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Classical 2.0: A Critic Joins the Blogosphere

The many faces of classical music. Clockwise from top left: the National Symphony Orchestra (Carol Pratt for The Washington Post); Sondra Radvanovsky as Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia (Karen Cooper/Washington National Opera); Meredith Monk (Massimo Agus/ECM Records); Eighth Blackbird plays Bang on a Can (Jay Paul for The Washington Post).

People sometimes express surprise at the success classical music has had on the internet – from blogs and downloads to on-line magazines and initiatives like the Youtube Symphony. But the Web, with its sprawling array of options and tastes, seems to me a perfect reflection of a “field” that isn’t really a single field at all. What we refer to as “classical music” is an agglomeration of widely disparate elements. It may include a pipa concerto or an organ recital, a symphony orchestra or a singer using extended vocal techniques while a computer translates them into birdsong.

I’ve written some provocative things about the death of classical music. But of course, music is healthier than ever. What are struggling are some of the institutions that – like large organizations in all fields right now – are trying (or, like the late lamented Baltimore Opera, failing) to negotiate the new landscape. Yet classical music of various forms is performed in clubs, museums, even a special disco; while a plethora of new groups, somewhere between chamber ensembles and garage bands, blend young composer-performers in different flexible arrangements to make whatever kind of music appeals to them, and post it on MySpace or sell it on their own music labels.

Die-hard fans of Bach or Beethoven may fear that such developments only water down the field they love. But of course, the internet has done much to promote those composers as well. You can download remasterings of historic recordings, watch orchestral concerts from Paris on or attend a concert at the Berlin Philharmonic. If you want to get into detail, you can even read the daily papers from Beethoven’s Vienna.

So what does this mean for the future? The internet encourages the transmission of a lot of information; it is is not always so conducive to pat conclusions. But at the very least, classical music in the 21st century has a lot of energy, a lot of activity, a lot of promise, and a lot of potential.

Thanks to the Web, a classical critic's beat is larger than ever. In this blog, I hope to be able to touch on a range of music and news and thought that would not be possible in the confines of a daily paper. I hope to reflect some of the potential and excitement that the field is experiencing right now, even at a time of upheaval and financial crisis. And I hope to incorporate, more visibly, the discussion with readers that has been enriching, informing, and sometimes aggravating me and my work since I came to The Washington Post last year. A blog is only as good as its readers. So write and tell me: what do we need to be covering? What do you most want to know about the field? And what, in this post, do you think I left out?

By Anne Midgette  |  March 30, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  music on the Web  | Tags: Introduction  
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hi, anne!
congratulations on the blog!it looks like i'm the first to comment!

just wanted people to know that the wagner society of washington dc still has a few tickets left for this year's bayreuth festival, august 26 - 28, meistersinger, tristan and parsifal! as you know there is a ten year wait list. anybody interested should call us at 703.370.1923 or our web site is!

thanks and best wishes,
jim holman

Posted by: holman2713 | March 30, 2009 8:15 AM | Report abuse

This blog is a great idea - welcome. My wife and I regularly read POST Blogs (especially The Fix and Nats Journal) and will check in here everyday, too.

We have been long time readers of your excellent articles in the NY Times -- and even German Life! For years, we have visited the Salzburg, Innsbruck Early Music, Bad Ischl Operetta, Haydn Esterhazy, etc festivals.

Washington has a great and growing classical music scene; hope you can promote the many local concerts and groups.

Two Opera sites for you to consider posting - and

Good luck -- BethesdaFan

Posted by: BethesdaFan | March 30, 2009 9:07 AM | Report abuse


I often read your reviews with great interest, though I don't necessarily agree with you. However, I must really take issue with the review of the LSO under Gergiev in today's Post. You must have attended a different concert from the one I attended! First, Gergiev's way with Prokofiev's Classical Symphony was just what I expected it to be having heard his recording many times and read reviews of past performances. Sure, it does not correspond to what one usually expects from this work--light and Haydenesque--but as Anthony Tommasini wrote in his NYT review it changed his perception of the work forever. It is also not my favorite way of hearing the piece, but it was exactly what I expected it to be.

Alexei Volodin recceived the standing ovation and bravos because of the way he performed the concerto. It is a sensitive rather inward work compared, for example, to the Emperor, not a slam bang one. If your want "big personality" in a piano concerto, I'm sure Volodin could deliver the goods in a Rachmaninoff or Tchaikovsky piece. As it was Saturday, he provided a meticulously beautiful, sensitive account in perfect rapport with the wonderful orchestra.

