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Pulitzer winner and more attack New York Times for removing music critic

The demotion of Allan Kozinn from classical music critic to culture has attracted widespread condemnation in the few hours since it was first reported here. Tim Page, a Pulitzer winning critic and former Times contributor, now professor of journalism at the University of Southern California, sent the following message:

“This is an outrage! The NYT has sidetracked a brilliant all-around music critic who was also the single person who did more to teach Americans about historically informed baroque performance than anybody else. I love Tony Tommasini (who had nothing to do with this) and the NYT has some splendid stringers. Still, Tony aside, the most important paper in what is still probably America’s musical capital no longer has a staff classical music critic worthy of the name.”

The contemporary music site sequenza-21 is urging its committed readers to write to the editor of the Times, demanding Kozinn’s reinstatement. Its managing editor, Professor Christian Carey, writes: ‘[Kozinn] he is one of very few writers on contemporary classical music who has the knowledge and expertise to explain the inspiration for and intricacies of a wide variety of newer repertoire. ‘

Dozens more composers, journalists and colleagues have expressed their dismay privately, fearful of offending a powerful newspaper.

Kozinn himself posted the following dignified response on his Facebook page:

‘Well, since word about this seems to be out, I might as well repost it as well. I think officially, all I can say is that it’s been more than a privilege to write about music and musicians for the Times for the last 35 years. I’ve heard, seen and covered a few lifetimes worth of great and interesting music although there’s a great deal more I wanted to do – I’ve enjoyed watching the new music world really catch fire in recent years – I’ll obviously continue to keep tabs on it through Steve Smith‘s work, not to mention directly, where possible while I’m doing whatever it is I’ll be doing instead.’

A statement is expected Tuesday from the discredited culture department of the New York Times.

Meantime, here’s what’s happening to music critics in the UK.

 

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Comments

  1. Now there is really nothing left of the Times to respect. Jayson Blair. judith Miller. Now this.

  2. Koszut Feldhoff says:

    “Tim Page, a Pulitzer winning critic and former Times contributor”

    Wait a minute. Is this the same Tim Page who wrote this about Pfitzner’s great opera, Palestrina:

    “Admittedly, Act 2 is a problem — a noisy, clattering depiction of the Council of Trent, where Palestrina’s work is judged by Tim Page, a Pulitzer winning critic and former Times contributor, some decidedly unsympathetic counts, bishops, cardinals and other authorities. This act was intended as the most extreme possible contrast between the two acts that surround it — opposing the chaos of the world (including the squabbling hierarchies that purport to speak for religion) to Palestrina’s retreat, where everything is pure spirit. Intentionally brash, Act 2 lasts more than an hour; it is marred by the absence of female voices (which necessitates a certain timbral monotony) and it succeeds in conveying ugly emptiness rather too well for the health of the complete work”

    He doesn’t understand opera I can tell you that.

    Act 2 of Palestria is one of my favourite acts in ALL opera. I’ve lost some respect for Tim Page.

  3. John Yohalem says:

    I’d never read that description of Act 2, Koszut. Thanks! I entirely agree with Page about it. This is exactly why the opera is so rarely done and almost no one wanted to sit through Acts II and III a second time when the work was given at the Met some years ago.

  4. Koszut,

    It sounds like you have some personal beefs to be worked out… are they germane here at all?

  5. Sorry to disappoint you on Act II of “Palestrina.” It’s always struck me as clattering and noisy — by design, to be sure, but I still think there might have been a better way. At least we agree on two of the acts — I’m always startled by those listeners who hate the whole opera!

  6. Koszut Feldhoff says:

    John, Musiker and Tim:

    “I’d never read that description of Act 2, Koszut. Thanks!”

    Believe it or not it gets even worse.

    Here is Edward Seckerson:

    The Council of Trent middle act of Pfitzner’s ‘Palestrina’. Wagner would never have got this so badly wrong. Its scherzo-like character, its wordiness, its protracted length, simply throws the rest of the opera out of kilter. By the time we reach the final act one we’ve all but forgotten who Palestrina is!

