consummate expert in the work, came to discuss it in a public seminar at the church with Mr. Fox and Raymond Erickson, a well-traveled musicologist. Mr. Parrott opened with a master class in Baroque vocal music, dispensing practical and scholarly wit and wisdom to seven gifted young singers.
Then things turned, at least from my perspective, a bit bizarre. Between sessions, Mr. Fox mounted a little ceremony, presenting Mr. Parrott with a Clarion award for his service to early music in New York. Mr. Parrott, seeming genuinely surprised, was almost at a loss for words. But he found a few. He thanked Mr. Fox, then said: “One thing I haven’t managed yet is to get rid of James Oestreich. But it’s not for want of trying.”
And he was IN THE ROOM. He was in the room! Can you even imagine? (Side
note: how exactly did The Parrott plan on “getting rid” of James
Oestreich? I mean, what did he “try”?) Read the rest of the post here,
and die a little inside for artists who should know when to complain to
their friends and when to graciously accept an award. The post ends
with the following:
As a critic, you wish, when something like this happens, that the performer remembered all the favorable things you’ve said about him over the years. A fair representation in this case was a review of Mr. Parrott’s performance of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers with the Collegium in 2003: “The performance swept one along, with Mr. Parrott’s brisk and canny pacing, fully in thrall to his gripping conception.” Here’s hoping that Mr. Fox does as well on Monday.
So what I need to know, is was the Monday concert already assigned, was it unassigned, or was it assigned after this incident? I will be eagerly refreshing the Times site in the next few days.