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Where did new music lose the New York Times?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Save Kozinn says:

    Thank you, Norman for posting this excellent piece by Scott Rose! He is touching many of the thoughts and feelings we are suffering through now.

    Something else that I keep hearing is that a move like this by the New York Times causes a mild panic in a world where everyone is feeling insecure about tomorrow. Moving Allan Kozinn like this, when no one can see any possible reason for it, makes everyone feel less secure. How can WE expect to hang on to our jobs when so many wretched companies are getting rid of people past fifty and pretending it’s not about that? Mr. Kozinn in our opinion should be untouchable. And if he can get pushed around for no reason, how safe are we?

    Excellent piece, Scott Rose. Brilliantly done. Thank you.

  2. Rose Rita Petersons says:

    “All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgerize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”
    William Bernbach quotes (American advertising executive, 1911-1982)

  3. Did this seriously equate not appreciating young composers to voting Republican? Seriously? That’s a big uncalled for, don’t you think?

    • Scott Rose says:

      As happens, composer Mohammed Fairouz is gay. So are many additional young composers, musicians, and others in the music world. The Republican Party has an announced intent not only of continuing sexual orientation apartheid in the United States at its current levels, but actually of redoubling the institutionalized discrimination against LGBTers. Mitt Romney has signed the anti-gay-rights National Organization for Marriage’s “pledge,” that would forcibly annul the marriages, and end the civil unions, of all same-sex American couples currently in legally-recognized marriages and/or civil unions. NOM officials have held symposium sessions titled “Homosexuals or Homo Sapiens; Who Deserves Protected Class Status.” NOM has sponsored hate rallies where its chosen speakers have yelled through megaphones that homosexuals are “worthy to death.” That is to say, NOM tells the public that gays are sub-human and deserve to die. And Romney has signed their pledge.

  4. The NY Times is a business and Mr. Kozinn is an employee and the NYT has every right to reassign him to
    whatever position they see fit . I am positive Mr. Kozinn is a very fine person but do spare us the thought that
    his every word or pronouncement is awaited with baited breathe . He is by profession nothing but a” musical
    critic ” however one gets to that standing and what he writes are just opinions, nothing that comes from on
    high as to make him untouchable . 99 9/10 % readers of the Times I will bet have not the slightest who he is .
    He should in to-days economy thank his stars he still has some sort of work and not having to join many other
    out of work musical critics . To quote Tim Page is akin to having the fox in the hen house .That Mr. Kozinn
    has been moved to another position in the Times business is not causing any panic that I can see as I look
    looking out my window .The streets are calm , people strolling about – no panic. May I suggest a line from
    a real critic of the human condition ” much ado about nothing ” .

    • John Parfrey says:

      Ariel, I’m not going to address the rather sarcastic tone of your post and try to explain why the vast majority of posts here have been so critical of this move by the NYT. Many of those posts explain the collective dismay extremely well, but let me try again to provide you with a concise explanation.

      As a critic, Alan Kozinn is one of the best at what he does, and for those of us who actually do know that about him, and appreciate his contribution to music criticism, his reassignment represents a monumental waste of his strongest talents and sends a troubling message about the direction of music criticism at a major metropolitan newspaper which many of us have viewed as one of the last remaining bastions of thoughtful coverage of classical music.

      Classical music coverage in the NYT is one reason I spend over $800 a year to get the Times delivered to my doorstep in Colorado every day of the year. To use your figures, I represent part of one-tenth of one percent who DOES understand Kozinn’s value and importance, and this concerns me greatly.

  5. Richard Schultz says:

    First of all, music is not for the masses. Therefore, reporting about it to the masses is neither necessary nor desirable. Do we really want the uncultured in our midst? And what if by our encouragement they become more gentile. It is then that their demands for inclusion into elite society will become intolerable.

    Finally, to allow the commoner a window into a better life of the spirit will merely stir up trouble for the present social order. Ultimately chaos will reign as seekers of truth and beauty push aside all manner of behavioral constraints. Such free souls conjoined will overpower us. The reality is that the NY Times is doing us a favor.

  6. There was no sarcasm implied -just facts – the NYT is a business and Mr. Kozinn is hired and used according
    to the needs of the business.That one finds his writings on music of value is indeed wonderful for Mr. Kozinn, but
    you explain nothing except that some people find his writing on music of value and cannot understand
    that the NYT may not share the same opinion . Critics come and go and some do believe they have lasting
    effects on music as an art form, they do not , but love to think so as they write their comments designed to impress each other. I certainly wouldn’t spend $800 to read NYT reviews I’d rather give the money to needy music
    students for some good beer parties and perhaps a new sets of violin strings for needy violinists . Making
    music is a lot more important than reading about it .Still no panic here .

  7. Snarplegash says:

    I found the Rose piece a bit smarmy and insidery. He knows Kozinn and got to visit his house. Why should I care? Defend the man’s work, but the cliquish crap is really annoying to those not part of the clique. It goes down like cold mashed potatoes. Truly.

  8. Snarplegash -that is just the point – you’ve it on it !!! they write to and support each other in thinking they are of import . It is all too amusing -Mr. Kozinn still has a job whatever it will be – many people equally worthwhile if not more so do not, he should be thankful – as for the rest , self appointed pundits squawking away like chickens when the fox comes aknockin. The NYT should let them a go -it would be a breathe of fresh air .

  9. Bruce M. Foster says:

    Didn’t the Times “lose” new music back when Pareles stopped writing about it? He gave up on it and moved over to writing about pop.

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