    Here is Michael White:

    “Act 2 of Palestrina works nicely as a dinner break”

    Here is Zerbinetta from Likely Impossibilities:

    “You could not pay me to see Pfitzner’s Palestrina again”

    Here is the Viking Opera Guide:

    “Any performance of Act 2 must either be sung in the audience’s language or enlist supertitles” … (This is utter nonsense of course)

    Here is Jens Laurson:

    “Act 2 of ‘Palestrina’ sounds and reads like a secular second coming of ‘Die Meistersinger’. Instead of zooming in on the conflict of arts and politics, it is 70 minutes of clerical Barnum & Bailey in robes”

    Here is Martin Bernheimer:

    “Poor Palestrina disappears in the somewhat shorter second act, which takes us to the Council of Trent and introduces an array of primary singers milking secondary cameo opportunities as they bicker. A stagy blood-bath brings down the curtain, and not a hemidemisemiquaver too soon”

    ************

    Is it possible that these critics and most of the operagoing public simply lack the aesthetic sensitivity to love Act 2? In other words could it just be that Palestrina is an opera for true connoisseurs?

  7. Koszut Feldhoff says:

    John, Musiker and Tim:

    Oops. I forgot one more:

    Opera cake blogger refers to it as…. “the major operatic yawniac”

    Look, I understand that the consensus in the opera world right now is that Pfitzner’s “Palestrina” should RIP.

    Here is the general sentiment expressed by an anonymous critic a few years ago:

    “I suspect that much of the praise given to the piece results more from an uncritical acceptance of its philosophical underpinnings and seriousness of purpose than from enjoyment of its musical content. It is through-composed and largely declamatory, with no clearly marked arias and few extended melodic lines. The confrontation between the outside world of hustle and bustle (the confrontations of contending factions in the Council of Trent) and the inner world of the composer turns out to be fairly effective dramatically, and there are moments of beauty, notably the choruses of dead composers and angels toward the end of Act I. But the opera is long, long-winded, and (to me) for the most part boring”

    Well I have never questioned its greatness and as a 20th century work I find it even MORE WORTHY than say, Lulu or Peter Grimes. Sure it has its musically weak / unmemorable sections (i.e. — the first 20 minutes in Act 1 after the prelude – Silla and Ighino) but it does quickly improve. I love it to pieces!

    As for Act 2, I simply adore all 70 minutes of the music and its cast of characters (Severolus, Novagerio, Cardinal Madruscht, Graf Luna et al). And of course it’s not all “scherzo-like” (but why is that bad anyway?). It also contains noble passages, wonderful writing for woodwinds, as well as a very beautiful orchestral interlude right in the middle. It has many other qualities. By the way, the great Karl Ridderbusch is just awesome in this opera.

    Also, let’s revisit what Tim Page said:

    “Act 2 lasts more than an hour; it is marred by the absence of female voices (which necessitates a certain timbral monotony) and it succeeds in conveying ugly emptiness rather too well for the health of the complete work”

    Oh dear! On the contrary!! I love the fact that this Act is completely DOMINATED by basses, baritones and tenors. I personally CAN’T GET ENOUGH of those rich bass voices (i.e. Karl Ridderbusch, Gerd Nienesntedt) and the more grouped they are the better.. :-)

    Again, an opera for very special tastes. I just hope that the forthcoming book – “A History of Opera” by Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker due out in November – will devote some juicy paragraphs to Palestrina

    http://www.amazon.com/A-History-Opera-Carolyn-Abbate/dp/0393057216

    (But yes it looks like it will remain (along with Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler) a connoisseur’s opera)

  8. Hey, I love the fact that there is somebody who admires “Palestrina” even more than I do. We can agree to disagree about Act II — but it sounds like just that, a disagreement. I hope we’ll find points of agreement in the future.

    • Koszut Feldhoff says:

      Tim,

      Thanks and kind regards.

