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Cleveland and its critics

Update on the lawsuit of Don Rosenberg, the Cleveland Plain Dealer music critic who sued the Cleveland Orchestra and his newspaper after he was taken off the orchestra beat: he lost. Perhaps he never could have won. Personally, I wish he hadn’t chosen to include age discrimination as one of the charges in the suit. The issue was whether or not the orchestra worked with the paper to get him removed, and whether or not the paper caved in to pressure from the orchestra in removing him, and how this relates to the job of a critic, which is to present his informed opinion. I wish that issue had been more front and center. But it's a sad outcome: it's par for the course for an orchestra to complain about the toughness of the local critic, and watching a critic be punished for doing his job is heartbreaking.

In all the coverage, I haven’t seen mention of one significant point. When the news of Don’s demotion first broke, the orchestra denied having anything to do with it. In fact, Gary Hanson, the orchestra’s executive director, issued a statement as a comment on several blogs (including Clef Notes at the Baltimore Sun, where Tim Smith has led the pack on this whole issue). Let me refresh everyone’s memory:
(read more after the jump)


In recent days, the music writers’ blogsphere [sic] has been rife with assumptions and even accusations that the management of The Cleveland Orchestra engineered personnel changes at Cleveland’s daily newspaper, The Plain Dealer. These accusations are false.

I want to set the record straight: I was completely surprised by the news last week that Plain Dealer music critic Donald Rosenberg has been re-assigned and will no longer cover The Cleveland Orchestra for the newspaper.

A half dozen critics have called or emailed me this week asking if I met with the newspaper’s editors to lodge complaints. The answer is I have never met with them to protest Donald Rosenberg’s opinions. In the normal course of business during my tenure with the Orchestra, I have spoken with every editor, past and present, about the newspaper's coverage. In those meetings I have delivered compliments and concerns about their news and feature coverage as well as their editorial positions and decisions. But in every case I have also said, very explicitly, that the Orchestra’s management understands and respects the paper's and the critic’s role in expressing opinion about our artistic activities. And whether or not we agree with the opinion we fully accept and support their right and responsibility to publish it.

Donald Rosenberg has written about The Cleveland Orchestra for decades. I worked directly with him for many years, especially during my early tenure here as Director of Public Relations. In that role, I opened the Orchestra archives to him for research on his comprehensive history of the Orchestra "Second to None." I very much enjoyed the productive and professional relationship we've shared. I appreciate and admire a great deal of his work on the subject of the Orchestra and I am grateful for his dedication to regular and comprehensive classical music coverage. Over the years we have agreed and we have disagreed. All the same I will miss working with him.

Gary Hanson
Executive Director
Cleveland Orchestra

Well and good. The orchestra had nothing to do with it. Whether having your executive director make this statement through comments on people’s blogs is the best way to issue this statement is a separate question (see Life’s a Pitch for a smart discussion of it).

But the orchestra changed its tune somewhat by the time the case rolled around. Suellen Oswald, the lawyer for the arts association (the governing body of the Cleveland Orchestra), said after the verdict, as quoted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Friday, “It is our client’s First Amendment right and business right to defend the interest of the orchestra and its conductor, Franz Welser-Möst.”

The article continues:

She had said in her closing argument that her clients "were entitled to ask for fair coverage from the newspaper, but by talking to The Plain Dealer, their intent was never to interfere with Don Rosenberg's employment. And there was not a word that was defamatory to Mr. Rosenberg."

Of course, this is all legalese for “covering your rear.” Of course the orchestra didn’t like Don Rosenberg’s coverage. Of course it talked to the paper about it. But it’s an unusually public exposure of hypocrisy to follow a public assertion of “we had nothing to do with this” with “it was our right to defend ourselves.”

I wish that this whole issue was leading to a more spirited discussion of the critic's role. I've seen a lot of comments along the lines of "His reviews were mean, so he deserved it." And some along the lines of "This is a scandal and a tragedy." What are your thoughts about the Rosenberg case? And what can a critic do if called on to review, week after week, an artist whose work he doesn't really like?

By Anne Midgette  |  August 9, 2010; 12:26 PM ET
Categories:  national , news , random musings  
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Comments

I learned of the outcome of Rosenberg's suit with dismay, and appreciate your analysis very much. It's a mystery to me why Cleveland holds Welser-Möst in such high regard, yet is so insecure about him that intelligent criticism is apparently squelched.

