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Exclusive: New York Times demotes a critic

We have been informed – not by the person concerned – that the New York Times has removed Allan Kozinn from his position as music critic and reassigned him to the newly-created, sidewalk-pounding post of general cultural reporter. He will report for new duties tomorrow.

The move has nothing to do with the quality of Times journalism. It is rooted entirely in the poison of internal politics.

Kozinn is one of the most respected voices on the paper’s flagging culture desk. Let me declare an interest before I tap out another word: he is a personal friend of long standing and a man altogether without malice.

He is the Times’s only specialist in contemporary music and a world authority on the Beatles (interest declared: I commissioned his best-selling book on the subject, below). Jon Pareles, the newspaper’s chief pop critic said, in a 1989 Juilliard lecture: ‘The Times is the only newspaper in the world with a Beatles Desk, and it’s in the classical department.’ Sir Paul McCartney told me: ‘He knows it all.’

Kozinn writes more and works harder than anyone in the department. Since he started writing features for the Times in 1977 (he went on staff in September 1991) he has written around 6,000 pieces, averaging out at 250 a year. That’s one piece a day in a five-day week. I cannot think of any critic on any other paper in the world with such high productivity. In addition to reviews, Kozinn has written features and obituaries, often at very short notice because no-one else was capable or available to do so.

None of this career information has come from Kozinn himself. The fact that it has been leaked to Slipped Disc indicates the degree of disaffection within the Times at the shabby way one of its most trusted and hard-working writers is being treated.

So why has the Times taken the extraordinary step of demoting a music critic?

The reasons are purely internal. Culture Editor Jon Landman knows he has a problem in the classical department. The chief critic Anthony Tommasini is thought to have failed to win the confidence of New York’s opinion formers. Moves are said to be afoot to hire Zachary Woolfe as Tommasini’s sidekick and, eventually, his successor. Landman has been heard to say that ‘Zach is the most important thing that has happened to classical music in a long time’ (sic). He needed to create a vacancy for Woolfe to be hired, so Kozinn had to go.

When push came to shove, Kozinn’s superiors vanished into thin air. The Classical Music Editor, James Oestreich, has a 33-year friendship with Kozinn, going back to the days when Kozinn and other writers walked off High Fidelity magazine when Oestreich got the push.

Oestreich, however, is pushing 70. He is clinging onto a chimerical job that probably should not really exist – few other newspapers can afford the luxury of a classical music editor – and he has been politicking away like crazy to let others take the rap for his many shortcomings. Letting Kozinn go was Oestreich’s chance to keep pulling down a salary way past his sell-by date.

These manoeuvres over the last few  months have been shameful and self-serving . I hope to have an opportunity to discuss them with Mark Thompson before he takes up his new post as the Times’s chief executive and president.

Music insiders who know about this piece of chicanery agree that Kozinn’s demotion is unjust, illogical, unfair to a loyal and dedicated writer and very bad news indeed for the New York Times. The paper comes out of this affair looking pompous, heartless and cynical as Richard Nixon.

(What was the fatherly advice quoted by another fine critic, Philip Hope-Wallace? ‘Never work for a liberal newspaper, dear boy. They always give you the sack on Christmas Eve.’)

 

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Comments

  1. Yochanan Sebastian Winston says:

    Dégoutant!

  2. Oded Zehavi says:

    What a loss !! He is the kinder, more adventurous face of the Times,,,,,too bad for all of us!!!

  3. another orchestra musician says:

    Am sorry for Kozinn, whose writing I have always appreciated, if indeed he has been mistreated. On the other hand, given Kozinn’s skills and the scope of his knowledge, he may quickly elevate the position of General Cultural Reporter to high status. There’s a lot to be said for pounding the sidewalks. It can be worlds more interesting than sitting through an indifferent symphony performance, of which even New York sees a few.

  4. Emil Archambault says:

    And what does this mean for the work he’ll be doing for the Times? Will he still be writing the same type of articles under a new title, or is he expected to report gossip?

  5. paula brochu says:

    Allan will not be writing reviews. It’s a completely different area — it will be reporting.

    • Paula, is there any significance that you know of, to Dan Wakin’s authorship of the Rev. Moon obituary? He was on the religion beat a long time ago, and then on the culture desk. I wondered when I saw his byline earlier today?

      • Newspaper obituaries of prominent figures are often written years in advance, kept on file and then quickly updated when the subject dies and it’s finally time to publish. (It’s not unheard of for the chief author of a newspaper obituary to have died before its subject.)

        I have no way of knowing, but it’s likely that Dan Wakin wrote that obit of Rev. Moon back when he was the religion reporter.

  6. Andrew Appel says:

    Some years ago, my friend, Philip Kennicott was bumped from music to culture writer at the Washington Post and, after a few years of speaking truth to power in the music world, wrote some of the most trenchant and important articles on arts and our culture, with a ground breaking article on the lack of visual images coming from Iraq during the war. He is brilliant and his work at the Post is important. He now is the architectural critic but continues to write on themes and issues that cross boundaries.

    Alan Kozinn has been the kindest of all the critics at the Times and seems to enjoy invective much less than his colleagues. In any case, for those of us who read historical criticism and literature about music, the quality of music criticism at the Times has not been good and except for a few pieces (mostly by guest writers), have been unimportant. Other than errors, there is rarely an interesting point of view understanding the serious issues of music in our world today. How I miss the times when we could read Virgil Thompson or Andrew Porter on music and though there is some good writing going on in New York if not at the Times, the rarity of it underlines how marginal great music and performance has become in our 21st century American culture. Think of the times when one read Debussy, Berlioz and Schumann and felt that great art was akin to great philosophy, science, and spiritual revelation!!

    I look forward to seeing what Kozinn will do in his very interesting new position.

    • Charlotte Dinwiddie says:

      Like Andrew, I look forward to seeing what Kozinn will do in his new position. But for me, with each passing year, I have found less and less to read in the Culture section. Where once my family handed me The Arts section of the paper first, now it hardly matters. How sad.

    • Gwendolyn Toth says:

      I heartily second what Andy says here. This is a great loss to classical music. Kozinn writes intelligently, and sincerely reviews the actual concert he is hearing as opposed to some mythical concert in his head, which is all too often not true from his fellow NY Times critics. And there is no sense from his reviews of overwhelming personal bias which of late has permeated much of the reviewing.
      Here’s to someone figuring out that what the world needs now is not newspapers reviewing the odd classical music concert here and there, but more serious – or several more – online classical music blogs? mags? something, with advertiser-support, with a staff of respected music writers who can post online reviews – hopefully, more than just one! – for concerts, CDs, accept comments from audience-goers in reaction to said reviews, and have a section for articles on upcoming noteworthy events.
      And may they hire Allan Kozinn to be senior critic/editor/publisher.

    • I agree with Andrew; NYT music criticism has been more bland and irrelevant with each passing year. This may be the opportunity for the talented Mr. Kozinn to write the kind of thoughtful, in-depth articles about music and culture that we all need and relish, without the strait-jacket restraints and dismissive brevity typical of a Times review.

    • Philip Kennicott says:

      Thanks for the kind words but… no, I wasn’t bumped. I asked for the wider beat, and in fact lobbied for it. That said, I do think it a loss that Allan won’t be regularly offering his wise insight on classical music.

    • Andrew Appel says:

      A small clarification here. When I said BUMPED for Phillip, I didnt mean that he was bumped against his will. He was lobbying for quite a while to do more far reaching work and wanted to be moved from the music desk to the more interesting cultural one. I should then have said, that Phillip jumped from Music to Cultural Critic. MY POINT had been, however, that even as a music critic he was able to see the larger issues suggested even by the smallest performance, and that he with very few other critics, have been able to raise the potential and importance of the music pages in our present papers.

  7. sad and reprehensible.
    allan’s been a much-appreciated level-headed, agenda-free music critic. the same cannot be said for the posers and pretenders who’ve come and gone (and now appear to be taking up residence) at the Times. his book on the Beatles is the industry standard.
    a truly eloquent lover of music.

