We have been informed — not by the person concerned – that the [sic] 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 ... is rooted entirely in the poison of internal politics. [...] 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.If creating a vacancy in the classical music department is the only way to do it, then creating that vacancy so that it can be filled by Zachary Woolfe is indeed the right way to go. But on critical/journalistic grounds alone it's clearly chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini who should have been reassigned to some newly-created post elsewhere for the purpose, not Allan Kozinn. That, however, would have taken real balls; something corporate management, generally speaking, is not noted for possessing.
As An Officer and a Gentleman: The Musical came to its close at Friday night's world-premiere performance, the women in front of me exchanged excited glances and started wriggling with pleasure. The Oscar-winning song "Up Where We Belong" from the 1982 film was finally being let loose. It's what the women expected to hear, but more than that, there was something they expected to see, without which they would have felt badly cheated. They got it. Newly minted naval officer Zack Mayo — Ben Mingay, in the Richard Gere part — strides into the factory where Paula Pokrifki — Amanda Harrison in the Debra Winger role — is at work making boxes. Mingay scoops Harrison up into his arms. Cue cheers and thunderous applause. Then — and I kid you not — the pair head up a set of stairs to a platform on which they are solemnly transported up and out of our sight. Love lifts us up, you see. This kind of cringe-making obviousness comes as no surprise, however, given what goes before. If there is a laborious, lifeless way to have a conversation, get across a plot point or express an emotion, Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen (book) and Ken Hirsch and Robin Lerner (music and lyrics) have found it.On reading the review, Mr. Stewart was understandably a bit miffed and in an utterly stupid counterattack chose class warfare as his weapon. Wrote Mr. Stewart in a piece for the same Australian Arts pages:
As the Academy Award-nominated writer of the film An Officer and a Gentleman and co-writer of the world-premiere musical that opened last Friday at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney, I want to thank the enthusiastic audiences who have filled the theatre through previews and opening week performances, giving standing ovations to our talented performers. And I want to urge those of you who are reserving judgment to ignore the so-called review that appeared today in this paper. After four decades in this business I can tell you this was not a review by any standards. It was an "execution" by someone clearly unable to feel human emotion, or to put it in a kinder way, by someone whose highbrow tastes do not represent you. Perhaps she had made her mind up before seeing the show. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that many critics pretend to represent the popular taste but often only represent an eclectic, overly intellectual point of view that allows them to insulate themselves inside a cocoon of superiority. I like to think of them as that unpopular outsider from school who can now wield a cudgel of revenge against those of us who feel true emotion. When you read a review of a new artistic effort that has only harsh negativity to offer (like the one in this paper) that is your warning that you have run into such an emotional cripple. [...] If I can be your Officer and a Gentleman for a moment, I want to warn you Sydney theatregoers how dangerous it is to have voices like this speaking on your behalf.Yeah. That'll show that Jones person a thing or two and, better, bring audiences swarming into the theater. Idiot.
The Metropolitan Opera presented Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung” on Tuesday night to conclude the first of three complete cycles of “Der Ring des Nibelungen” this spring.... Alas Mr. Lepage’s handling of the concluding Immolation Scene remains juvenile. Brünnhilde still rides a hobby horse to join Siegfried on a makeshift funeral pyre that would be too puny for a high school pep rally. [...] So after all the hassles, the initial malfunctions, the $16 million price tag and Mr. Gelb’s repeated proclamations that the Lepage “Ring” is revolutionary, what are we left with? The Met’s new “Ring” is the most frustrating opera production I have ever had to grapple with. The machine represents a breakthrough in stage technology. There are breathtaking moments, like the opening of “Die Walküre,” in which the video images projected on a configuration of upright planks suggest a menacing tangle of trees in a forest, through which the wounded young Siegmund is fleeing his pursuers in a storm. But on balance the effects achieved are not worth the distractions they create....RTWT here.
Double basses quiver and swirl on a note so murky it is hard to hear the pitch. A lone trumpet ascends in a three-note sunrise through an octave, followed by a cataclysm of thundering drumbeats. Add to that the evolution of the human race, man, superman, illness, death, transfiguration, a levitating Latvian maestro and a flying baton dropped somewhere amid the cellos and this was Symphony Hall, Birmingham last Thursday night, the CBSO's [City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra] first major concert of the year....What's that? You don't know what work's being referred to? You should be ashamed of yourself.