As to the Prokofiev Sixth, Gergiev's interpretation (and as evidenced Saturday) is nonpareil. (Also check out his reocrding on Philips) The orchestra outdid themselves, BUT ESPECIALLY THE HORNS!! What a relief from he blatty sound that horn principal, Martin Hackleman, regularly produces for the NSO. As a section, the LSO horns were some of the smoothest, most well integrated I've ever encountered. And David Pyatt's solos were the stuff of dreams. No wonder Gergiev had him take the first bow. My son and daughter-in-law are professional hornists and I've heard more than my share of performances on that difficult instrument. The LSO horns on Saturday were some of the best I've ever heard in over 45 years of concert-going and not just in DC, or the US! Shame on you for giving such a false impression.

I hope to read better reviews from you in the future! Your article on Messiaen in the Sunday Post last year was clearly one of the best I read on that composer in his centenary year. Too bad Washington, DC neglected to celebrate the occasion.


John Wright

Posted by: lj4jl | March 30, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse


Your blog is a great idea. Best thing The Post has done in a while. I'm sure it will be a big success. I'm going to let Operachic know about it.

All best, Jerry

Posted by: JerryFloyd1 | March 30, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Greetings Anne! Thank-you for the opportunity to ask you a few questions. You are in a unique position to direct and educate those developing an interest in classical music. Is it you or the Washington Post or a combination of both who decide what to review? I noticed a letter in the Post a little over a week ago (Saturday 3/21/09) written by Neale Perl concerning WPAS and the Post's coverage. The next day I attended a recital sponsored by WPAS at Strathmore by pianist Olga Kern which I found phenomenal, but never reviewed in the Post. How are decisions made? Are you involved in such decisions? What is happening at the Post concerning classical reviews? It seems as financial problems evolve in the newspaper industry, the coverage of the arts are no longer considered particularly newsworthy.
All the best,

Posted by: donahuer | March 30, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

I must admit to ambivalent feelings about Valery Gergiev. He's definitely a celebrity, certainly in the same league as Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein. But, is he a truly great conductor whose interpretations will stand the test of time? I wonder.

It always occurred to me that one of the reasons people went to see Karajan was not just because he was a fine musician (he certainly was), but to see a guy who used to conduct for Hitler. Same thing with Bernstein. Sure, he could do magnificent things with Brahms, Shostakovich and Haydn, but I always thought another reason people went to a Bernstein concert was to see him go into one of his hysterical convulsions on the podium.

As for Gergiev, he's as much a colorful politician as he is a good musician.

What about the truly great conductors who turned in fantastic work, but who never attracted the attention of Karahan, Bernstein or Gergiev? One great conductor who comes to mind is William Steinberg, whose work was fantastic. I suppose if Steinberg jumped up an down like Bernstein he might have been better known.

Anyway, I didn't attend Saturday's concert with Gergiev. Instead, I was in Detroit, where I was privileged to attend a remarkable concert of the Detroit Symphony with Susanna Malkki. I had heard of her and was curious to see her, but had no idea she could have such am impact on an audience. Apparently the Detroit music world was curious was well. Orchestra Hall was filled to capacity. As to Malkki herself, one rarely sees a conductor with such talent, podium skill, presence, and, above all, style. The program was adventurous to say the least. Ravel Daphnis & Chloe No. 2, Stravinsky Movements for Piano and Orchestra, Messiaen's Coleurs de la Cite Celeste, Bizet's First Symphony and, to top it off, Bolero! The ovation at the end of Bolero was something else. It was like everyone was sitting in ejector seats that went off all at the same time.

I dare say, Marin Alsop could learn a few things from Susanna Malkki. I hope she come to Washington, DC.

Posted by: redener | March 30, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

What a welcome new site! Music lovers have opinions, and it will be fun to share and argue. Anne Midgette hereself does not lack for opinions! while I do not always agree with her and sometiems find excessively negative, i admire her knowledge, courage, and commitment to excellence. Topics, i'd like to hear discussed: the blandness of WETA, local talent, organizations, venues, and music schools.
I was at the LSO cocnert Saturday, too. I thought the Prokofiev 6th jaw droppingly good (I'd never heard it before), but thought the Beethoven 4th Piano lovely and clear but somewhat emotionally superficial. I saw Peter Grimes on Sunday and was so impressed by the WNP chorus and orchestra (expertly conducted by Ilan Volkov). I feel blessed ot live where I can attend two such events inone weekend.