  8. paula brochu says:

    another orchestra musician: Thanks for commenting. I hope he will derive new pleasures from his new post. But it’s like asking an opera star to start singing rap. It’s not that he is not capable of anything he puts his hand to, it’s just a sad waste of true expertise.

    I’ve attended hundreds of performances with Allan, and he is always interested in what he’s hearing — no matter how many times he’s heard the piece or orchestra before, or what a weak rendition it is. He hears every note and all the variables. Rather than feeling bored, he’s fascinated by each nuance. That’s what makes him so good at what he’s been doing for so long.

    And he doesn’t just go to the concerts and throw together a review. The day of the concert includes listening to various versions of the piece, revisiting the scores and the earlier (when they exist) and latest works by the performers, reading volumes of related information, researching links for the online version and sifting through old and erroneous info often put out by the groups themselves.

    Our home is a library. He has built a priceless collection of music, scores and books. It is a very rare occasion that he needs to hear something and does not already have it ,here, in his collection (usually in many versions), no matter how new or obscure. Just taking photos of the walls of CDs and books would fill an album. To give you an idea of how extensive this is — just one part of his collection contains an estimated 180,180 CDs. We have an entire wall of scores, alone.

    Not to take anything away from other writers, particularly Steve Smith and others who I have a great deal of respect for, no one can hold a candle to Allan in term of expertise. I see firsthand, that his entire day — every day — as well as vacations and days off are consumed by this passion of his.

    This will be a great loss to the industry.

    • another orchestra musician says:

      Thanks warmly for your counterpoint, Paula. Informative, thoughtful comment such as your own is what makes this blog worth reading. Rather like Allan’s reviews….

  9. John Rockwell and Philip Kennicott are clearly the models for what can be done as a general culture reporter. Still, in both cases, they had their newspaper behind them and were encouraged to try things — and they chose their jobs themselves (Kennicott HATED daily music reviewing, especially in DC, although he remains one of the best ever when he does write). As I understand the Kozinn reassignment, it is political and possibly punitive and he cannot expect the sort of support John and Philip had. It’s one more example of the Times not knowing what it has — and should cherish.

    • Tim Page writes: “I understand the Kozinn reassignment, it is political and possibly punitive…” Who is behind it, and what is the punishment for? Why should this just be insider information?

    • rachel sindell says:

      Sounds like the Rosenberg case all over again.

      • Ms. Sindell, I am very curious about comparing the case Rosenberg to case Kozinn. The Rosenberg’s were guilty of espionage against the U.S., Kozinn (it is an all Jewish cast) is only guilty of loving his job so much, and being such an erudite music critic, he never dreamed this would happen. But the usual powers that be will not put him in an electric chair. It’s possible that The New York Times, may give him his walking papers, because even if Kozinn’s work, is high art, the bottom line is the gelt and being the next Andrew Porter and knowing the corporate score as well as La Boehm or even Verklaerte Nacht or Moses and Aaron. Kozinn’ s case is nothing like the Rosenberg’s. Although Kozinn has been true blue to the Times for so many years the worse that could happen is that he retires early and write for the Times when asked, and if he is no longer tied full time as music critic to the Times can write a book about “What happened to me at The New York Times.” But he is very proud and strong and dedicated, so he will land on his feet, not in an electric chair.

    • Sarah Bryan Miller says:

      This is sad and discouraging news. I wish I knew more of the politics involved.

      If Allan is to be a cultural reporter, will Daniel Wakin continue in a similar role?

  10. I am truly sorry. I have always looked for Allan’s reviews and ideas.
    I have sent emails to him commenting on his columns, and he has always been so thoughtful in his answers, and usually sending me to more sources and ideas.

    Seems like everything which is a corporation is going looney these days.

    Some days in the Times it seems as if there is no music in New York at all. I have always opened up the newspaper hoping for an article from Allan.

    Sad.

  11. Allan is a genius–plain and simple. There is hardly anything he doesn’t know. In lieu of this re-appointment, surely his expansive expertise will allow him to report on many things he does know, and he will expand the cultural awareness in many areas which needs to be cultivated. Knowing Allan’s great gifts, I am sure he will infuse his vast knowledge into his reporting.

    • Unfortunately, mainstream publications these days don’t want geniuses. They want writers who can “relate” to a mostly culturally vapid readership.

      • I agree. Mr. Woolfe is a good writer and well-informed, but I seldom find his work stimulating. He has a penchant for concise and clever truisms that the general readership takes to be more revelatory than they really are. I fear he might be too immersed in his career and too unwilling to challenge the industry’s perspectives to be a truly interesting writer/thinker about music. An appointment at the Times will only increase these problems because his thought will by necessity become even more institutional and cautious.

        I think we need a new kind of music journalism that is much more willing to take risks and challenge the status quo. Blogs thus represent the best new journalism about music. Even if the occasional exception exists (like in this neck of the woods,) the corporate elephants are simply too lugubrious, predictable, and conformist – a condition that has contributed significantly to the slow demise of classical music. Arts journalism that seldom challenges is nothing.

        • another orchestra musician says:

          Careful, Mr. O. In a world that is swirling about us precipitously, there is merit in the staid and predictable. Those living museums that are our symphony orchestras and opera houses, likewise the Grey Lady that writes about them, deserve our appreciation, not our reproach, for being institutions that help us to find anchor.

          • One of the major purposes of art is to create a world that is swirling and preciptious — one that challenges our perspectives and opens new worlds. That’s why the music community in New York has become rather dull and hasn’t contributed a new idea to the international music scene in about 50 years.

            In any case, it’s a question of balance. Music journalism in too many major American papers errs through an excess of blandness. Classical music is a bit like a drowning man. The last thing it needs is an anchor around its neck. More of the same will only hasten its death. The capcity for innovation and challenging old practices is our best hope. It is essential for music journalism to take up this cause, but look at the people writing…

  12. Zachary Woolfe is a hack. He is mean-spirited, agenda-driven, and, perhaps most importantly, a terrible writer. Kozinn at least seems to know what he’s talking about. This is really sad news.

    • Many, myself included, will dispute that assessment. He’s a good writer, just nowhere near what JL cracks him up to be.

      • I, too, admire Zach Woolfe. And let’s not forget Steve Smith, a fresh and inventive critic, particularly fine on new music, but lively and trustworthy with anything.

        • agree.

          • I’d also put in a word for Vivian Schweitzer, a Times freelancer whose expertise is piano music–she once wrote a review on a laptop in the back of our car!

          • Sorry. I got a little heated reading about this. I read the headline of the column and got prematurely hopeful that Woolfe was demoted for an incredibly mean-spirited column he wrote about a young violinist: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/27/arts/music/charlie-siem-violinist-at-le-poisson-rouge.html

            He also criticized Bernard Haitink, who had just returned to the New York Philharmonic after a lengthy absence, for not programming more contemporary music. This, in itself, is fine. Except that he continued this reaming of the general artistic direction of the New York Philharmonic for nearly three-quarters of the review. Instead of discussing the return of one of the great musicians of the century, to an orchestra that clearly adored him, Woolfe goes on at length about programming. The timing couldn’t have been more awful, and people were rightly shocked at how off-topic(intentionally, it seems) and self-righteous it was: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/12/arts/music/bernard-haitink-and-new-york-philharmonic-review.html

            I shouldn’t have said that Woolfe was a terrible writer. I regret that, but my original point still stands. he is an obnoxious critic who clearly has a blatant agenda, and this is what I, and many others, find extremely frustrating.

        • Tom Steenland says:

          Yes, Steve Smith is excellent. But the range and depth of Allan’s work is rare and should not be discarded.

      • He is a good writer, but yes, he is often very negative. Not to mention mean-spirited if a singer or performer happens to be over 45 and female. I find his style of overwhelmingly negative writing very off-putting and I don’t read his reviews.

        I knew something was up when Tommasini began including more negatives into his reviews (even if not applicable). We live in a negative world. Sad.