Posted by: Lutoslawski | August 9, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

I, too, no longer either a journalist or a corporate flack, am dismayed that the long-standing line between advertising (I suspect that lucre lies at the root of this) and editorial seems not only to have been crossed, but erased.

I don't live in the PD's coverage area, so am not personally familiar with Mr. Rosenberg's commentary. I find it hard to believe that his personality had changed from when he was writing his book and the new conductor took over.

Thus, till I learn otherwise, I'll assume he knew his business.

THAT makes the PD's actions all the more reprehensible.

But I'll bet that the controversy has got a lot of subscribers paying a lot more attention to this conductor than they did before.

And, maybe, that's a good thing?

Posted by: scottmp | August 9, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

I'll start by saying that I don't live in Cleveland and I have no connection to either side of the instant Cleveland subject. A couple reactions to your piece:

I don't really buy your concern over the orchestra's management "changing its tune" in the statements you cite. Statements made at different times in different contexts, especially once the legal process is entered, will rarely warrant apples-to-apples comparisons. But I share your disappointment that coverage of this event focuses so much on age discrimination and we said/they said, rather than a useful discussion of the job of a critic and if/when/how reaction to his/her work by the reviewed can/should impact the reviewer's relationship with the newspaper.

I find your statement about the heartbreak of watching a critic punished for doing his job a bit curious. I realize a critic's job involves stating opinions, but there must be some way reasonably objective way to evaluate a critic's job performance. Can it really be, as seems implied, that because a critic is paid to opine, any body of opinions is inextricably valid?

I am especially intrigued by your question wondering what a critic should do if continually assigned to review an artist he/she doesn't like. Seems to me that if that bias against the artist actually exists, then the assignment is inappropriate. Shouldn't a critic's opinion come, to the extent possible, from a knowledgeable but unbiased starting point?

Posted by: tuckerc | August 9, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

As I've written elsewhere, there's but a single thing that could justify the action taken against Donald Rosenberg by _The Plain Dealer_ and its editor, Susan Goldberg: proof that Rosenberg's criticism was motivated not by aesthetic considerations, but by his *personal* animus toward Welser-Möst the man. And in that case, if proved, _The Plain Dealer_ and its editor were still wrong in their action against Rosenberg. If such were proved the case, Rosenberg should have been fired on the spot, not "reassigned" to another critical position.

I'm not from Cleveland, and so am writing as an outsider and on secondhand information as all my information about this case comes from the news media. It seems to me that ought not to disqualify my opinions as the news media I consulted were varied and all substantially agreed on matters of fact. What made this incident (the original incident) so outrageous goes way beyond considerations of local pride. Rosenberg is a knowledgeable, respected (by his professional peers), and longtime classical music critic, and he was essentially fired (OK, not fired; "reassigned") for doing his job as a classical music critic.

That's outrageous.

For my comments on the outcome of the trial, see this S&F entry:

http://www.soundsandfury.com/soundsandfury/2010/08/gee-what-a-surprise.html

Finally, as to what the role of a genuine arts critic ought to be, that's a huge subject, but the essential core of it was put best by the great John Dewey:

"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."

--
ACD
http://www.soundsandfury.com/

Posted by: ACDouglas1 | August 9, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

It has been interesting in the wake of the Rosenberg incident to observe the uncritical moral outrage of the music criticism community. What might have been an occasion for educating the public about the nature of quality music criticism has been largely squandered as a result. At the end of the column, Anne seems to lament this herself, but I would suggest that her righteous indignation and that of many of her colleagues around the country is at least partly to blame.

Certainly Anne's failed attempt above at "gotcha journalism" toward Gary Hansen adds nothing to the discussion and simply makes her appear naive, which I doubt she is. Surely she understands legal proceedings of this kind better than she pretends to. Characterizing what was said by The Cleveland Orchestra's attorney as "the Orchestra changing its tune" seems disingenuous at best.

I don't live in Cleveland either, and I'm not familiar enough with Rosenberg's work to venture an opinion one way or another about his treatment of The Cleveland Orchestra. But the question posed above, "can it really be... that because a critic is paid to opine, any body of opinions is inextricably valid?" In other words, is the critic himself or herself above criticism? My response is, no!

It's worth calling out a portion of the above quote from John Dewey:

"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."