All the [singers's] performances were hampered, indeed sabotaged, by the conducting. Placido Domingo, appearing for the first time since stepping down as general director, is a wonderful singer. But rather than supporting the singers, his conducting either drowned them out or tripped them up. He got warm applause, but I’m not sure his presence sells enough tickets to make up for spoiling the evening. Surely there are other ways to include him in WNO’s future.Yikes! "Sabotaged"(!)? We doubt it and doubt as well that Ms. Midgette meant to even so much as imply that Mr. Domingo actually sabotaged anything, but rather meant to say that his substandard conducting undercut (as in diminished or weakened) the singers's performances.* For his part, Mr. Domingo shot back in a Letter To The Editor:
Midgette’s statement that my conducting actually “sabotaged” WNO’s recent performances of Puccini’s Tosca is offensive and defamatory.... An act of sabotage is a destructive act done on purpose. Her remark suggests not only that I "spoiled" the performances but that I did so intentionally. This is unconscionable.To which Ms. Midgette, missing the point entirely, replied:
I am surprised that Mr. Domingo takes such exception to this review, since, as he himself has told me, an artist knows when he has done well or badly. I can’t believe he feels in his heart that this Tosca represented his finest hour. And I’m sorry that an artist of his stature, faced with evidence that I admire him as a singer but not as a conductor, chooses to dismiss criticism as a personal attack, rather than the response of someone who believes him capable of representing the very best.As we said, oh dear. As to the other items of interest, we have this from artist representative Amanda Ameer of Life's A Pitch on the appearance last night of the great violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter on the Late Show with David Letterman:
Last night, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter performed on David Letterman to celebrate the release of her box set, which Dave called, "the ideal hamster habitat." [...] Why musicians feel the need to play songs-they-think-people-want-to-hear on national television rather than Real Classical Music, I will never understand, but Mutter chose to perform, "It Ain’t Necessarily So" from (THE GERSHWIN’S, h/t Sondheim) Porgy and Bess. It just seems like a wasted opportunity, and the unwashed masses are drawn to virtuosity in any field more than we think.We agree thoroughly with Ms. Ameer as this was our thought precisely, and would add that the performance was positively embarrassing as not only were there problems of intonation(!) here and there but it was also clear that Ms. Mutter has little idiomatic feel for this music and would have done better — lots better — to have chosen even a wow-'em warhorse from the classical music rep with which rep she's so intimately familiar and in which rep she performs so superbly. On a happier note, we just watched our DVR copy of last night's PBS's Great Performances presentation of "Hugh Laurie: Let Them Talk" (yes, THAT Hugh Laurie), a performance by the actor singing and doing admirable service on piano and guitar (while singing and otherwise) backed by some of the city's best jazz musicians in a set of New Orleans blues numbers recorded in New Orleans's historic Latrobe’s building in the French Quarter. How was the performance? In a word, splendiferous, all things considered. If you want to hear the performance for yourself it's available in an album of the same name ("Let Them Talk") an MP3 of which can be downloaded here for a mere $7.99. That is all. As you were.
The good news for classical music is that it has a great product to sell. Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, who each produced hundreds of time-tested works that powerfully evoke the spectrum of human emotions, are every bit the musical equals of the enduring Beatles, U2 or Radiohead.Honest? No kidding? Gee, that's really good to know. Although it's true that one cannot hold writers responsible for the bad uses to which their writings are put, we nevertheless blame Greg Sandow and Alex Ross for this, for it's clear it's primarily from the all-good-musics-are-equal writings of these two prominent classical music writers that this classical music ignorant fine arts critic picked up on and felt secure in voicing this absurd idea, and saw nothing absurd in expressing it in so ass-backwards a manner. What's that we hear you saying? Mr. MacMillan was being ironic? Wanna bet? That an arts editor could blithely let pass, and a major daily publish, such mind-bogglingly ignorant rubbish by a writer so clearly classical music ignorant who's getting almost all of what he's writing for this series at secondhand from the writings of others is a telling measure of just how classical music incompetent our major dailies have become. Is it any wonder, then, that, today, classical music's future is in doubt?