    • I tend to agree with @Waldo about Woolfe. Agenda-driven seems to be an absolutely apt description. Besides that, he simply does not know nearly enough about instruments and instrumental playing to write about it with authority or proper technical awareness, and so his reviews avoid specifics and end up sounding remarkably bland and similar. Perhaps his knowledge of the voice and opera is more substantial.
      What a great shame about Kozinn.

      ps– right on @Vert !!

    • Valerie Ennis says:

      >>Zachary Woolfe is a hack. He is mean-spirited, agenda-driven, and, perhaps most importantly, a terrible writer

      Lisa Hirsch skewered Zachary Woolfe recently in this excellent blog post:

      http://irontongue.blogspot.com/2012/08/let-me-count-ways.html

  13. Excerpt from the NY Times top secret critic’s formula, acquired at great personal risk:

    Paragraph 1: Discuss how the program represents another one of Alan Gilbert triumphs of artistic vision, regardless of the result.

    Paragraph 2: This is the bulk of the review and a chance to show off those Writing Skillz! Attempt to translate into words the music of a world premiere. “The piece opened with atmospheric chords led by the strings, later punctuated with rhythmic entrances in the winds, creating a dialogue at once placid and troubled.” Wow, the readers now know what the music sounded like, good job!

    Paragraph 3: Copy-Paste a chunk of biographical information about Beethoven’s life, avoiding discussing the actual performance of the symphony at all costs (consequently revealing that your musical training is limited to several 101 level courses), concluding with the words “Conductor X drew a vivid and transparent rendition from Orchestra X.”

    Paragraph 4: Pithy musing

    • I generally loved Allan’s reviews and the concerts where I have been in attendance my impressions matched his in terms of audience experience. He called it as he saw it, and like Thomassini they haven’t been afraid to call performances for what they were, especially the performances of the NY Phil under Maazel which was a disgrace (I loved one review where he called out the Phil’s horn section, noted for their inconsistency of performance).

      I suspect there is something else going on here, something a bit more dark, and that is that as the person I am responding to suggests, that the Times sees itself more as a PR arm of the ‘arts’ then as a valid critical engine. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find out that the NY Phil leadership and Allan Gilbert haven’t been pressuring the Times to bring in someone who will give ‘fair’ reviews (the way that Fox News is fair and balanced….). Zachary Woolfe writes well, but his reviews quite frankly manage in the words written not to say a lot, it sounds like criticism but in reality it is a description of the concert designed, rather then saying how they played, to get people to go to future concerts. With the Phil, like all arts organizations, facing an audience literally in danger of dying out, they are looking for any way they can to boost attendance. This is not unprecedented, just look at what happened in Cleveland with the Cleveland symphony, where the local music critic was demoted because the orchestra and their god of a conductor didn’t like being called on giving phoned in performances…….The ‘opinion makers’ who have lost faith in the Times are basically the crowd that supports the idea that the NY Phil can do no wrong.

      I suspect if the Times does what they want to, get rid of Kozin and Thomassini and replace them with Wolfe, the Times music section will become a self adoring PR group for the NY Phil and other ‘big arts’ groups.

  14. Odin Rathnam says:

    I echoe Jeffrey ‘s thoughts, in that Allan’s gifts are such that he will find a way to navigate this new position , writing new pieces of a slightly different nature that will still challenge thought and inspire. I think removing him from music criticism is a huge mistake, nonetheless……………………

    • Yes, Odin. I wonder what Allan will do as a result? I can imagine that he will find new avenues to share his love of everything artistic, in his own unique way. Not even a political agenda at a newspaper can hold back the tiger within.

  15. Get a GRIP!

    For TOO LONG the NY Times contemporary classical reviews have completely lacked the diversity of opinion found in, for example, the book reviews. Reviews of every concert – as in literally ever concert – range from pretty good to amazing. Is there no bad music in New York? Really?

    There is no objectivity in the writing. Kozinn (and even Smith) proudly “like” and back-slap the very people they’re writing about – on Facebook of all places – for all to see. The New York music scene has become a very chummy club between the reviewers and their subjects.

    A contemporary composer can proudly post their Smith/Kozinn review to Facebook, tag the review onto the reviewers Wall, and get it “liked” back by the very same reviewer (or their partners). What message does that send out?

    Just read all the posts on here and currently on Facebook. God forbid an independent critic is appointed.

    Some professionalism and maybe training the NY Times reviewers on how to and how not to use social media might be a good idea. Alex Ross gets its right: there’s a “Chinese wall” attitude to his handling of his reviews and their subjects.

    WAKE UP!

    • I’ve not been at the Times for more than two decades, but my own guess about why most of the reviews these days are positive is that the paper rarely sends out a critic to anything that it doesn’t imagine will be good. In 1987, we covered something like 150 concerts a month and even then we were encouraged not to write if the event was not worth the ink (unless it was an official debut, which was a different matter in those days). Now that number has been cut by at least two-thirds. I should add that I’ve read negative reviews from all of the people writing for the Times now, some of them sharply negative. The idea of some sort of cabal just doesn’t hold up — and nobody likes bashing the Times (the institution, not the critics) more than an ex-Times person.

    • Dr. Marc Villeger says:

      Bingo! The Facebook cozy relationship between concert presenters and the local newspaper reviewer… well observed Jane!

      • Excellent point, Jane.

        Lebrecht is very above board and clear about declaring conflicts of interest in his online journalism and his Facebook/Twitter accounts. Perhaps if NY Times music critics did the same, their opinions would be taken more seriously.

        That’s why there are policy documents on ethics in newspapers. Smith would do well to remind himself of the NY Times Policy on Ethics in Journalism, especially the points on Web logs and Web pages: http://www.nytco.com/press/ethics.html#B5

        And no, I don’t consider FB a private locked-in arena for friends. It’s all too public.

  16. I rely on Kozinn for his intelligence and fair-mindedness, taste and artistry as a writer. This is just an outrage.
    I hope this is quickly rectified.

  17. Slonimsky said it best: music criticism became a meaningless artifact a century ago. Pissants like Alex Ross, before whom all composers genuflect, should be writing about fashion. Cogent writing about music, e.g. Richard Taruskin, will never be published by newspapers and magazines that pander to the 1%.

    • What? I couldn’t disagree more. Ross is a highly persuasive writer on contemporayr music for a mass audience. Taruskin is often wrong-headed and a great favourite of the New York Times’s duplicitous classical music editor.

    • Taruskin made his name writing for The New York Times.

    • Therry Neilsen-Steinhardt says:

      I think you’re completely wrong bout Alex Ross, but I find it hard to defend a magazine that has a pop music “critic.”

  18. Brian Worsdale says:

    I call Allan a colleague in this industry and he and I have had a couple interactions especially in the area of youth, orchestras, community bands and community orchestras, all of which have a rich history and serve a vital importance to culture and education. Allan not only understood this but went to great pains to champion it when he could, much in the same way Robert Sherman has done with the Young Artist Showcase. But in both of these cases done by the same hand, the NYT has shown itself more willing to allow their culture departments to delve into sensational journalism that Allan just has too much class for. And like humor in this country, we seem to feel that critics must scrape the bottom of the journalistic barrel just to get people excited. I thought this kind of thing was saved for “professional” wrestling.

  19. Drew Lewis says:

    Taruskin exemplifies the type of critic that is interested more in the musicology than in the music. We have them here in the UK too.

  20. Taruskin is very bright but very eccentric. His Oxford History has about four mentions of Sibelius, all in passing, one of them only as a springboard to talk about Peter Maxwell Davies. Richard Strauss is similarly shortchanged. And then there are great green gobs of Stravinsky all over the place. The writing is sometimes fascinating, or so it seems to me, but you simply can’t take it to the bank.

  21. Dispiriting news. What we need is a greater diversity of points of view, not a further shrinking of the Times esthetic. But this is the way criticism is going.

  22. Leslie Kandell says:

    It’s a sad day for informed reporting on new music. Zachary is a great talent, but if someone has to be let go to hire him–assuming that is a given–it shouldn’t be Allan.

