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RIP Rich

The music critic Alan Rich died on Friday at 85, after a long career writing for many of the country's respected publications, from Variety to the New York Times. John Rockwell posts a tribute. For those who don't know Rich's work, this fairly recent posting from his blog, aptly titled "This Lifetime," and ranging at a leisurely yet not verbose pace from Lou Harrison to Johannes Brahms, is a fine introduction; his book, "So I've Heard," is the next step. It's writing you want to read, whether you've heard the music in question or not.

By Anne Midgette  |  April 26, 2010; 7:35 AM ET
Categories:  national , news  
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I admired Mr. Rich’s criticism, especially of contemporary European and American music and opera. It was very intelligent and refreshing, and I was glad that it was often written for nation-wide publications. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to follow his music criticism for some time.

I met Mr. Rich briefly on one occasion at a small critics, music curators, and composers afternoon at a prominent California music festival in the mid-1980’s, where Hans Werner Henze was talking about his own work – in particular his “Barcarolle Pour Grand Orchestre” (1979), which was being performed at the festival (and which I hope that the NSO’s Christoph Eschenbach and Nigel Boon will program for the orchestra). (A work by Lou Harrison was also performed at the festival – I believe it was his Piano Concerto with Keith Jarrett as soloist.)

I recall mentioning to Mr. Rich that I had heard, at Washington’s Kennedy Center Opera House, the Stuttgart Ballet perform a full-length ballet set to Edward Bond and Hans Werner Henze’s “Orpheus and Eurydice” (I can’t recall whether this was Henze’s first or second ballet on the Orpheus and Eurydice theme – nor, off-hand, the name of the choreographer. I believe that the choreographer was an American living in Europe.)

[I am referring the matter of Robert Battey’s unprofessional and ‘abusive’ criticism in regards to the Henschel String Quartet to Andrew Alexander, the Ombudsman of the Washington Post.]

Posted by: snaketime1 | April 26, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the tribute to Alan, Anne. He was an extraordinarily complicated man but, at his not-infrequent best, he was one of the most passionate and intelligent critics we had. Over half a century, he opened worlds to many readers -- a critic can do no more.

I'm faintly amused by the way my ancient review of a young cellist named Robert Battey has been cherry-picked to make it sound like a slam, which it most certainly was not. Nor was there anything remotely "abusive" in Battey's mostly negative but specific and persuasive review of what sounds like a pretty poor concert.

Posted by: TimPage1 | April 26, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Mr Battey’s review was hardly “persuasive” given that he has an uncertain general sense of pitch (according to Tim Page), and that he failed to inquire of the concert producers whether the musicians were performing on their own bows and musical instruments or on loaned bows and instruments from the collections of the Library of Congress.

And the fine – and extremely powerful – establishment music critic and writer Tim Page was himself perhaps less than fully persuasive when he wrote of Robert Battey:

“For the most part, Mr. Battey is a solid, skillful cellist with a strong tone and musical instincts. He has, unfortunately, a tendency to play slightly flat, and his general sense of intonation was inevitably not reliable.”

Allan Kozinn of The New York Times was much more persuasive as to the musical strengths of all four members of the young Henschel String Quartet in the review he published four days before Mr Battey’s review.

Unlike Mr Battey – who I believe started reviewing for the Washington Post at the same time that his mother was chief dance critic for the Washington Post and who has no training in journalism or music criticism or prior journalistic experience – Allan Kozinn was a university double major in music and journalism, worked for several years as a music journalist and critic before joining the NYTimes, and now teaches at both the Juilliard School and New York University, in addition to writing constructive musical criticism.

Posted by: snaketime1 | April 26, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I had a strange relationship with Alan. I am just a music listener, mostly on line. I live in the New York City metropolitan area and so I listened to and belonged to WNYC. When WNYC dumped day time music in 2002, I went searching and joined several stations. One was KUSC, Los Angeles. I was never happy with the lack of late 20th century composition at KUSC. Alan wrote a piece for their monthly bulletin. I wrote to him, via the L.A. Weekly, to ask that he put in a good word for more modern music at KUSC. That was the start. Alan put me on his mailing list for his criticism.

Of course, when the Village Voice people unceremoniously dumped him out (along with long time Jazz critic extraordinaire Nat Hentoff), I started with his blog, SoIveHeard.

I think that he was interested in my familiarity with music and the internet, and all of the software and equipment I had. He never criticized me for being a home listener.

Our last exchange was about me getting to him a couple of DVD's of the Great Performances presentation of Gustavo Dudamel's premier concert in L.A.

I told Alan that I would soon be visiting my daughter in L.A., and that it would be nice if we could meet. He sent me his phone number and said, "I'll keep a candle burning in the window".


Posted by: mitrich | April 26, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

>>> "Mr Battey’s review was hardly "persuasive" given that he has an uncertain general sense of pitch (according to Tim Page), and that he failed to inquire of the concert producers whether the musicians were performing on their own bows and musical instruments or on loaned bows and instruments from the collections of the Library of Congress."

{sigh} Garth, my old elementary-school chum . . . you certainly gave no indication of having a screw loose back then . . . what's happened?? Your screeds speak for themselves, in a way, but for the three or four people who might conceivably care, let me just note a few things.

Back when I gave professional solo and chamber music concerts, I got a lot of reviews. A couple were raves, some were slams, and most (like Tim's) were mixed. I have also read reviews of Yo-Yo and Perlman that picked at their intonation. So?

I'm rather curious what your day job is now (given the anger-management issues you display here). Mine is as an attorney, and I have to say you haven't learned how to buttress your arguments (rants, actually) very well. You clench your teeth tightly around Tim's remark about my intonation that night decades ago, suggesting this proves I can't be trusted to judge anyone else's. But the ONE positive thing I said about this group you're championing (without having heard them) is that they played fairly well in tune. So . . . I guess . . . readers should maybe conclude that they probably couldn't even do THAT right? I mean, which is it?

The Henschel was playing their own instruments. (1) Having seen them up close for decades, I can recognize the Library's instruments on sight. (2) Since you don't know this, let me explain: on the few occasions that the Library lets a group use its instruments, the group comes into town and stays here for the week preceding the concert so that they can acclimate themselves to the instruments. No touring group has ever just waltzed in and picked up the instruments on the fly. (3) When a group does use the instruments, a big deal is made about it in the program. (4) the issues I identified in that review had nothing to do with the instruments being played. When you pick up someone else's viola, does your technique change?

The fact that some other critic did not discern the technical problems of this group is simply the way this game works. As a former professional quartet player and conservatory professor, I speak with inside knowledge when I critique such groups. Colleagues with a different knowledge base will hear different things. You apparently seem to believe that all critics should write the same thing when they hear the same group. Well, that's unfair. What you actually believe is that someone about whom you have an ax to grind HAS to be wrong, and if you surf the 'net long enough you'll find "proof"!!

Oh, and Garth? Time has a funny way of not standing still. While my mom did write for the Post back when you were a little kid, she left the paper in the mid 1970's. No one there, from management to Style editors, knows her. Got anything else?


Posted by: RobertBattey | April 28, 2010 12:16 AM | Report abuse

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