      The Wistful Pelleastrian

      (I used Koszut Feldhoff as temporary screen name because I wasn’t sure if Mr. Lebrecht would publish my responses. And thanks, Norman)

  9. Tom Dunston says:

    Uhhhhhhhh. I dunno. One less critic? On a scale of 1-1000 this would not make my list of important world events these days. As for Page, isn’t this just another example of one insider boosting another one? Who proclaimed these people geniuses or leading experts, other than each other? Frankly, I’d rather listen to music than to read someone write about it. I’ve never really gotten that. As to Kozinn, there are literally millions of hard-working people unemployed today, unable to keep their homes, feed their kids or find any hope of work. So Kozinn has to pound the pavement a bit to earn his bread. He’s one of the lucky ones.

    • Tom Dunston says:
      “Who proclaimed these people geniuses or leading experts, other than each other?”

      The editors who hired them, and – most importantly – the thousands and thousands of people who have regularly read their writing. (Especially those who care about what they write enough to complain about it.)

  10. Matthew B. Tepper says:

    My opinion of Act II of “Palestrina” is expressed in two words:

    Non placet.

  11. Wtf are you people talking about. It seems a little off topic.

  12. Gentlemen:
    Is this about PALESTRINA, or about Mr. Kozinn? He is a fine critic; PALESTRINA by Pfitzner is a good opera, with longeurs. But it is Mr. Kozinn’s unfortunate demotion that is the issue. Erudite people (Mr. Kozinn and Mr. Page included) are necessary to the musical life of New York and to our nation as the Times is an internationally-recognized daily. No one doubts the ability of younger, more “hip” writers on the staff at the TIMES, but where is loyalty to a good writer such as Kozinn? Remember, there have been critics in the English speaking world who remained relevant and writing with acuity into their 90s–Messrs. Shaw and Newman come to mind. We need to respect those with long service and especially ones who contribute vital and engrossing articles to describe the musical life of a megalopolis like New York City. This demotion is disgraceful.
    Lloyd Arriola
    New York City

  13. Tom Dunston says:

    So, somehow music is different for you if you read what someone else wrote about it? I’m not saying the writing may not be good and even interesting at times, but I fail to see its purpose. I’m not going to think differently about any piece of music because of what someone else thinks of it, even someone who gets paid to tell me. But, to each his own. There are even those who like reading the work of sportswriters, which I’ve never understood.

    • Then again, a young music student might find value in reading the writing of a seasoned journalist. Like sports writers, there are amusing, malicious, gossipy quasi-journalists; and then there are great writers lke Berlioz, Ernest Newman, Shaw, and John Von Rhein. (Virgil Thomson, too.) Those guys, you might say, with understatement, were pretty good. I know that as a young music student I loved reading what they had to say, and it meant something to me growing up as I did without guidance with respect to musical style and taste. A good critic reports–and if he does so skillfully, he illuminates.

    • Tom, you are clearly an intelligent listener, though! We need you in the musical “laety” instead of us “clergy” to keep us musicians employed and critics honest. We are suffering from a dearth of intelligent listenership and people to write in a nontechnical way (which Kozinn does; despite his huge musical brain, he does not bog down in jargon). I hope the guys coming up in the reportage biz will have his integrity and acuity with respect to musical values. He’ll be missed.

  14. Tom Dunston says:

    I can’t argue with that, Lloyd. I suppose it all depends on how deeply one is emersed in a given subject, including music, classical or otherwise. Critics may provide a service similar to those who write more in depth on a subject, such as establishing that they are familiar with a body of work (classical music, say) and are well equipped to comment on a given performance or recording of it. That does provide a service to those considering attending a concert or buying a recording, for example. But I find much of this sort of writing, like sports writing, tailored to those who really are heavily emersed in the subject, as you clearly are.

  15. I enjoy reading good writings. But for criticisms, as an artist myself, I can only say:

    “There are two kinds of people in the world: ones who DO things, others who TALK about them”

    • I heartily disagree. Consider Schumann. Consider Berlioz. And for that matter, consider Fetis.