  23. Martin Bookspan says:

    Apparently my first response did not go through. I only hope his bosses will give Allan the freedom to shed his brilliant light on all aspects of our contemporary “culture”.

  24. Andy Manshel says:

    What’s with all the Jim bashing? There is a beetles (no pun intended) quality to all of this. All of these voices are valuable ones. Zach is a lively writer. Allan has been a dedicated, careful critic for many years.

  25. Michael Meltzer says:

    The NY Times fully emerges as a corporate entity, with its greater concern for titles and hierarchies than for content and ideas. When we recognize this internal mindset, can we of the reading public expect any better in the Times’ approach to and perception of the output of the music profession? Will politics not supersede content there as well?
    Paying todays high price of a newspaper requires a bit of trust. More than a bit of trust has just been lost.

  26. Andrew Appel says:

    The thing about Taruskin’s work is that he forces you to think…his writing, no matter how offensive, pushes to consideration and evaluation. Though a gambist, he has been particularly harsh on early music, and very very harsh on his colleagues. Yet, behind the offensive, lack of courtliness, is a series of questions we must consider. Because of that, I have continued to admire him.

    I remember when a San Fran cellist and musicologist (senior moment as I have forgotten her name!!!) wrote on Boccherini for the Times. It was, on the surface, an article about his mostly ignored but fine music. If this were the only purpose, I would say it was not worth serious reading BUT, her real intention was to question the value system that placed Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn so high above all others that we could no longer enjoy other values or styles or compositional priorities. She didn’t question their brilliance, she questioned in her writing whether that sort of brilliance was the only brilliance to be cherished and admired. She questioned OUR present sense of quality and ability to assess the past. It was important writing.

    • Larry Wallach says:

      Andy:
      Could that have been Elizabeth LeGuin? A fine baroque cellist and Boccherini fan-atic.
      I agree with your balanced assessment of Richard Taruskin’s work. I love to read it and yell back as I do. But as an authoritative history, the “Oxford” opus is too idiosyncratic. And many of the opinions date back to our days in graduate school (45 years ago).
      Two of the problems that all the Times reviewers share is the short format for daily reviews and the short deadline. Some experiences just require a bit of time to digest, ruminate, and then cough up an opinion. This limits the value of their work as “thought-pieces.” The format that New Yorker reviewers have enjoyed produces more thoughtful pieces; and I disagree that the reviewer’s principle job is to always produce an opinion about the quality of the performance. We have a lot of very talented performers coming out of conservatories now; the question is whether they can put together a program that provides new insights into the music they are playing, and whether their playing reflects the same kind of creativity.

  27. Tom Storer says:

    “The chief critic Anthony Tommasini is thought to have failed to win the confidence of New York’s opinion formers.” Is that the ambition of NYT critics? To please “opinion formers”? One might think a loftier ambition would be to BE opinion formers.

    • I’m grateful for the support for Allan, but wish that this didn’t have to be some sort of referendum on Tommasini, who has the most thankless job on the planet (everybody’s always angry at the chief Times critic) and probably wrote the best biography of an American composer in our literature.

      • “….[I] wish that this didn’t have to be some sort of referendum on Tommasini….”
        —————————————————–

        Given that a vacancy must be created to make a staff place for Zachary Woolfe in the Time’s classical music department (and that place most certainly ought to be made for him at the Times), I’m afraid that’s simply unavoidable. As I’ve already commented on my blog, in my opinion the wrong man was reassigned to make that place.

        ACD

        • I disagree. I’m a great admirer.

        • I find it very sad that Tommasini is being bashed here – and yes, that’s what it seems. I always find something useful in his reviews.

          I think the NYT and even most here, who live within the classical bubble, have it wrong.

          The reason so many critics try to avoid being overly negative isn’t because of any conspiracy. It is because negativity doesn’t gain readers over time. The reason critics may no longer be looked to by many as opinion makers, in my opinion, is because audiences so often disagree. This leads audiences to seek out others with whom they will agree over future performances. Why bother reading a review if your friends and others online – with whom you have much in common – can give you their opinion?

          We also live in a celebrity culture. More than ever, audiences attend to see specific singers or performers. Therefore, reviews will be rejected far more quickly if they are negative toward these performers – and again, audiences will search elsewhere for opinion makers like them.

          Social media allows potential audiences to tap into people like them. What this does, of course, is limit critical thinking and limit the possibility of creating wider knowledge of whatever work is being critiqued. But unless critics can find ways of encouraging those things within the new environment, I fear they’ll go the way of the cassette tape.

        • I disagree as well, Both Thomassini and Kozinn were at the forefront of pointing out how badly the NY Phil, in particular, had dropped under both Mazur and Maazel and in many cases their reviews were a lot better then the concerts they were reviewing. I don’t know who the movers and shakers are supposed to be that don’t like Thomassini (or Kozinn), but I suspect it is more like the ‘arts’ supporters looking to get a stooge as chief times music critic.

          Maybe I come at this from a different angle, but the musicologist writing for fellow musicologists is not what Classical music or opera needs, nor is it a PR person to sell tickets to the orchestra, what is needed in a critic is someone who is passionate about the music and can share that passion in a way that can reach people who may not be all happy because a composer used a diminished chord in the 3rd movement that evoked (some long forgotten composers minor symphony). To me, both Kozinn and Thomassini have done that. As I wrote in another post, I suspect this is the culture editor bringing in someone to act as PR person for the orchestra to please the ‘arts boosters’.

  28. Sounds like an interesting article, Andrew — and Taruskin absolutely has his moments. But he’d be a dreadful daily music critic — as bad as any number of other brilliant occasional writers about music (John Cage, Glenn Gould, Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez). Daily critics have their own challenges and the duties of the job are beyond the ken of the every-now-and-then contributor. I remember how little I thought of Harold C. Schonberg when I started at the Times, and within a year I was amazed at much he’d “improved.”

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Harold C. Schoenberg during a lecture in the late 1980s at a famous music school, topic: stage manners and connecting with the audience; to a student pianist who had just performed. “Put your feet together, stand straight and bow from the waist; how hard is that?” He could be brutal. A great newspaper needs a mix of styles among its journalists and the NYTimes has almost always had that. It might be different now with Kozinn going in a different direction. I have a feeling that he will survive this because of his talent.

    • Andrew Appel says:

      It was indeed Elizabeth LeGuin who wrote that fine article…You see, when you pass 60, the tip of your tongue gets terribly large..like the basement of an old house that stores, unseen, the archeology of a lifetime. Gotta dig deep to find the individual objects!
      As to the daily grind of the critic, I do understand the different viewpoints and possibilities. Maybe, for the health of the field we need to stop the daily review and get 5 critics to write one piece a week. Would give more room for any one piece, weed out the mediocre from the thoughtful, and probably give a much more interesting vision into our times for people in future times who might choose to look to the TIMES for their history!

      • Be careful what you wish for, Andy. One article a week by each of five critics would mean that an awful lot of good concerts in New York would go uncovered – even more than go uncovered now.

        • Andrew Appel says:

          That is EXACTLY what I am wishing for!! No more concert reviews….real journalism that tells us about trends and important movements, not individual events. Really, it is of little importance to understanding the music scene to read about all these concerts and recitals. Better to have a fine mind report on several performances, pulling out what is of interest and writing about MUSIC in NEW YORK, or AMERICA.
          We are caught in a kind of reporting on sales and objects rather than interesting views into our time and our values. This takes a complete revision of what the Times does and how it does it in reference to music.
          I need to add that reviewing theater, or opera, allows us to see an opinion about something we can see for ourselves. A recital or concert is done and over. A PREVIEW of some interest is more important and more helpful to both artist and market for one time events. I remember a long review that Andrew Porter wrote of Le Marteau sans Maitre by Boulez. How I wish this had been published before the event as his background information made it seem unmissable!! But I missed it because I read about it a week later.
          But finally, YES, Id like to abolish all concert reviews for informed previews and essays on bigger issues of the NY scene.

