Classical and pop reviews (6)

I've said that classical music reviews normally don't do what a lot of pop reviews do -- engage the music (and, even more, the critic) with the world outside the music. But in the past, this wasn't always true. Here are two examples, from the 19th century, of comments on classical music that absolutely engage the lives of the people who commented. In one way, these are a special case, because they're about Wagner, whose music really did throw the world into an uproar. You had to be for him or against him, and your position had a lot to do with … [Read more...]

Cultural disconnect

For the fifth straight week, the number one pop song in the U.S. is Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl." Which was also voted the best summer song of 2008 by public radio listeners in New York, giving it double cachet, upscale and mass market. And what's the song about? A straight girl who kisses another girl, tastes her cherry chapstick, she's amazed, and she's turned upside down... but she loves it. And this, I want to suggest, poses a problem for classical music. Out in the world, gender boundaries are melting. "You're my experimental game/Just … [Read more...]

Classical and pop reviews (5)

Comments have trailed off...is everybody sick of this? Here are two New York Times reviews to contrast. First, Steve Smith on a concert of music written by women. A very well-written, evocative review (which someone commenting on a previous post was good enough to praise): During a panel presented recently at the National Performing Arts Convention in Denver, the American Music Center and the American Composers Forum reported preliminary findings from "Taking Note," a survey of American composers. The study was undertaken to help … [Read more...]

Classical and pop reviews (4)

Behind all the discussion we've been having about pop and classical reviews lie some big differences -- differences in how people think about pop and classical music.It'll be good, I think, to clarify these, at least as I see them, before I go on to compare more reviews. (See also this post, and this one.)For classical music people, a piece of music is, so to speak, an object, something that lies behind every performance, and has an existence of its own. Typically we'd identify this as the score of the piece -- the written notation specifying … [Read more...]

Stealing from the Met

My friend Amanda Ameer has outdone herself on her new ArtsJournal blog, Life's a Pitch, which I praised here not long ago. A couple of days ago, she had a post about the Metropolitan Opera, about what they've done to reinvent themselves and to attract attention -- and about how even the smallest organizations can steal the Met's ideas. It's just brilliant: Splurge [meaning the extravagant thing the Met does]: Movie stars at opening night. Steal [meaning how anyone can steal it]: Community leaders at opening night. Restaurant owners, bar … [Read more...]

Green Glyndebourne

Another step forward for classical music and the environment. I've complained before that classical music organizations seem clueless about anything green (or at least never talk about such things). So -- just as I praised the New York Philharmonic for taking an environmental step or two -- I'm happy to note that the Glyndebourne Festival is doing something big. By 2010, they'll have built a wind turbine, to supply much of their energy, and reduce (or so they say) their carbon emissions by 70 percent. Good for them. It's really important for … [Read more...]

Classical and pop reviews (3)

A general point: The larger issue in all of this is all the ways classical music gets written about, not just in reviews, but in advertising copy and press releases from mainstream classical music institutions, and much (but not all) scholarly work. Very little of this gets at what's really happening as we listen to the music -- or, to put it a little differently, doesn't get at why we'd want to listen. But returning to the thoughts in my previous post (in which I restated my overall point, and answered some objections to it)...I might mention … [Read more...]

Classical and pop reviews (2)

First, I've taken out the "vs." -- as you might have seen it in the title of my previous post on this topic, which was "Classical vs. pop reviews." I've learned a lot from the comments that contentious (and controversial) post of mine got, and especially from the people who disagreed with me, sometimes very sharply. My thanks to all of you. You helped me understand exactly what point I was trying to make, and how to make it more sharply, and with more courtesy.So let me start again. There were two things I definitely was not meaning to say. I … [Read more...]

A blog to read

I want to recommend the newest ArtsJournal blog, "Life's a Pitch," written by my friend Amanda Ameer. Amanda's day job is her marketing and publicity company, First Chair Promotion, and the subject of the blog is marketing for the arts, which she rightly thinks could be far stronger than it is. Just read her entry about Carnegie Hall, or more broadly about how classical music venues don't create any sense that anything exciting is going on inside. Obviously that's something I might write myself, which is to say that Amanda and I are kindred … [Read more...]

A death

With sadness, I want to mourn the death of Thomas M. Disch, who wrote the libretti for two of my operas, The Fall of the House of Usher and Frankenstein. The link takes you to his New York Times obituary. If you read it, you'll see that the last few years weren't happy for him. He had many misfortunes, and was upset about many things. I hope he now finds rest, and I extend all sympathy to his family, and anyone close to him. I hope, too, that his writing grows more and more admired as the years past, not only the novels he was famous for, but … [Read more...]

Terminal prestige

At intermission during Die Soldaten an old friend of mine, a sculptor I've known on and off for (can it really be?) 40 years broke into a conversation I was having to ask an urgent question. She's not a classical music person, and had read in the program book that the score is 12-tone music. And what she asked was: Is this 12-tone thing the reason why the piece is so horribly bad? Well, no, it's not, but I was grateful for my old friend's honesty (and her curiosity and sense of fairness), because the opera -- for all its great prestige, and … [Read more...]