Does the above apply to Donald Rosenberg's work in this case? I don't know. If so, he wouldn't be the first critic to succomb to the "obtrusion of his own approvals and condemnations." In any case, we'll not have a meaningful discussion on the issue as long as music critics hold on to the attitude that anything they write is beyond reproach and any criticism of them is censorship.

Posted by: abuelow | August 10, 2010 12:53 AM | Report abuse

Abuelow wrote: "Does the above [quote of John Dewey's] apply to Donald Rosenberg's work in this case? I don't know. If so, he wouldn't be the first critic to succomb to the 'obtrusion of his own approvals and condemnations.'"
-----------------------------------------

No, it does not. Dewey was talking about critical writing concerning an *artwork*, NOT critical writing concerning the *performance* of an artwork which, almost by definition, *requires* the "obtrusion of [the critic's] own approvals and condemnations." That's a fundamental part of a critic's job.

As I've already written, according to the facts of the case, Rosenberg was fired for simply doing his job.

--
ACD
http://www.soundsandfury.com/

Posted by: ACDouglas1 | August 10, 2010 4:55 AM | Report abuse

Gary Hanson clearly lied in his statement. That is troubling behavior from a man in his position.

Posted by: Discordant | August 10, 2010 8:39 AM | Report abuse

ACD,

Yes, you've said that, and according to the facts of the case, he wasn't fired, he was reassigned. As for your point that Dewey was talking about critical writing concerning an artwork, then why post the quote if it isn't relevant?

But I'm much more interested in your contention that "critical writing concerning the performance of an artwork requires the obtrusion of the critic's own approvals and condemnations." Why, exactly?

Posted by: abuelow | August 10, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

It's appalling that Rosenberg lost this case.I'm not sure about all the facts based on what I've read so far,but a critic is paid to write his or her subjective opinions on something.
That's all Rosenberg was doing. It's not at all unprecedented for a music critic to find fault with the interpretations of a particular music director of an orchestra on a regular basis.
The late Harold C. Schonberg's negative reviews of Leonard Bernstein's performances with the New York Philharmonic during the 1960s are well-known,or notorious. Yet Schonberg was not removed from reviewing N.Y. Phil. concerts.
A review is only one person's opinion.
And according to reports,Rosenberg tried to be fair-minded and even-handed,and did praise Welser-Most on some occaisions.

Posted by: Thehorn2 | August 10, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Abuelow wrote: "ACD, Yes, you've said that, and according to the facts of the case, he wasn't fired, he was reassigned. As for your point that Dewey was talking about critical writing concerning an artwork, then why post the quote if it isn't relevant?"
-------------------------------------

I'm well aware that Rosenberg wasn't fired but "reassigned" as I made perfectly clear in my original comment. But in this case, his being "reassigned" is tantamount to his being fired, and once one has acknowledged the technical distinction as I already have, then it's not necessary to maintain the euphemistic locution.

As to the Dewey quote, I posted it here in answer to Ms. Midgette's, "I wish that this whole issue was leading to a more spirited discussion of the critic's role," to which the Dewey quote is centrally relevant.


Abuelow wrote: "But I'm much more interested in your contention that 'critical writing concerning the performance of an artwork requires the obtrusion of the critic's own approvals and condemnations.' Why, exactly?"
-------------------------------------

What an extraordinary question.

Because one of the fundamental aspects of a critic's job is to be judgmental concerning a particular performance; judgmental as regards both performance and performers. That's why "critical writing concerning the performance of an artwork requires the obtrusion of the critic's own approvals and condemnations." We want to hear that judgment from a critic because any critic worthy of the title is an expert in his field, and experts are always needed to inform, educate, and enlighten the by-comparison ignorant. Or will you adopt the imbecile postmodern position that any person's opinion is as good and as valid and any other person's?

--
ACD
http://www.soundsandfury.com/

Posted by: ACDouglas1 | August 10, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

The discussion of the Rosenberg affair has, indeed, been shallow. I would like to raise some questions that haven't been asked and provide my own answers as a way to deepen the discussion, as Ms. Midgette requested.

First, full disclosure. I teach students in the Goldring Arts Journalism Program at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. I also teach First Amendment Law to Newhouse students. I have written about the business of classical music for more than 30 years. My first cousin is Richard Bogomolny, who was a named defendant in the Rosenberg case as a member of the Musical Arts Association board. The Plain Dealer is a Newhouse newspaper, and the family has been very generous to the School. I have read Rosenberg's criticism from time to time. Having said all that, I hope you will keep reading and not write me off as hopelessly biased.