          • I agree Andrew. As if we needed these people’s opinions about performances. It is the larger issues that are most interesting and relevant. That’s why Norman’s work, for example, is so popular. He looks at the bigger picture. It’s odd that more people aren’t imitating his very successful approach. How imaginationless can they be? Maybe music journalists should receive training in sociology and cultural anthropology. It might help take the scales of their eyes…

    • As bad as John Cage, Glenn Gould, Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez? Is this not a rather self-congratulatory assumption? With minds like those, I think at least some would have made excellent music journalists if they had applied themselves to the task – possibly even very great music journalists. It seems to me the smuggness demostrated in the comment reveals a narrowed, self-absorbed worldview, something that might be part of the problem with classical music journalism today.

      • I didn’t mean to be smug. The four gentlemen above went on to do different things, far beyond the ken of most professional music critics (to put it mildly). The point is that music criticism, as it has been practiced over the past couple centuries, is a daily JOB — a job that has many frustrations and yes, more than a few moments of real joy and transcendence. Whether reviewing has any value is in the eye of the beholder — I think it does, or I wouldn’t have devoted almost 30 years of my life to it, and when I read Kozinn, Tommasini, Rockwell, and several other writers, I continue to learn and admire. They put into words what I have often just felt, and I hope that is illuminating to readers. Occasional critics are terrific (such as the four people I just mentioned) but they are also, by necessity, mostly interested in their own small corner of the musical world. With such geniuses, that is as it should be, but I don’t think it would make for sustained daily journalism.

        • Thanks for the repsonse. I realized after sending my post that I had misunderstood your point. Daily writing on demand is an art of its own requiring very specialized skills. It must also be damned hard work.

          • Oh, no problem at all! I could have made myself more clear.

            And yes — a lot of work. I’m still decompressing almost five years later.

            Best,

            Tim

  29. paula brochu says:

    I really appreciate the very candid responses to this post.

    Tim is correct about the kinds of concerts the critics are sent to. It’s hard to quibble about most concerts attended. Allan does push the envelope in regard to what he attends — getting out to things that are not Times staples. However, anyone who is taking notice of the amount of space being given to Allan’s average review, and is willing to take into account the amount of information that has to go into it, I would think that an objective person who loves the arts would favor those few words being saved for useful information rather than trying to be destructive to the careers of those he reviews, just to get a pat on the head by a bitter few, or more clicks on the website.

    As for what I “like” and post: I met Allan *because of* my interest in developing concerts with humanitarian goals — I was promoting music and the arts long before we developed a friendship, even when I was still living in Maine. I have always held my own tastes and opinions. As a former economic developer, I maintain a long-standing habit of promoting things that are good for the general public, the arts, and my friends. I make no apology for it.

    However, in fairness to Allan, we don’t always share the same tastes or walk away from a performance with the same opinions. It makes for great conversation.

    Don’t judge Allan by my actions. Anyone who knows us knows the stark differences. Also, Allan has always had so much integrity that despite publicists (and others’) efforts to wine and dine us, we have refused things as harmless as a loaf of banana bread.

    Allan also teaches an ethics segment in his Music Critic class at NYU. Ask any student what a stickler he is to the most minute detail.

    He’s also very quiet on Facebook. He’s not busy “liking” people he reviews or stroking people. Why would he *need* to? But if he likes someone’s work and reviews them — everyone knows — it’s been publicly stated. What could be the harm in it?

    • Agreed.

    • I think Allan was always a very workman-like critic and I have few complaints about his objectivity, but it is true that the new music scene in New York is very incestual. The lack of dissent and critical discussion in the community is sometimes harmful. This was especially true during the 60s and 70s. Total serialization and its related genres were almost entirely dominant Uptown. And the Downtowners were hardly more tolerant in their views. One had to carry an aesthetic party card or risk marginalization. Dissenting voices and differing views were barely tolerated. These problems still exist.

      • I know what you mean, but I think it was more a professional war than a critical war. I think you will find that the better critics treated Elliott Carter with just as much respect as they treated Steve Reich, sometimes more. It was left to Elliott to compare Reich’s repetition to Hitler in Time Magazine (this really happened — to Reich!) and, certainly, for just as many barbs from the downtowners shot toward the academy. Strangely enough, at the peak of battle, Carter lived on 12th Street (downtown) and Phil Glass was up on 107th Street (way uptown).

  30. It’s a tremendous loss for the Times (although they apparently don’t realize it) and a tremendous loss for the music world. Kozinn’s depth of knowledge and understanding on a plethora of musical subjects, from contemporary serious music to the Beatles, make his writings unique and indispensable. He cannot be replaced and the Times is turning it’s back on those of us who live in the same musical cracks that Allan does, ie, the serious listeners who love a wide breadth of genres and artists, from opera to pop, and who are constantly searching for the new and exciting artists who break boundaries. Allan, we can only hope that the Times will realize their mistake and restore you to the position for which you are most suited…….Music Critic extraordinaire!

    • It may not be a loss to the Times as a whole, Tom, even if it is a loss to classical music fans. As has been said here already, Allan knows a tremendous amount about many, many subjects; in a job with a wider scope of subject matter than he has had up to now, Allan will be probably be giving us an awful lot of interesting and varied stories to read.

  31. Michael Redmond says:

    Yes, this is sad and disturbing news. So many relevant points have already been made here that I will refrain from belaboring them, except to say that Mr. Kozinn’s byline has always represented a trustworthy standard of intelligence, erudition, sensitivity and judiciousness. I see nothing to be gained by bashing other people, who may be symptoms of what is going wrong at The New York Times, not the causes. But I would defend Anthony Tommasini, in particular. The fact is that the Great Dumb-Down continues apace everywhere in American culture, including The New York Times. Allan Kozinn has had a brilliant run, the times are parlous (no pun intended), and I expect that Tim Page is right by citing Rockwell and Kennicott as examples of the level of insight and adventure that Mr. Kozinn will bring to the culture beat.

  32. And all of this has happened on LABOR Day??

  33. I share everyone’s (most people’s, anyway) displeasure at this situation. As a music writer at another paper, I’ve always admired Allan Kozinn’s insightful and well written reviews and features. His ‘John Cage on the subway’ piece of a few weeks ago was exemplary of a creative musical thinker working in a deadline-driven environment. And Zachary Woolfe is, in my view, also a very good writer whose work I’ve enjoyed, even when I haven’t agreed with it.

    I am, however, confused by a couple of things.

    1) In what way will the position of general cultural reporter be a “newly created” one? The Times already has cultural reporters – Robin Pogrebin is one, mostly focusing on the art world, and Dan Wakin has been a reporter on the classical music beat for at least half a dozen years. What’s new about Kozinn’s position?

    2) Related to 1 – If the Times had to create a new position for Kozinn and are also hiring Woolfe, why wouldn’t they just hire Woolfe as a new critic and expand their reviewing force, which is already “down one” position since Bernard Holland’s retirement (if one counts that way)? In other words, why take on additional salary without increasing your reviewing core, and instead create a new position (“cultural reporter”) that, at least in my understanding, already exists in some form at the paper? Do the totem-pole rankings of seniority really matter that much in this tiny corner of the universe – so much that the paper would shoot itself in the foot by passing up the chance to have one more full-salary critic on board? That’s hard to imagine, even if the mean-spiritedness detailed above is accurate.

    I hope it’s clear what I’m asking. In any event, disheartening indeed.

  34. Paula’s description of Allan’s library, preparation, and dedication to his work explains the excellence and reliability of his reviews and their usefulness to artists as well as the public. Classical music remains a small and vulnerable niche within our mass culture and a reviewer must strike a delicate balance between supporting/encouraging the practitioners in the genre while offering objective criticism. Allan succeeded at that like few others:his pieces contained good reference-quality information, praise when deserved, and helpful, constructive criticism when necessary. When we started Gotham Early Music Scene (GEMS) five years ago to promote and support New York’s early music community, it was Allan who saw the potential and importance of our enterprise.