Posted by: petercapitolhill | March 30, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse


This blog is a wonderful idea, if you can manage the flood of countering opinions.

Two suggestions for your coverage: One is classical music on radio, which in the D.C. area means WETA-FM and perhaps WBJC in Baltimore. Being major distributors of classical music in the region, they should be kept under scrutiny.

The other suggestion would be to address the state of orchestral composition today. One worries the heyday of emotionally-engaging symphonic music has come and gone. Concerts today routinely consist of (1) a complex new gizmo that hisses and blinks, (2) a violin or piano concerto, and (3) a "warhorse" 19th-century symphony. How long will this model be with us? Where's the breakout?

Posted by: jwfuller | March 30, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I'm very happy that the Post has recognized that there are some classical music lovers out there, and I look forward to reading many interesting discussions on your blog.
Several years ago, I enjoyed participating in the weekly (or was it bi-weekly?) classical music chat group (I don't think they called them "blogs" in those ancient times) that former Post music critic Tim Page started -- and was quite irritated when the Post pulled the plug on the group because it wasn't profitable (!) to continue it, given its comparatively small number of readers. That decision still annoys me -- especially in light of all the inane chat/discussion groups that the Post has hosted in the ensuing years.
So best of luck, Anne -- and keep fighting to ensure that this forum remains on-line and classical music is well-served in the Post. And P.S. -- I'm glad to see that you, like yours truly, are a fan of Barber's "Knoxville." That lovely work grabs a hold and resonates with me as few other musical works do.

Posted by: pgaron | March 30, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad the post has decided to green light this project, it's always interesting to speak about classical music beyond simply reviewing concerts. Indeed, there is so much happening and so much to discuss.

While writing on the likes of Bach and Mozart is a given, I hope this blog will also be able to explore and examine some of the contemporary actions in classical music that are often kept largely out of the public view due to the economics of orchestra halls.

Posted by: Madma | March 30, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to all who have left these thoughtful and welcoming comments thus far. Some good questions have been raised here that I'll answer in more detail in separate posts over the next couple of days.

One thing I especially welcome are different takes on concerts I've reviewed - like John Wright's smart and contrasting appraisal of the LSO concert, posted above. I would love it if this blog can become, among other things, a forum for exactly this kind of debate (call it civil disagreement, if you will), and I am going to elaborate on this in a later post. The more opinions, the better.

Posted by: MidgetteA | March 30, 2009 3:12 PM | Report abuse

"In 21st century, genre has a lot of energy, a lot of activity, a lot of promise, a lot of potential"

But we have to close the opera houses anyway, say the business-men in their "wisdom". They think they're a waste of money.
Of course it all depends on whether you want there to be anything worthwhile left to do with your money when you've made it.
Sitting in a luxurious room counting your dollars is overrated in my humble opinion.

Posted by: wardropper | March 30, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Great idea. Long live opera!

Posted by: Liverbird | March 30, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

As for me, I'm mostly interested in tips about upcoming events - I'm new to the area (and to the country), and it's a bit of a learning curve here (... so that Library of Congress performance is free but you need to get tickets months in advance?)

Posted by: nl01 | March 30, 2009 3:49 PM | Report abuse

"Several years ago, I enjoyed participating in the weekly (or was it bi-weekly?) classical music chat group (I don't think they called them "blogs" in those ancient times) that former Post music critic Tim Page started"

These, yes, biweekly chats (the Post called it a "forum" then) were I think started while Kennicott was the chief classical music critic (Page had a stint as culture critic) and are still available on-line.

Not being aware of these during their day, I enjoyed reading these early last year. I have to say I enjoyed Kennicott's chats more. I believe the last classical music related chat on the Post site was when Pavarotti died (I posted the youtube clips):

This was over a year ago. Heck, since before the Dow was over 14,000! So this blog is very welcome news. My first bit of advice to Anne Midgette would be to not ignore the city. If you ever say that there are no good places to buy a classical CD or buy scores in the area without mentioning anyplace in particular, you will likely face the vitriol of some of the locals. I recall one chat where Kennicott once said that one shouldn't bother looking for scores or CDs in the area and should just go to NY. He was lambasted for being yet another classical music critic who worked for the Post, lived elsewhere and knew virtually nothing of the area. The best answers are: "I haven't seen everything... YET, but I like..." or a "I don't know, what does everyone else say?"

