Responses to the removal of Allan Kozinn, the paper’s most dedicated classical music critic, have raged overnight from the activitist to the philosophical. A Save Kozinn site has been opened on Facebook and, within a few hours, hundreds have signed a Reinstate Kozinn petition. Others, in comments to this site, have reflected on the critic’s singular qualities and the damage his demotion does to the Times’s fading integrity.
In a passionate and personal submission, the New York writer Scott Rose reflects here on where the Times has gone culturally astray.
In Search of the Lost New York Times
By Scott Rose
What are we to make of this – frankly – simultaneously bewildering and stomach-churning news that The New York Times has reassigned Allan Kozinn – iconic music critic, reporter and commentator – away from music to the role of “general cultural reporter”?
Of course, of course; one has faith that Kozinn will continue to delight. His recent transcription, into words, of his singularly imaginative hearing of John Cage’s “4’33”: The Extended Subway Remix” by the A Train Yakkers was the talk of the East Side, the West Side, Park Slope, Joisey and various musical galaxies within the Twitterverse.
Yet, Kozinn is music, and music is Kozinn, as all us yakkers know. To move Kozinn from “music” to “general culture” is like putting a Van Cleef and Arpels diamond in the window at Salvatore Ferragamo. Sure it still looks nice; but what it is doing there?
I admit it, I admit it; and I hereby disclose it: I have visited chez Kozinn. Oh. My. God. The scores. The records. The floor-to-ceiling shelves and racks of music, music and still more music, except where there are books about music, and, upon a sofa crowded with notebooks, newspapers and pens and pencils and music staff paper, a needlepointed pillow reading “I Love the New York Times.”
OK. So it’s all true except for the needlepointed pillow. But let’s face it. We do all love the New York Times, even when we hate it. That’s why it should be listening to our voices now, in our fortissississimo moment of supreme hate.
Whatever else can be said about Kozinn’s reassignment, the move more than implies that the Times is reducing its music coverage.
The trend over time towards less coverage is undeniable. (Insert a lusty “Boo!” here). The counterproductive continuation of that trend in the present day stems – I believe — from a very serious failure of both vision and imagination somewhere along the chain of command within the Times.
There are reports of internal personnel machinations leading up to this situation with Kozinn, and to be sure, such reports are the kind of juicy, gossipy stuff that grabs attention in media circles – as I know all too well — but these alleged, behind-the-scenes events cannot be said to be enhancing our cultural lives in any meaningful way.
In fact, I’m not that interested in them. Certain stale paradigms apparently need to be set aside so that “All the (Music) News That’s Fit to Print (or click)” actually makes it into the publication. More on that will be coming up below.
“Did you read what Allan Kozinn said?” was a phrase in common usage among my peers and family already in my late teen years, when I was practicing Bach Fugues, Beethoven Sonatas, and Bartòk’s Out of Doors daily, and was just generally obsessed with music. My dear “aunt,” the late pianist Constance Keene often remarked on what a pleasure it was to read Kozinn’s reports. With two grand pianos in her penthouse living-room and a teaching appointment at the Manhattan School of Music, Constance hosted nearly weekly musical soirées. I never saw Kozinn there physically, yet he was a palpable presence, so often did those in attendance – students, professional musicians and assorted Musikliebhaber – talk about his writing.
The comprehensiveness of Kozinn’s interests and knowledge makes him an insuperable source for insights into contemporary music. Yet — far too often — important premieres are given in the City, but for certain reasons – all of them surely beyond ridiculous – those important premieres are not deemed part of all the news that’s fit to print (or click).
Here comes an example. The Five Borough Songbook premiered last fall at the Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn. The work is a cycle of 20 songs, conveying 20 intriguing living composers’ impressions of New York City. It was performed once in each of the five boroughs. The Times (Kozinn) did review the cycle when it crossed over the bridge into Manhattan. Yet for a bad reason, the Times did not devote a non-review article to this quintessentially New York event. Thus, not nearly enough attention was drawn to – (to cite but one example) — Mohammad Fairouz’s truly extraordinary contribution to the Songbook: a setting of Auden’s Refugee Blues. Fast-forward to February 16, when Fairouz’s Third Symphony; Poems and Prayers premiered at the Miller Theater. The chorus sang mesmerizingly from the balcony, and in one movement, clarinetist David Krakauer cut more than loose with an irony-and-joy-tinged kletzmer tantrum that was one part of a duet with a woman singing a Mahmoud Darwish poem, a heartbreaking lullaby to a dead child. The Times published no review.
If this is the way that one of our world’s leading music-writing venues is going to treat our top young composing talent, we almost (but not really) had might as well just vote Republican, and then bellow “USA! USA!” when President Romney orders that Muzak be broadcast over the busted and defunct PBS on a tape loop.
Just when the music scene — and its audiences — are more energized than ever, and just as opportunities for online expansion of a loyal musical readership are greater than ever, the Times is shrinking back from the scene. The editorial vision is too narrow, and needs to be expanded. The Times brand automatically compels attention, so it would stand to reason that if you expand a bit, and get more music articles out there, you’ll get more people from all over the world talking about what you’re doing, and then linking to, and clicking onto your site – not that I’m privy to the current bottom line but to judge by the ads in the print version of the paper, one would think that music is above the staff and could still go higher.
Moreover, I believe there was an important lesson in the popular success of Anthony Tommasini’s Top 10 Composers multi-media series. The moral of that story was not to ditch the Times’s more customary classical coverage. The musical sophisticates might have been sneering – I might even have witnessed some of them doing it – but the series was alluring and mind-expanding for readers who have recently discovered that they do like classical music, but are not yet at the cognoscente’s level. This shouldn’t be viewed as an either/or choice, or a tuning fork in the road. Cultivate a broader music readership, publish for several levels at a time, and just keep everybody reading. Eventually, those “Top 10” readers will evolve into the more advanced offerings, and they’ll be replaced by a new set of “Top 10”-type readers.
But that can’t happen if you don’t keep the musical beat with Kozinn, if you treat the precious cultured human resource that he is more or less the same way that you treated the Fairouz symphony premiere. As Tim Page told me via a private Facebook message: “Allan Kozinn is a brilliant critic, one of the few that other critics read for both enjoyment and self-education. His departure is a sad occasion for anybody who cares about music.”
Previously on this topic, see here.