    I will sorely miss reading Allan Kozinn’s reviews– even those about musical genres not to my taste and those with which I disagree! I sincerely hope, as some here have suggested, that he applies his prodigious talent and strong work ethic to the task of explicating our “general culture.” In the meantime, I will add my name to those protesting the Times’ ignorant decision.

  35. For those who might be interested, I’ve been informed of a petition on change.org asking for Allan Kozinn’s reinstatement. Here is the link: http://www.change.org/petitions/new-york-times-reinstate-allan-kozinn-as-new-york-times-music-critic?utm_campaign=autopublish&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition&utm_term=2868038

  36. I know nothing about the circumstances of Allan Kozinn’s reassignment and have no comment on it. But as a member of the New York Times’s Culture department for the last 13 years, I do know Jim Oestreich, and Norman Lebrecht’s statements about him are wrong and repugnant.

    That the Times, in the current economic climate for newspapers, has five people regularly reviewing classical music, two of them on staff, is a small miracle. That’s unfortunate, but true. And there’s a single, simple explanation: no editor in any department at the Times has fought longer or more fiercely to protect and, when possible, expand his area of coverage than Jim Oestreich. Anyone who suggests otherwise is uninformed, dishonest or both.

    As an assistant editor in the Arts & Leisure section and deputy editor of the Weekend Arts section, I worked closely with Jim for close to a decade, and I’m just one of many people who count him as a particularly valued colleague and friend. His status within the Culture department, as writer and editor, conscience and curmudgeon, is unmatched.

    I should mention that Jim has no idea I’m writing this. Private and self-effacing to a fault, he’d be horrified. But it would be wrong to stand by in the face of — to use Mr. Lebrecht’s words — something as shameful and self-serving as this post.

    Mike Hale
    Television critic, New York Times

  37. Deborah Boldin says:

    There is now a petition on to reinstate Allan Kozinn on Change.org

    http://www.change.org/petitions/new-york-times-reinstate-allan-kozinn-as-new-york-times-music-critic#

  38. I, for one, have been hoping for a shake up in the Classical Music department at the Times, the low hanging fruit being in the “piano expertise” department. That particular critic possesses an uncanny talent to fulfill her word quota with platitudes, half program notes half program announcement with an uninformative sentence or two about a part of the performance. Kozinn is/was among the reliably good reads of that section altogether. I hope that the NYT will deem her readers worthy of an explanation of their decision which is one more reason to reconsider the worthiness of one’s subscription. After all it is already the case that most incisive, informative and out of the box music critiques are to be found online. Even communicating with the artists themselves is already widely accessible via social media or their own blogs and does not require the insider perspective of a critic. Kozinn cannot be described as a mover and shaker critic who would force anyone off their 3B seats into listening to a contemporary composer, but it does not sound as if the Times decision is related to any visionary perspective coming through either.

  39. “The chief critic Anthony Tommasini is thought to have failed to win the confidence of New York’s opinion formers.” This is a truly shocking revelation on the internal logic of the NYT, and it is – in my mind – the real story here.

  40. Save Kozinn says:
  41. Jenny Bilfield says:

    What a shame to lose Allan as a music journalist at the paper of record. He has always brought a flexible intellect and omnivorous interest to his work, and has covered the music scene with open ears. His writing matters. I don’t dispute the need for the additional cultural role at the NY Times but am disappointed that filling it comes at the expense of losing an important voice in classical music.

  42. david bonetti says:

    it has been interesting reading the passionate discussion here.
    i was laid off as visual arts critic at the st. louis post-dispatch two years ago after nearly 30 years as a working critic in boston, san francisco and finally st. louis. what none of the commentators above seem to realize is that cultural criticism means next to nothing to daily newspapers in america. it never really did and it means less now as daily print journalism continues its long slow very public process of dying. all of your petitions to the gods of the times will be for naught – allan kozinn’s demotion was probably their least important decision of the day. his supporters should be grateful that the times retained him as cultural reporter rather than giving him the shaft.
    music and art criticism were always considered luxuries at newspapers. in neither field was there enough advertising to justify the space devoted to “high culture.” as criticism of the arts is eliminated, theater and movie reviews will survive because both of those populist genres bring in enough ads to support the editorial space given to their coverage. (although the number of movie ads has recently greatly diminished.)
    in a culture defined by the values of gordon gecko, none of this should come as a surprise.

    • Save Kozinn says:

      I hear you David. But I also think that The Times was the one paper that people always held in higher regard because it DID cover the arts so extensively. Think about it, every kid who played an instrument in school has some interest in music. And one glance at the big advertisers says that the arts drive the ads. If they want to keep their place in the world while figuring out how to make it in the digital age, they need to sustain, in the readers, a level of confidence that they are making good decisions, and the must give the readers some bit of positive and cultured reading to start our day with. For me and most of my friends, that was Mr. Kozinn.

      • Robert Levine says:

        This is bad news, as I think we all agree. It really does imply a certain lack of care and respect for experience, quality, and a general storehouse of knowledge. Kozinn has been writing intelligent, fair reviews for years and years; the fact that he was never cut-throat and never fought for (or wanted, I suspect), the chief critic’s position apparently put him in a vulnerable, rather than safe, position at the Times, which, I was warned in 1985 when I was asked to interview there, is a den of bitterness and competition.

  43. Joseph Dalton says:

    The situation with Allan is a pity, but once again a discussion about our field is focusing exclusively on one newspaper and one city, as if that’s all there is to the field. From what I’ve seen only David Bonetti (above) and Scott Cantrell (on Facebook) have placed this in any larger national context. How many cities have symphonies, opera companies, and music schools but virtually no music journalism taking place? Where has all this concern been as one newspaper after another cuts coverage and starves its freelancers and then has its news reporters write dramatic stories about local cultural organizations (otherwise ignored) struggling with meager finances and dwindling audiences? Too bad for Allan, but he’s had a great career and extraordinarily rare opportunities.

  44. Change please says:

    Focusing on contemporary music for the moment: if we’re into breaking down boundaries, broadening audiences and being visionary, how about petitioning for a female staff writer? Or a person of color?

    But please, not another white male writer.

    I’m sorry, but things have to change. In my opinion, the Kozinn/Smith NYT new music coterie needs a major overhaul. I mention these two names as they tend to write more about contemporary music than the others.

    I would like to see both Smith and Kozinn posted to interesting new jobs on the paper, but taken out of reviewing new music. They are good writers, but they have got tired on their beat.

    They are both more like fans than they are critics. It’s nice for a while, but then it’s just plain dull.

    Imagine if the NYT film, book and visual art reviews of new works echoed the new music ones? It would be an entire section of everything being awesome all the time.

    I mean, it’s so plain obvious to me that a change is needed, no wonder the editors took notice. The NYT is generally great, but the new music writing in the Review section has become basically, a daily industry newsletter for the same group of people covered repeatedly.

    Read A O Scott (film) or Kakutani (books). They are as knowledgeable, as educational, as eloquent, as connected to their scenes as the new music writers. But there’s one big difference – they offer a broad and brilliant range of opinions.

    Let’s inject some fresh blood.

    If the NYT restaurant reviewer gave everything 3/4 stars, they too would be moved pretty quickly.

    • “Focusing on contemporary music for the moment: if we’re into breaking down boundaries, broadening audiences and being visionary, how about petitioning for a female staff writer? Or a person of color? But please, not another white male writer. I’m sorry, but things have to change.”
      ———————————————————————

      What extraordinary rubbish! What has a critic’s gender and/or race have to do with anything of importance in the matter of reviewing classical music, new or old? Answer: Not a damn thing. While I agree that things have to change at the Times in the matter of critical coverage of classical music, what has to change is the notion that critical coverage of classical music is somehow of minor importance and requires the services of but two staff critics — in NYC, of all places(!).

      ACD

      • Change now says:

        ACD: I believe in affirmative action. I believe in creating new role models.