      I would suggest that it is difficult to judge something properly that you have never tried to do yourself, and I would also suggest that it takes a certain level of writing ability to put judgements into prose (particularly with a deadline). True and lively criticism is vital in the case of music (and all artistic endeavors). If there weren’t people writing (or talking) about what you do (whatever it may be), you would feel like what you do did not matter.

      That’s the corner that has been allocated to classical music in the NYT. It hurts all of us.

    • I take exception to the statement, ““There are two kinds of people in the world: ones who DO things, others who TALK about them”. As mentioned earlier, Schumann did both quite well. There is a collection of his writings out there in print form and of course on the inter web. I personally love them.

    • I should have said, “others whose profession is JUST to TALK about them”. Since Schumann and Berlioz etc who actually DID create a lot, can be the exceptions.

    • Right on !!!!! as for Mr. Schumann and his writing people who talk about music read his
      writings while others are buying tickets to hear his music. To read a composers thoughts on music is always
      of interest , it’s his work. To read a review of a performance is much like being served cold porridge.

      • . . . Unless you were the one performing (or the composer of the music), and wanted to get an unbiased reaction from an objective and educated person.

        • You cannot get an unbiased review about anything in the arts- reviewers love to project the thought they are
          objective it’s part of the trade game – an “educated ” person means nothing in this game

    • Carlos Fischer says:

      You’re wrong Musician, there’s a kind of people who makes and , also, talks about it.

      • Let’s not forget Virgil Thomson, one of America’s great composers and maybe THE best American critic.

        • Virgil who ??????!!!!!– it is as a composer that he is remembered if remembered at all . It would be
          interesting to know how many hundreds of thousands of copies of his Thompson Reader sold.
          Mr. Page of course would have us believe otherwise but the sad truth is most all music criticism
          is in the dust bin of history the moment it is written .and the so called critic once away from the scene
          is not even yesterdays garbage unless of course he can attach himself to someone famous in the
          field and thus be remembered by association . We may read Shaw of course but that is for the
          language -the turn of a phrase -the laugh . We ain’t got that to-day – We have deadly drones writing
          to show each other how profound are their thoughts concerning the “art ” of music . There is the story of the pianist who wrote a critic “he was in the smallest room sitting with the review in front of” me “soon it
          will be behind me ….” many musical critics and writers on music should keep that story in mind
          it will help them understand their true position the world .

        • Carlos Fischer says:

          Critics , in any art, politics, science fields are absolutely necessary ; you may agree or not with them . In Classical music , criticism are absolutely useful …..there’s so many options ; some reference is needed.

  16. Tom Dunston says:

    I think this is about the idea (and a degree of resentment) that most critics never performed music professionally, acted on stage or screen, wrote a book or article on any subject, yet spend their careers writing about professionals who actually do these things. I admit that the best of them are very good at it and, at least for me, are at their best when they reflect an “everyman” view of a work, which may tell me how I’ll likely react to it. That’s useful. However, many reviews sound so technical and get down in the weeds where most of us don’t even understand the jargon. I have no idea if that is the case with the NY Times as I read little of its arts section or book review anymore, but, if so, I can see why many people see a reduction in that kind of coverage as no loss. If the writing gets that technical, it’s better placed in specialty publications that are aimed at students and scholars of the subject.

  17. Let me make a quick plug here for the American Record Guide. There are reviews of recordings and of concerts (mostly in America, but often in other countries as well). There are also book reviews. It comes out six times a year, and is extremely well put together and well edited. I have been writing for the magazine for 20 years, and have learned a great deal from my fellow writers and from the recordings and concerts I have reciewed. The magazine is not aimed at a readership of students or scholars. Its aim is to inform people who love music (and who appreciate good writing and honesty) about the quality of the recordings that are currently on the market.

    You can read reviews of Virgil Thomson’s music there. Lots of them.

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