Another thing to be aware of is not to post that you wouldn't care if certain politicians in the city drop dead. :-)

My personal preferences would be to have some occasional reviews of CDs, DVDs (or blu-ray), and relevant books that can't fit in the Post. I think Doctor Atomic comes out in blu-ray tomorrow. (On Amazon, the bluray costs less than the dvd, why?)

Posted by: prokaryote | March 30, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Welcome to the new blog on the Post!
Down here in Texas, I'm entirely too far away to attend live performances which you all are so lucky to be able to enjoy.
Would you consider reviewing new classical CDs and DVDs (if any)?
Thanks a lot and your blog is certainly welcome online.
Congratulations to the Post for recognizing there is life beyond Capitol Hill :-)
Beaumont, TX

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | March 30, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Great! Let's also give "air time" to smaller, community non-profit organizations in the area working to keep classical music alive and accessible with both traditional and contemporary pieces, often times featuring lesser well-known but still fantastic soloists. I know of community orchestras in Maryland's Montgomery, Prince George's, and Howard Counties (e.g., Columbia Orchestra in ... Columbia) that put on great shows and their tix prices are very affordable. Plus free parking. Can't beat that!

Posted by: headwink | March 30, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

This blog looks like a great idea. But there is one thing about it that concerns me, and I wonder whether today's paper shows that my concern is not theoretical. (Yes, I'm in Philadelphia now, but I buy The Post at a newsstand every day.)

One of the things that has distinguished The Post from The Philadelphia Inquirer is that The Post reviewed virtually all of the professional music performances in the D.C. area (plus some in Baltimore). If you went to one, you were virtually guaranteed that you would be able to read a review of the performance.

This is not true in Philadelphia. The Inquirer has two featured reviewers (Peter Dobrin and David Patrick Stearns), and, unlike The Post, it rarely relies on stringers. Hence, many, probably a majority, of the performances are simply not reviewed. In fact, if you relied on the paper for your knowledge of things, you might well not even know about the existence of many musical organizations. (I found out about such organizations as Tempesta di Mare (baroque music), the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society [which turns out to be better in terms of numbers of concerts, depth of programming, and prices than WPAS could ever hope to be], and 1807 & Friends (a chamber music group that features the Wister Quartet as its base) through word of mouth or, in the case of Tempesta, a notice on a fence.)

Today's Style section has ONE review, that of the LSO concert. I cannot believe that nothing else went on in the area on Friday or Saturday. Is this part of the new Post? I submit that this would not be a good thing. It makes the paper less vital, it deprives the organizations of exposure and publicity, it deprives performers of cultured feedback, and it deprives readers of knowledge of what is out there.

I hope that The Post maintains its practice of reviewing all of the musical events that occur in the area and does so in the newspaper itself, not on the Internet only.

Posted by: phillyreader | March 30, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

First of all, Anne, congratulations on entering this Brave New World. I would imagine it is not for faint of heart. I can't imagine how this will evolve but it could be the best thing to happen to classical music criticism in our area. Or the worst.

Several people have suggested the Post, i.e., you, expand your reviews to include local orchestras, recitals by local residents, as well as classical music CDs and DVDs. Since I presume you must occasionally eat and sleep as well as listen and write, we are not likely to get your penetrating views on everything. But perhaps some of us can contribute these ourselves and even have dialogs about same. It would be the easiest way to widen the scope.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by: AugustPaul | March 30, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Just a second to headwink's motion - and to add that there are other community groups besides performing wonderful music. All organizations are struggling with the economic downturn, and all arts groups - choruses, opera, orchestras, chamber groups - need as much support and visibility as they can get. Looking forward to following your blog!

Posted by: sndmaven | March 30, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Congratulations on your new responsibilities. This space could turn out to be an excellent place to exchange ideas.

Stephen Dunkel
Bass Trombone
Washington National Opera/Kennedy Center Orchestra

Posted by: smdunkel2 | March 30, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Re: “I recall one chat where Kennicott once said that one shouldn't bother looking for scores or CDs in the area and should just go to NY.”

Actually, it was Tim Page who said that, not Philip Kennicott.

Posted by: snaketime | March 30, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

I hope we can discuss sometime the state of the quality of the National Symphony. So often I attend their concerts and am bitterly disappointed by their blandness and by the apparent incompetence of many in their wind and brass sections. I don't want to hurt feelings, but should I assume they're just not trying real hard?