        In the contemporary music world we celebrate this with highlighting female composers, minority composers etc. We’re proud of this and do everything we can to diversify and create new role models.

        Why not for the critics too?

        Perhaps this might help your goal of making classical music criticism more important at the Times.

        • “ACD: I believe in affirmative action. I believe in creating new role models.”
          —————————————————————

          That, dear fellow (or dear lady as the case may be), is a perfect recipe for producing work of utter mediocrity — the Kiss Of Death in any domain of the arts, serious criticism included. It’s not the business of the arts to “create new role models.” It’s the business of the arts — its SOLE business — to produce work of unalloyed excellence.

          Period. Full stop.

          ACD

          • Change now says:

            And there it is, everyone. This is why things need to change.

            I guess we should remove all the initiatives to provide opportunities for minority composers to get into classical music and hear their works performed. We wouldn’t want them growing-up to be mediocre – sorry, utterly mediocre – right?

    • Kakutani? Wow — it’s nice to know that there is somebody who likes her work, but it’s a first for me. Broad and brilliant? REALLY? Maslin is infinitely better, and Garner is pretty much at her level. And Scott is good, and Dargis and Holden and — especially — Kehr. Still, I think Kozinn has done magnificently as a critic of new music and old — and there are a number of fine critics besides — Tommasini, Smith, Woolfe and Schweitzer. Still, Kozinn was very special — at least as I see it.

      I simply can’t believe there is a big audience out there waiting for Allan to lose his humor, his insight, his graceful writing — and become….Michi????

    • The problem with that is it assumes that ‘someone of color’ or a woman is necessarily going to bring a different perspective or add something to the mix, and that is ridiculous, it assumes that somehow simply being a minority will make them more broad minded about music or better at doing it. There are female music critics out there (Vivienne Schweitzer for example), and many of them write reviews and review concerts in ways that are not much different then their white male counterparts for example. In terms of a non white person, an Asian or African American or whatever, simply because they are of that background won’t make them a good critic. The real problem is the kind of training that makes for a music critic, the kind of background, would require them to have experienced the broad range of classical music, to have the background or interest to be able to write about it. A writer who has spent his/her time in “new music” or “world music” who doesn’t have a grounding in the scope of classical music would not be a critic, they would be an advocate for what they know best and give the rest short shrift (as many critics of classical music say about playing only warhorses, music written by ‘dead white men’, etc). Simply hiring someone because they are non white/ non male isn’t the answer, it is finding someone who is non white/non male who has a broad background in music and can write from that angle, and that isn’t that easy to find.

  45. Change now says:

    Tim,

    We agree on Kozinn: he’s great. I think he’s going to have a brilliant future ahead of him. I’m glad he’s not reviewing anymore, though. I’d like to see Smith moved too.

    You’ve summed it up: my Michi is your Maslin. Fine with me. But you’ve just accounted for the diversity in the other review sections which does not exist in the classical music reviews.

    The music review section? Everything is great. All the time. Especially with new music. That is not criticism, that is a newsletter.

    It’s not the writing that’s dull, it’s the discerning.

    Allan’s writing is great; but the reviews section of the “paper of record” is not to repeatedly tell us how everything is awesome. It plainly isn’t. After a while, the only people looking out for the reviews are their subjects.

    As I said: apply the monolithic all-is-great mantra to other sections of the paper, even just the review section. It doesn’t hold up.

    With regard to the New York contemporary music scene, Smith and Kozinn’s writing looks and feels clubby.

    Change is good, I think. Now for some more…

    And I should be clear: I wish Kozinn the very best in his future endeavors.

  46. I still think that the perceived dullness in the music writing is due to the fact that the Times is down so many critics and deliberately goes out to cover events that at least have the promise of being worthy ones. This was not the case in the old days — there were so many of us covering music that we could hear the debuts, hit the lofts, go to the Bronx Opera and many other smaller events. The film department still goes to pretty much everything — meaning there will be more slams: so much of film is purely commercial garbage, so of course the abuse will be livelier. That’s not the case with music, where 1/10 of what is offered gets covered and virtually all of it aspires, on some level, toward artistic nobility. Beating up a young composer or pianist straight out of conservatory isn’t very worthwhile so I think the Times, with its drastically reduced staff, sends its critics to the events that are more high-profile and likely to have an audience. Not surprisingly, they turn out to be the better concerts.

    As mentioned above, I’ve not been associated with the Times in many years — and I DO recognize that they try to get to as many interesting concerts as they can. But when the Times had as many writers as it did when I was there — Schonberg (emeritus), Henahan, Rockwell, Holland, Ray Ericson, Allen Hughes, Crutchfield and Allan — and when some of us were covering up to three events a day, we quite naturally gave a broader picture of the city than is now possible.

  47. Change now says:

    Tim,

    I take your point about a depleted music staff, but the positive hit rate (for contemporary music reviews) is 100%.

    It’s not 99%, but 100%. Kozinn and Smith simply do not write diverse eviews. I might not be suspicious, but it looks suspicious. That is a problem for a paper.

    It’s not about being overly negative, or beating up on anyone. It’s about the nuance of discernment. For a reader to see this, there needs to be a spectrum of opinion. It’s no longer there and that is a problem.

    Beyond that, if the NYT does have some magic ball that can predetermine all the best concerts taking place before they’ve happened, then what is the point of reviewing them? Why don’t we just read the PR sent out by the composers and performers and be done with it.

    I would say the book reviewers cover LESS than 1/10 of what is put out. I presume they also pick what they perceive as the bigger, more interesting books. But there is a far greater diversity of opinion. And, as a reader, I learn more from a spectrum of response.

    Kozinn/Smith are good writers, but – even if not – when they always SEEM like part of the PR machine, that is a major problem for a newspaper trying to maintain independent objectivity.

  48. As an outsider (music lover but not a critic or musician or music professional) I am deeply impressed by the level of comment and commitment in all these posts. But as I music lover, it seems to me that newspaper coverage of classical music is almost entirely irrelevant to most concert goers. Reviews do not bring people to music halls (they are always after the fact, and the performer may not appear again in NY for years). Most of the music performed is readily available 24/7 on services like Rhapsody or Spotify; most of us have immense CD collections. Many of us simply stopped going to concerts (the cost factor). In the past, when we read the NYT on paper, we’d see the music reviews whether we looked for them or not; now most of us read the the NYT online, and there’s simply no reason to click on a music review. And most fundamentally, there’s no excitement whatsoever about new music. (That’s a legacy of the decision, made decades ago, that new music needs to appeal to other musicians, not the audience.) So while Kozinn may no longer review concerts, no one will know or care except the people who post here!

    • BobG says, “And most fundamentally, there’s no excitement whatsoever about new music. (That’s a legacy of the decision, made decades ago, that new music needs to appeal to other musicians, not the audience.)”

      Wow, you really haven’t been reading NYTimes reviews lately, have you?

      Excitement about new music? Greg Sandow, who over the years acquired a reputation (exaggerated) as American classical music’s great prophet of doom, now writes blog post after blog post about how the current new music scene – “alt-classical” is the term most widely used for it – is going to save classical music.

      New York is the alt-classical hotbed, with a substantial and devoted audience (you should see the crowds at the Bang on a Can Marathon every June) at hip(ster) venues like Roulette, Galapagos and Le Poisson Rouge; Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center regularly present music by the big names in the alt-classical world as well. And the NYTimes covers that scene regularly – in fact, there have comments above complaining that the Times’s critics like everything too much when it comes to new music.

  49. Michael Meltzer says:

    Relative merits of one critic vs. another are endlessly arguable, but beside the point. What the Times seems to have overlooked is the extent and depth of Alan Kozinn’s popularity. I believe his fan club to be large and solid, and is based both on his excellent journalism and the discovery he has afforded to nascent careers that have turned out to be important. I have been a fan since his piece on the rehearsal tiff between Zubin Mehta and Aaron Jay Kernis, which put a very deserving Aaron Jay Kernis in a huge spotlight, arguably the most important exposure he’s ever had. If the Times wakes up and allows Mr. Kozinn the latitude to continue to contribute music criticism from his new post, when and in what manner he sees fit, most of us should be content.

