The Times doesn’t report these stories very well. That’s quite apart from the Times critics’ opinions, which are their own business. I’m talking about the Times‘s reporting, their purely journalistic coverage, which isn’t written by people who know much about the orchestra business. When Ralph Blumenthal used to cover orchestra matters a couple of years ago, he’d get the names of major orchestras wrong, writing (for instance) “Cleveland Symphony” instead of “Cleveland Orchestra,” a telltale sign that he wasn’t in his comfort zone.
Robin Pogrebin, who covers these stories now, is also not at home with classical music or orchestras, though she does (or so I’d gather from some of the stories she writes) have board members from the Philharmonic and other major institutions in New York running to her to leak things. I’m not sure, though, that she has sources beyond these leaks, who can reliably tell her what’s really going on. (If you get leaks, you need these sources to evaluate the leaks.)
And her writing repeatedly shows that she doesn’t have any real handle on the field. Her story this time, for instance, talked about the influence of the Philharmonic musicians on the Maazel extension. Timidly, Pogrebin ventured the thought that musicians in the Chicago Symphony, too, were going to have some influence on the choice that orchestra’s next music director. But if she really knew the field, she could have said much more — that musician empowerment is a growing trend throughout the field, for instance, and that the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra decided not to have a music director, but instead chose to give its musicians far more artistic control. Pogrebin’s Chicago example seemed like a random scrap of information, vaguely relevant, but not grounded in any reasonably thorough understanding of what’s happening around the country.
Pogrebin, of course, has a nearly impossible job as an arts reporter. One week she’s covering the Philharmonic; next she’ll write about architecture, and after that about the New-York Historical Society. There’s no way anyone could be completely at home in all these areas. So I feel for her, but at the same time I have to say that when she writes about classical music, she doesn’t really get it right.