Another topic: What in God's name made the NSO front office decide on Eschenbach for the next conductor??? Did anybody see what happened to him in Philly? Do they really think that won't happen here?

Posted by: barnesgene | March 30, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and do let's have a discussion on the "crisis in classical music." That's so I can rant on about: The heck with 'em. If they can't come to classical music on our terms (silence during performances, some kind of dress code for attendance, open your mind and shut your gob, etc.), then I'd just rather see the live shows die off.

And do let's talk about why we need to have our modern music given to us in non-lethal doses of ten-minute token pieces. Cannot we have entire concerts of the stuff?

And do let us discuss why the NSO, our NATIONAL symphony, can't play a decent amount of American music. What's that all about?

Posted by: barnesgene | March 30, 2009 5:50 PM | Report abuse

"Another topic: What in God's name made the NSO front office decide on Eschenbach for the next conductor??? Did anybody see what happened to him in Philly? Do they really think that won't happen here?"

Posted by: barnesgene | March 30, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

I heard him only a couple of times (because I much prefer the repertoire of Solzhenitsyn's Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia) and so cannot fairly judge him, but the two Inquirer critics strongly disagreed with each other. Apparently, Eschenbach was a nice-guy-type conductor with an orchestra that needs tougher treatment, and Dobrin (and a number of the musicians) also objected to what they viewed as erratic interpretations of the music. I can say first-hand, however, that he is a fabulous pianist.

"And do let's talk about why we need to have our modern music given to us in non-lethal doses of ten-minute token pieces. Cannot we have entire concerts of the stuff?"

You might want to come to Philly sometimes. The Chamber Orchestra programs a fair amount of new music, and there is always the Network for New Music and Orchestra 2001.

Posted by: phillyreader | March 30, 2009 6:44 PM | Report abuse

I'd love to see more behind-the-scenes stories and profiles about the artists and people that come through organizations. I see and hear the work that our venerable local companies produce, but there must be stories beyond the art. For me, I enjoy a work better and feel more educated when I know all that goes into making a production/symphony/performance. It gives context, and helps me to be aware of what's coming up that I should pay attention to.

And DC is host to so many talents, both resident artists and touring/contracted/visting artists. But most of the time, we don't hear about them or know about them until after a review. A review is just one opinion (even if it's insightful and well written), and for concerts, often comes after the fact, not in enough time for me, as a reader, to actually jump up and take advantage.

Seems like the theater and film writers at the Post do a much better job of tapping into the inherent drama on and off stage...there's even an occasional column called "Backstage" I think. But I have to believe that music companies have the same intrinsic stories. I'd like to see more coverage, particularly local coverage, that actually tells stories and tips me off in advance.

Posted by: operagal | March 30, 2009 9:35 PM | Report abuse

Hello and welcome to the classical music corner of the interwebs from your neighbour to the north. (Canada, not Baltimore).

I'm excited to hear what you have to say.

All the best,
Miss M

Posted by: MissMussel | March 30, 2009 10:21 PM | Report abuse

Hello Anne,
In my work life I have to/want to keep up with a)classical music-both choral and orchestral, in six continents, b)political and world events, and c)all the top travel news and developments. So the last thing I can afford to do is to add to my daily "compulsory" reading and there you are with your wonderful blog! So now I shall look for this every day. It will add a lot to the Washington DC music scene. Yes it's not NYC but there is a lot going on here, especially choral. Great name by the way for the blog. Good luck with this!

Posted by: nhelms | March 30, 2009 10:27 PM | Report abuse

I would like to echo and follow up on an earlier comment regarding the "blandness" of WETA-FM programming. On the one hand, I guess we should be grateful that the immediate DC area has aat least one classical music station. But I would appreciate your views, Anne, on the incredible narrowness of the station's selections. There seems to be a limited range of baroque, classical, and early Romantic composers whose works are acceptable to broadcast. Any insight as to why that policy is in place? I would think that a large number of listeners would appreciate a more expansive listening experience.

And thanks so much for starting your blog and providing a forum for the sharing of information.

Posted by: dsiebert1 | March 31, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Wow. What a great start. Bravissima.

Posted by: Bernheimer | March 31, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

moi: “I recall one chat where Kennicott once said that one shouldn't bother looking for scores or CDs in the area and should just go to NY.”

snaketime: "Actually, it was Tim Page who said that, not Philip Kennicott."