The good news for classical music is that it has a great product to sell. Bach, Beethoven and Brahms ... are every bit the musical equals of the enduring Beatles, U2 or Radiohead.Instead of that absurdity, had Mr. MacMillan written something along the lines of, say:
The good news for classical music is that it has a great product to sell. Bach, Beethoven and Brahms ... are perfectly capable of holding their own against the enduring Beatles, U2 or Radiohead,his ironic intent would have been nicely accomplished, and we would have had nothing to remark upon vis-à-vis his comment. The above, just for the record.
...ordered the two men to split the assignment of covering the [Cleveland Orchestra's] concerts right down the middle. Criticism is not an exact science, and the paper would have done its readers a service by regularly publishing contrasting points of view on the city's No. 1 cultural venture.What Mr. Teachout got wrong — astonishingly and perversely wrong considering his profession — is this:
When the critic of a one-paper town decides that (in Mr. Rosenberg's words) "mediocrity takes up residence . . . when Mr. Welser-Möst is on the podium," and when his reviews of the orchestra's concerts consist in large part of variations on that grim theme, the editors of his paper have to ask themselves a tough question: At what point does so oft- repeated an opinion become predictable and redundant?Excuse us? Is Mr. Teachout here suggesting that Mr. Rosenberg should have varied his opinion of Mr. Welser-Möst's on-podium performance as the orchestra's music director simply to keep that opinion from becoming "predictable and redundant"? The very idea is patently absurd. The question that should have been asked by the paper's editors is not what should be done about Mr. Rosenberg, but what should be done about Mr. Welser-Möst, for unless the editors had hard-evidence cause to suspect that Mr. Rosenberg harbored some sort of personal animus toward Mr. Welser-Möst that was contaminating his critical assessment, the editors should have adopted the position that their expert's opinion on the matter should be taken with the utmost seriousness as rendering such expert opinion is precisely what expert critics like Mr. Rosenberg are hired for and paid to do. Instead, The Plain Dealer and its editor, Susan Goldberg, did what they did, and came out looking like perfect asses — or worse, craven capitulators to the will of vested business and political interests.
Several lives ago I served as music critic for the Los Angeles Times, then flourishing. In some ways my situation paralleled Rosenberg’s. The young music director of the local philharmonic was a photogenic extrovert named Zubin Mehta. He made a mighty splash in heart-on-sleeve challenges but seemed insensitive to works requiring elegance, subtlety or introspection. My reviews offended the orchestral establishment. More important, they offended Dorothy Buffum Chandler, the Golden West’s powerful culture-booster, fundraiser and social doyenne. She was also the mother of Otis Chandler, publisher of the LA Times. Mrs Chandler wanted me fired. Her son, bless him, had other ideas. He ran a full-page "house advertisement" in the paper, featuring my beleaguered mug and bearing a blush-inducing headline: “He faces the music even when it hurts.” Otis sent me this message: “Keep the faith, baby, ’cause your publisher boss (your only boss) is with you all the way.” The editors, bless them, seconded the motion. “You protect Beethoven,” they declared, “and we’ll protect Bernheimer.”Do they make 'em like that anymore? We suspect not. RTWT here.
