Subscribers to Musical America had a delightful surprise this morning — editor Susan Elliott went out and bashed The New York Times. She was reacting to the Times‘s coverage (linked here) of the New York Philharmonic announcement, about Maazel’s contract being extended, Muti coming in regularly to guest-conduct, with still more regular guest-conducting slots for David Robertson and Alan Gilbert.
Susan’s position was simple enough, starting with her headline: “New York Times Coverage Slanted?” (You have to subscribe to Musical America to read the editorial.) After setting the stage by describing the Times‘s double-barreled coverage (a news story paired with commentary by the chief Times classical music critic, Anthony Tommasini), she gets down to business:
Why [she asks] is New York’s primary newspaper so invested in bashing the New York Philharmonic’s current executive and artistic leadership? Lorin Maazel is hardly chopped liver, and so what if he is older than David Robertson and Franz Welser-Möst?
She then defends the Philharmonic and Maazel:
Has the orchestra ever played better than under Maazel in recent memory? Have the players been happier with their artistic leader in the last decade? Is the orchestra running the deficits of the Saint Louis Symphony, which just appointed Robertson, or the Cleveland Orchestra, where opinion on Welser-Möst is still divided? And by the way, yes, the strength of an orchestra’s leadership is reflected in the bottom line.
To which my main reaction is, hey, fabulous! Let’s have some debate, for God’s sake. Let’s disagree with each other, let’s shout and scream, let’s stop being all classical music-like and civilized. If these things — which in the end are the survival of classical music — are important, let’s get aroused about them.
But I can’t resist adding a few words of my own. First, the Times isn’t slanted; its critics just have a different view from Susan’s. Further, Susan should at least recognize that this view isn’t unique to the Times. As far as I can see, most of the New York music world (musicians and administrators) isn’t exactly crazy about Maazel, and neither, on the whole, are the people I meet from orchestras around the country. Not that Maazel doesn’t have supporters (and, yes, the Philharmonic certainly does play well, at least from a technical point of view, when he conducts). But so many people dislike the music Maazel makes that nobody has to propose any “slant” to explain what the Times critics think.
St. Louis, further, is in good financial health, and the Philharmonic would be no means consider itself financially secure going into the future, whatever its momentary bottom line might be. No orchestra would. And as for the bottom line being a measure of an orchestra’s health, yes, sure, in some ways it is — but it’s in no way an artistic measure. The Boston Symphony, during the desert of the Ozawa years, was rolling in money. The Pittsburgh Symphony saw a steady drop in ticket sales, with all the financial problems that go along with that, during a period that included most of Mariss Jansons’s tenure — and during those years, thanks to Jansons and the musicians, Pittsburgh was arguably the best place in America to hear orchestral music.
As for the Times, they really don’t report these stories well.