Ahem, well, you perhaps read 8 years ago what I read last year. Here's my evidence. On Monday 23 April, 2001, in answering the first question of the chat, Mr. Kennicott wrote:

"I assume you mean shopping for recordings. If you're interested in finding sheet music, good luck. I haven't found anyplace in DC where there's much selection at all. Best to go to NY or the internet."

He said to go where? :-) As my "or" was an exclusive "or", which it was, then I was technically right, yes? But I should have written that it was Tim Page who said this too, because he did say the same and my comment about living out of town was more applicable to him. Living outside of the city was something he discussed during the chat on occasion.

Posted by: prokaryote | March 31, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

This is from a singer (I Bass) in one of the local choruses, The Washington Chorus. For several years now, I have been fascinated, as a regular concert-goer, at the tendency of Washington audiences of classical music to stand up for "anything and everything." Once I had occasion to hear Judith Martin (Miss Manners) in person and put this question to her--why do Washington audiences so indiscriminately rise to their feet at the end of what seems now to be every concert? Her answer was succinct and a propos: "Ovation inflation." I love it!

Posted by: reithl | March 31, 2009 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Great blog, Anne -- and I'm enjoying reading your work from California.

Since I've come up in this chat a couple of times, I thought I would note that it was indeed Philip Kennicott who started the "music chats," as they were called back then, and he did a great job. I was also pretty sure that it wasn't me that told somebody to go to New York to shop (I took such weird flack from some people for trying to hold together a family there while I had a job in D.C.) Baltimore, where I eventually ended up in 2004, is of course an easier trip into the city than most of the Virginia suburbs, a third their cost, and at least a dozen times as interesting.

When I first came to Washington, it had a terrific classical record store -- called, I think, Serenade -- but it was gone by 1999. And now Ohlsson's and Tower and HMV are just memories, too.

This blog will be a better outlet than the chats used to be. I was always being moved around and the most often they'd let me go on was once every two weeks. Finally I was discontinued, out of the blue, very rudely, by a junior editor who went on to write about something called "celebritology," which always seemed to me sufficient punishment so I won't name her here.

How I miss the concerts by the Vocal Arts Society and that wonderful keyboard series on weekend afternoons, among others. And I miss hearing the NSO on a good night, too -- although I'm glad I no longer have to file a review in an hour!

Keep up the good fight, Anne. You have a lot of readers who care profoundly about the arts in Washington and are most dismayed about some of the recent cutbacks in coverage.

All best,


Posted by: TimPage1 | March 31, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

It may have been mentioned but I think a good occasional subject would be the quality of the concert-going experience.

For example, is this acceptable?: The BSO presents a Saturday night concert at the Meyerhoff wherein only one piece of music is performed, namely the Tchaik. Sixth Symphony ("Pathetique"). Before the performance there's about a 20 minute period of free-association by Marin Alsop wherein she explains certain technicalities of the music and also speculates about the effect of Tchaikovsky's sexual orientation on his music. The technicalities go in one ear and out the other, and as to the effects of his sexual orientation, who cares?

After the one piece of music is performed, there is an audience question and answer. We left before it started so I don't know how it went. But I know from prior experience that audiences generally do not ask very intelligent questions. (I'm not being a snob, heck, I'm not a musician and frankly I'm not in a position to ask a lot of intelligent questions, either).

Okay, is it reasonable to expect someone to drive maybe 45 minutes or more to the concert hall, pay BSO ticket prices, pay $11.00 for parking (from a garage where you have to cross the street in the inclement weather), only to listen to the blatherings of Marin Alsop, some questions from the audience, and one not-very-long symphony (we're not talking about Mahler's Third here)?

How do audiences put up with that?

Posted by: shovetheplanet | March 31, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Prokaryote, I stand corrected as to the comment Philip Kennicott made regarding shopping for sheet music and recordings in Washington, D.C. Your evidence is strong.

I agree with you, however, that Tim Page, later, made a similar comment about how, if one is looking for music scores, one must go to New York City. My recollection is that he said something to the affect that since music publishers sent him many scores directly for promotional reasons, he didn’t do that much such shopping himself; but that in any case, New York City was the place to go.

I have never had any opinion on, nor interest in, Tim Page’s family status in New York City at the time he was employed, first as a cultural critic and then as a music critic, at the Washington Post (other than generally wishing him well); nor his subsequent move to the Washington-Baltimore area.