I've spilled a great many words in this comments thread (sorry about that!), but in going over what I've written, I see that in all those words I've neglected to point out what's especially pertinent and curious about the central issue at stake in this case (and to my way of thinking, the only real issue), that central issue being what I've called The Plain Dealer's and its editor's shameful and craven capitulation to the demands of powerful political and corporate interests — interests that represented the target of classical music critic Donald Rosenberg's criticisms — calling for the muzzling of Rosenberg where the Cleveland Orchestra is concerned (and as I've already pointed out, no matter the language of the complaints lodged against Rosenberg, it was understood by everyone involved that it was demands that were being made), by the newspaper and its editor banishing Rosenberg to the fringes of the newspaper's arts coverage and forbidding him to even so much as mention the name of the Cleveland Orchestra or its music director, directly or otherwise. To point up instantly what was pertinent and curious about that central issue in this case, one has only to imagine that the objectionable critic was not a classical music critic attacking repeatedly in his column the below-standards musical performance of an orchestra conductor, but a political columnist attacking repeatedly in his column the below-standards executive performance of some high-office local politician — say, Cleveland's mayor — and powerful political and corporate interests representing the mayor lodged complaints against that political columnist with The Plain Dealer and its editor effectively demanding the muzzling of the columnist where the mayor was concerned. What, then, do you imagine would be the general press's and general public's response had The Plain Dealer and its editor capitulated to those demands and banished that political columnist to the fringes of the newspaper's political coverage forbidding him to even so much as mention the mayor's name in his commentary, directly or otherwise? That's right. Loud and vociferous howls of outrage and condemnation from both press and public that would be heard from coast to coast excoriating the newspaper in colorful and no uncertain terms, the affair almost certainly resulting in the instant dismissal of the newspaper's editor. Well, the difference between the two cases is, of course, that no newspaper or editor would be so mindlessly reckless or flat-out stupid enough to act in that way in the case of the political columnist because they know beyond a shadow of a doubt they'd never get away with it, but in the case of the classical music critic they had no problem at all because, well, it's only a classical music critic, and who really cares. Yet the two cases are *precisely* the same in principle. What's wrong with this picture? ACD
The function of criticism is the reeducation of perception of works of art; it is an auxiliary in the process, a difficult process, of learning to see and hear. The conception that its business is to appraise, to judge in the legal and moral sense, arrests the perception of those who are influenced by the criticism that assumes this task. The moral office of criticism is performed indirectly. The individual who has an enlarged and quickened experience is one who should make for himself his own appraisal. The way to help him is through the expansion of his own experience by the work of art to which criticism is subsidiary. The moral function of art itself is to remove prejudice, do away with the scales that keep the eye from seeing, tear away the veils due to wont and custom, perfect the power to perceive. The critic's office is to further this work, performed by the object of art. Obtrusion of his own approvals and condemnations, appraisals and ratings, is sign of failure to apprehend and perform the function of becoming a factor in the development of sincere personal experience. We lay hold of the full import of a work of art only as we go through in our own vital processes the processes the artist went through in producing the work. It is the critic's privilege to share in the promotion of this active process. His condemnation is that he so often arrests it.Think now of the classical music critics writing today in the English language mainstream media worldwide (and on blogs and other online publications, too, for that matter) who meet these criteria (and by the term classical music we mean to include opera as well). Have you managed to come up with more names than can be counted on the fingers of one hand? Bet not. We surely can't, and woe to us and the future of classical music as an artform in our culture for the deficit. Part of the problem, of course, is that most classical music critics today aren't given enough column inches per review to do the job properly. But that's a symptom of the same disorder, not a cause.
In April, at Milan's La Scala, [Domingo] sang Boccanegra again, this time following surgery the previous month for a cancerous polyp in his colon, discovered in February while he was conducting in Tokyo.No kidding? We wonder just how that might have been accomplished. Is a puzzlement.
A music critic for the Orange County Register in California felt the life being sucked out of him during a concert last week but was able to continue working to the end of the event. Timothy Mangan, the newspaper’s music critic since the latter part of the 20th century, sensed that he was “losing his will to live” during a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances by the local orchestra on Thursday. “I just couldn’t take it anymore,” Mangan told reporters in the locker room afterward. “It was an odd feeling — hard to describe, exactly.” But the veteran scribe didn’t panic. “These things happen at this time of year,” he said. “It’s been a long season and we’re all playing hurt. I just have to man up and carry on. It’s all about executing.”RTWT here.
One always knows how Alan feels after reading his reviews. His reputation as muckraker and gadfly is as much for the clarity of his expressed gripes as for their actual content. He never hides behind critical formalities; he courageously says what’s on his mind. Sometimes, that is enthusiastic praise. At others, it just happens to be outrageous. His dislike of Brahms is a case in point. Most critics would be afraid to admit such a thing, even if they felt it (and some do). But Alan rightly sees the value of making the disclosure: The critic does not write about irrefutable truths, he writes about personal reactions. The most important thing a critic can do is not to have correct, officially sanctioned opinions, but to write about the thought processes that led to his own opinions, whatever they are. For a critic, the unexamined life isn’t worth living. After reading Alan on Brahms, you may or may not agree with him, but your own thinking becomes more clearly lit as a result. Can a critic do better than that?Mr. Rich's critical voice will be sorely missed, a voice most recently to be heard on his blog, So I've Heard. Atque in perpetuum, Alan, ave atque vale.
