Passing of a Gentleman

Death is stalking me lately. I was greatly saddened to learn, via Alex Ross, of the death of my long-time Village Voice colleague Leighton Kerner. When I started there in 1986, Leighton proposed, by phone, to meet me at a concert, and added, with his usual self-effacing charm, “You’ll be able to recognize me – I’m overweight and badly in need of a haircut.” Alex says he wrote for the Voice from 1955; I had thought he was only regular from 1960 or ‘61, but I’m not going to check the archives to find out. Either way he had a few decades’ seniority over me, but he always insisted on dividing our duties to mutual advantage, and often gave me precedence when he didn’t have to. He was the only critic of his generation, as far as I kept track, who didn’t glorify the past in memory. He was fully capable of comparing an opera production he had just heard with a famous one from the 1950s, and admitting that the recent one was better. He was no purveyor of the elitist impression that classical performance, or composition, is endlessly headed down the toilet. He was a continual musical optimist, with no trace of condescension. Nevertheless, he provided one of my favorite Voice headlines ever when he reviewed a wretched late Menotti opera: “How the Mediocre Have Fallen.” He continued attending concerts seemingly seven nights a week even after the Voice lost its faith in classical music and cut his reviewing back to nothing. His wife worked for an airline and he could get free airline tickets, so he would fly to San Francisco, review an opera, and submit only a hotel bill for reimbursement. He was a mensch. He was a gentleman. He was a model for classical music critics everywhere.


  1. says

    Kyle, thanks for your lovely thoughts about Leighton. I’ve corrected the date in my post to 1961, based on the minimal Voice obituary, which names as his primary achievement the reviewing of Rent.

  2. says

    I loved the writing of both of you during your salad days at “The Village Voice,” when it was an astonishingly good rag. (Let us not even talk about the present edition.) Leighton and you also were oddly complementary in your differences, and reading your description of your working arrangement, I can see why.

  3. says

    Hmmm.. Good classical critics are rare.
    Here, in Montreal (Quebec), most of the french speaking critics, like Gingras, are trully terrible. Not only do they write in an elitist way, but they also despise the public…