I am also glad to see that The Musical Source, Dale Music Company, and Middle C Music Store (all purveyors of sheet music and scores), as well as Melody Records, are still with us in Washington, D.C., serving musicians and music teachers, students, and amateurs; even if Tower Records and Olsson's Books & Records are not.

Posted by: snaketime | April 1, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

As I'm posting from the other side of the Atlantic this is not really my fight but after reading Shovetheplanet's post of 31 March I looked at the Baltimore Symphony's website. On 21 and 23 November 2008 a full concert programme is advertised including works by Bach and Rouse and ending with the Tchaikovsky symphony. On 22 November only the Tchaikovsky symphony is advertised.

If you think hearing only the symphony is poor value why not book for one of the other concerts?

Posted by: Carlottaborromeo | April 1, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Am very happy to see this site. There are many of us classical music lovers whose lives will be made brighter by being able to discuss, debate, and even argue, but in a courteous manner, of course. It's always nice to hear someone else's viewpoint, and none of us is the final authority. Good Luck and Best Wishes to you in this endeavor. I've bookmarked your page and hope to return to it and post on it when I feel the need. Thanks for bringing this into being.

Posted by: belcanto26 | April 1, 2009 8:24 PM | Report abuse

Anne - As a Classical music fan, I could not be more pleased with the start of your new blog. Best of luck with it, and let's hope it does not go the way of Tim Page's weekly online chat.

I've been attending the Fairfax Symphony this season and hope to provide a few comments soon.

Having links to all Post music reviews is also very welcomed. Only problem is it may discourage folks away from dead tree version. Nothing against trees, but I like to have the paper in my hands to read, vs. everything from a computer screen.

Finally, please let all know about a great amateur music group I belong to, Adult Music Student Forum ( We have a recital coming up on Sunday 3 May 2009 at the Music Room at Strathmore Mansion.

best, Patrick

Posted by: kashe | April 3, 2009 7:38 AM | Report abuse

Anne, any idea why my post earlier today is no longer visible? If I violated one of the rules of the road, please let me know what it was.
Thanks, Patrick

Posted by: kashe | April 3, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Patrick: I see both your comments - no problem on this end. The original post has scrolled off the main page - maybe that's the problem?

Posted by: MidgetteA | April 3, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

snaketime: "My recollection is that he said something to the affect that since music publishers sent him many scores directly for promotional reasons, he didn’t do that much such shopping himself; but that in any case, New York City was the place to go."

Well, to be fair, he merely implied that. The relevant discussion was 28 May 2003, in answering the third question (where to find scores?), Mr. Page suggested a library and then wrote:

"The Joseph Patelson Music House in New York is the best place I know to find scores. There is a good shop associated with Peabody in Baltimore, and I'd be grateful for any suggestions on music shops in D.C., as I've never come across them."

I think it was really the last line "as I've never come across them", combined with the fact that every chat for the past year had claimed he "lives in Washington", that set some people off. Not me, mind you, since I read these chats over the span of a month sometime early last year. But I do remember thinking at the time, "that might get a response" or something to that effect. That phrase just implies some effort in coming across such stores, which would be disingenuous since all one had to do was look in a Yellow Pages. And recommending a NY and Baltimore source to someone in Chevy Chase makes no sense and isn't helpful to the person from Chevy Chase. The question wasn't "where do you go for scores", but "where can I go for scores?"

Later he wrote what you remember him writing: "Music is sent to me by publishers and publicists, and I already have a rather large collection. Rather than pretending to an omnipotence I don't possess, I thought I'd throw out the question to my readers."

I can understand how he wouldn't need to browse a shop for scores because of what he's already collected over the years (and let's face it, programs are more often repetitive), but don't recommend stores in other cities and then seemingly dismiss city you're reviewing in with "as I've never come across them"! :-) The fact was probably that he hadn't looked for them.

Mr. Page, if you're still reading this comment thread, don't fret this too much! :-) This is the everlasting problem with the written word (whether in chats or email), we can never really tell the tone in which the writer wrote what he wrote. (Or the reader read what he read.) Especially when you have to respond to so many questions in an hour and others have to interpret what you meant in under an hour.

I really did enjoy your chats as well as Kennicotts, and even Dirda's chats on this old archive. They were all very educational. I highly recommend them to everyone. They'll find recommendations of composers, pieces, books, etc.

Posted by: prokaryote | April 6, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

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