At the opening, [Eschenbach] kept the cellos hushed to the very edge of audibility (it's a tribute to the NSO cellists that they brought it off), which let him gradually build the volume and tension to great cresting breakers of sound. The orchestra responded by putting its heart into the music, and the Washington Chorus (which did its own Verdi Requiem last April) sang reliably and honorably. But Eschenbach followed the piece's emotional contours at the expense of its structure. The performance was so spiritual that it sometimes floated off into the heavens, losing its anchor to the ground — that is, its rhythmic pulse. The phrases kept battering against the confines of their proper tempos, now fast, now slow, so that orchestra and soloists sometimes had trouble staying together. It would be nice to blame it all on the soloists, but it wasn't all their fault. A lot was their fault, though. In this chorus-heavy city, the Requiem is usually done by somebody at least once a season. But even in an age that suffers a lack of good Verdi singers, the piece is seldom heard with such bad soloists. Evgeny Nikitin, the bass, was the least offensive. His voice was at least the right size for the part, but he sang with such unvaried color, squeezing out a harsh, flat sound, utterly disregarding the pronunciation of the Italian vowels, and coming in so often under the pitch, that he didn't give much enjoyment. Nikolai Schukoff, the tenor, was described in his biography as a lyric tenor who "has since developed towards heavier roles"; he sounded (when one could hear him) like a lyric tenor who is in the process of pushing his voice toward strain and collapse. Mihoko Fujimura offered a ramrod-straight, echoey mezzo-soprano with considerable range, but no legato line. That is, instead of playing her voice like a violin, she tended to break her phrases at ill-chosen moments (like the end of the otherwise successful opening of the "Lux aeterna"), or failed to support her sound. Soprano Twyla Robinson, by contrast, coquetted shamelessly with her own lines, breaking the phrases where it pleased her, swooping up or hauling off to take aim at a high note that her voice was too slender to deliver adequately -- and showing blatant disregard for the written rhythms in what felt like defacement of the music rather than mere haplessness.Reading the savage attacks launched by the commenters on Ms. Midgette's blog, one might be forgiven for imagining that the vitriol of their prose was provoked by the spiky, uncompromising, bluntly honest critique quoted above, but that's not it at all despite all appearances to the contrary. What subliminally provoked the vitriol of those savage attacks was the unfortunate, cringe-inducing wording of the simile that constituted Ms. Midgette's lede grafs. Wrote Ms. Midgette:
A bride who wants to look beautiful, they say, should pick ugly bridesmaids. That adage worked for the conductor Christoph Eschenbach at the Kennedy Center on Thursday night. He led the National Symphony Orchestra in a Verdi Requiem that featured such an awful quartet of vocal soloists that he could only look better by comparison.Ouch! We know what Ms. Midgette meant to convey by that simile, but her careless wording made it sound as if she were suggesting that Eschenbach purposely and calculatedly hired a dreadful quartet of singers for the express purpose of making himself look better. The clear absurdity of such a suggestion (talk about a contradiction in terms!) — an absurdity not even a rank tyro would be guilty of perpetrating, infinitely less so a critic of Ms. Midgette's skill and erudition — should have alerted one and all that the wording of those unfortunate grafs was merely a rare and uncharacteristic lapsus calami on Ms. Midgette's part, and let it go at that with perhaps an amused smile. No such common good sense. The loyal, devoted, and outraged NSO homies were out for blood, and would not be denied their full measure no matter the clear lapsus. So much for the (typical) discernment of blog commenters.
After 200 Years, Classical Composer Chopin's Music Still Holds MysteriesWell, nothing, actually — that is, if it appeared at the head of an article in, say, Rolling Stone or Entertainment Weekly. But it didn't. It appeared as the headline of a regular Washington Post column by The Washington Post's chief classical music critic, Anne Midgette (which headline, we hasten to add, we're absolutely certain was NOT written by Ms. Midgette). That "Classical Composer" bit is genuinely embarrassing for the Post — or ought to be. They really have to stop employing Gen X or Gen Y writers to write headlines for high culture stuff — or educate them first. (No, we're not really back online yet. Our new replacement Dell laptop won't be shipped before the first week in March we've just been informed. Dell, it appears, has a parts supply problem, and it's holding up their production lines for several of their machines, ours being one of them. Yes, we're really pissed.)