    • I appreciate your comment, Michael, since what we are hearing so much of in private emails on the Keep Kozinn Facebook page (formerly the Save Kozinn page) is that he [took] time to review things in less-than-mainstream venues, covering newbies and unique works that are not connected with ad revenue.

      Numerous people have sent letters to us saying that they were unknown before he reviewed them and his review– sometimes positive, sometimes negative– gave them exposure that boosted their careers and gave others the confidence to step out and try experimental genres publicly.

      Music that is not allowed to be heard and considered doesn’t ever evolve into something widely valued.

      I remember first hearing music from bands that are now considered classic rock, and I remember thinking it wasn’t music at all. It was noise and screaming guitars. I grew to like a lot of it, even love it– most of it. And now, as a mature musician, I can hear the classical in it and the very complicated structures of songs that I was deaf to when I was dismissing them outright. Kozinn allows new music a voice and puts it out there for people to consider. Isn’t that a key function of a newspaper’s music department?

      Furthermore, it doesn’t matter how much you like Alan Gilbert– and I do– it gets sickening to read these reviews by others that read like open love letters. I won’t name any names, but so much fawning over Gilbert is too much, especially taking into account the ad space you see filling the pages of the Times this is directly related to all those big glitzy venues. How can it not seem like Kozinn is the one who stands out as not pandering to the ching-ching of the Met and Lincoln Center?

      As we understand it at Keep Kozinn, the job description itself will not allow for Mr. Kozinn to do any music reviewing at all. But then, in his old post, the guild description indicates ALL he was supposed to do was reviewing, yet he was constantly pushed in other directions. I guess the Times just makes up the rules as they go. If they don’t allow him to return to his post, I hope they will find a way to get his voice out there again, in some capacity, as a critic. We are already feeling the absence of his regular reviews.

      https://www.change.org/petitions#search/allan%20kozinn

  50. Andrew Appel says:

    Mr Oestreich has annoyed so many people with his bile-rich reviews. Of course, sometimes they are merited, sometimes not. However, unlike the writers for the NY Review of Books, the reader rarely comes away more informed after reading his reviews. He doesn’t hold a respectful conversation with the work at hand or the player or writer, but takes a position of distance and superiority. This is very dull and usually makes for an unimportant piece of journalism. But no critic is perfect or can know everything and he is not the only one whose facts and understandings are often faulty. Kozinn, even when off base was rarely mean spirited and off base. Kozinn saw that his greatest opportunity was that of advocating and supporting new trends, new efforts even before they were completely satisfactory. Something more of vision in his work.

    • Very good observations, and they also apply well to the review of Norman’s book that was mentioned. One senses his personal resentments in the commentary. We might also remember that Oestreich is an apologist for the Vienna Philharmonic. He has written articles defending the orchestra and rationalizing its sexism and racism. It is one thing to appreciate the orchestra’s music-making, but another to dismiss its bigotry and treat it as a non-topic. I think many are looking forward to the sea change that will come when he leaves the Times.

      • “We might also remember that Oestreich is an apologist for the Vienna Philharmonic. He has written articles defending the orchestra and rationalizing its sexism and racism.”
        ————————————————————

        Still riding that same old, stillborn hobbyhorse regarding the Vienna Philharmonic, I see.

        Time to dismount and move on.

        ACD

  51. I’m nowhere on record or off as saying “the Vienna State Opera Orchestra is entitled to exclude both women and racial minorities” as Mr Osborne invidiously suggested. ACD

    • Notice that Mr. Douglas only mentions the Vienna State Opera Orchestra as not entitled to exclude women and racial minorities. He conspicuously does not mention the Vienna Philharmonic. His claim has been that since the Vienna Philharmonic is a “private” organization, it can exclude whoever it wants.

      It is important to remember that the State Opera Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic are the same orchestra and use the same personnel. The members of the opera orchestra just run the Vienna Philharmonic on the side as a nominally “private” organization. If the Philharmonic excludes people based on race and gender, so does the State Opera Orchestra.

      So Mr. Douglas, if you have changed your stance and no longer feel the Vienna Philharmonic is entitled to exclude people based on race and gender, please let us know.

      • Mr. Lebrecht will not permit me to respond to any of your posts on this matter. He deleted my original response to your prior post, and when I protested, he extracted a single sentence from my protest and published it above as my response to you. It’s pointless for me to attempt to continue to post here as even if this post gets through, which is extremely doubtful, Mr. Lebrecht will delete or edit any replies I make to your subtly false and invidious charges. I may be blocked from replying here, but you may be certain I’ll be posting the entire dishonest history of this exchange and more on the dishonesty of Mr. Lebrecht on Sounds & Fury (my blog) which is read by most if not all who read this blog.

        ACD

  52. This all concerning Mr.Kozinn is really “much ado about nothing ” Just look at how the comments here reflect the
    same nonsense of so called critics writing to each other – no one really gives a rats’behind about what most
    critics write – if the writing agrees with the readers point of view concerning a performance , you are
    discerning if not you are an idiot . This is really all about self anointed pundits on a sinking ship .

    • Some of us believe, rightly or wrongly, that enlightened criticism of the arts is a noble and edifying pursuit. At the very least, it tells other people a little bit about what is going on around them. Were we to leave music to the record companies and promoters, David Helfgott would be considered the greatest pianist of the late 20th century and Jackie Evancho a new Callas. As Virgil Thomson once said, criticism is often inefficient but it is our only defense against paid publicity.

      • Criticism could also be viewed as a defense against the cronyism and parochial perspectives that artistic collectives such as Uptowners and Downtowners sometimes have. I think that over the last 50 years, Allan and other New York critics have not adequately dealt with that problem.

        On the other hand, bashing contemporary classical is often beside the point since the task is by nature so difficult that the failure rate is bound to be extremely high. There is also no accpeted criteria for judging works that establish new methods and aesthetics. But still, a little more bite in the Times might keep the new music community a bit more honest.

      • Dr. Marc Villeger says:

        @ Tim Page: From my viewpoint, YouTube is doing more for enlightenment than written criticism and reviews.
        “Were we to leave music to the record companies and promoters, David Helfgott would be considered the greatest pianist of the late 20th century and Jackie Evancho a new Callas.”
        How do you explain then critics almost exclusively reviewing the roster that those very promoters feed them? As for the Thomson quote, when was the last time a musical critic revealed and championed an unknown, unconnected musician to the face of the business?

        • Dr. Villager writes: “when was the last time a musical critic revealed and championed an unknown, unconnected musician to the face of the business?” Well, “recently and often” in the case of our subject, Mr. Kozinn. His reviews of unknown early music ensembles presented in GEMS’ annual showcase concerts in New York have resulted in bookings for these groups around North America, and valuable exposure for them and for the listening public outside the NYC cocoon. And I have some anecdotal evidence that concert-goers outside of NY look forward to the local appearances by these groups and that they buy tickets to the concerts and CDs based on their reading of Kozinn’s reviews in the regional editions of the NY Times or online. It’s not big business, but it means a lot to artists who are devoting their lives to their art.

          • Dr. Marc Villeger says:

            @ Gene Murrow, first, my name is Villeger not Villager. Second, would you name some of them? Thank you.

    • Ariel writes: “no one really gives a rats’behind about what most critics write.” Not so… presenters who book performances by these artists do value what the critics write and often make decisions based on reviews. This can have a huge effect on a musician’s career (I’m talking about the large tier below the “super-star” household-name musicians). Also the musician’s themselves should read as much criticism as they can garner– nothing more valuable than the perceptions of an informed listener.

    • William Safford says:

      @ Ariel: Many people *do* give a “rat’s behind” about what critics — at least good and perspicacious ones — write. Just because you do not is your business, but don’t project your own bias onto others.

      (Incompetent, biased, and/or poisonous critics are another story, of course — just as in any other realm.)

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