It is certainly the case, under First Amendment law, that anyone in the Cleveland community has a right to his or her opinion about Rosenberg's criticism, and has a legal right to air that opinion without fear of losing a lawsuit. Therefore, people serving on the Musical Arts Association board have a right to complain to the paper about Rosenberg. Once they DID complain, does that mean that ethically the editors of the paper could never remove Rosenberg from the beat? Would such complaints immunize him? Would removing him be a sign that the paper was caving in to the criticism? Would that imply that people from the Musical Arts Association could never take their concerns to the paper because the paper would then have to freeze Rosenberg in place or be accused of caving in? That seems to be the position of some of Rosenberg's defenders in the arts criticism community.

How long should a critic remain on a beat? Rosenberg had covered the orchestra full-time for the P-D for 18 years. At what point should editors change critics? Baseball beat writers are often rotated to other sports beats. They get stale, or too close to their sources. Why not music critics?

Would it not have made sense for the paper to change critics once Dohnanyi left as music director and Welser-Most arrived? (I think so.) Given that the editors did not make the move then, does it mean they can never make the move without charges of caving in to criticism of Rosenberg's work?

At what point should a critic simply admit that he has little more to say about an arts institution? Had Rosenberg not reached that point? Did readers in Cleveland not realize that he didn't like Welser-Most's music making? If so, why not turn the job over to someone else and move on? Don't readers deserve a new critical perspective? Don't readers count in this equation?

In my view, the only sin the editors of the P-D committed was leaving Rosenberg in place for so long. Complaints from the Musical Arts Association people are irrelevant to that decision. That sort of thing happens all the time in journalism. Clearly the jury agreed.

Posted by: DavidMRubin | August 10, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

DavidMRubin wrote: "The discussion of the Rosenberg affair has, indeed, been shallow. I would like to raise some questions that haven't been asked and provide my own answers as a way to deepen the discussion, as Ms. Midgette requested."
———————————————————————————

I see. So your idea of deepening the discussion is to raise an issue that's a non-issue; viz., the First Amendment question.

The First Amendment has NOTHING to do with the ONLY real issue in this case, that issue being The Plain Dealer's and its editor Susan Goldberg's craven capitulation to the demands of political and corporate interests.

Period. Full stop.

There is NO OTHER issue here, the idiot-specified lawsuit notwithstanding.

As to your, "How long should a critic remain on a beat?", the answer is, as long as he's doing a first-rate job. Doing a first-rate job is NOT judged by how agreeable a critic's criticism is, but by how knowledgeable, thoughtful, and incisive it is. Judging from all non-biased, informed sources, Rosenberg's classical music criticism was just that whether one agreed with his views or not.

And finally, as to your, "Did readers in Cleveland not realize that [Rosenberg] didn't like Welser-Most's music making? If so, why not turn the job over to someone else and move on?", that's so arrantly woodenheaded I refuse to dignify it with an answer. Instead, I put to you another question: After reading review after review by this expert classical music critic, did the board of the Musical Arts Association not realize they'd made a grave mistake in hiring Welser-Möst as the orchestra's music director, and take the steps necessary to correct it? If not, why not? Surely the opinion of an expert classical music critic trumps the opinions of a bunch of political/corporate suits, does it not?

You betcherass it does.

--
ACD
http://www.soundsandfury.com/

Posted by: ACDouglas1 | August 10, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Oh dear. Look at this little gem from DavidMRubin that I missed:

————————————————————————-
DavidMRubin wrote: "[W]hy not turn the job [of covering the orchestra] over to someone else and move on? Don't readers deserve a new critical perspective? Don't readers count in this equation?"
————————————————————————-

If one judges by what The Plain Dealer and its editor Susan Goldberg did, as far as they're concerned the readers don't count at all, for after shamefully and cravenly capitulating to the demands of the orchestra's executive body (the Musical Arts Association) that Rosenberg be muzzled where the orchestra is concerned, they replaced Rosenberg on the orchestra beat not with another expert classical music critic, but with a new, young staff reporter whose specialty seems to be writing articles about matters of health and physical fitness for the newspaper's Health section(!).

So much for a "new critical perspective" on the orchestra and its music director for The Plain Dealer's readers. Perhaps now they'll finally learn what healthful foods Welser-Möst most likes to eat for breakfast, and how many laps he swims each day in the pool at the local gym.

--
ACD
http://www.soundsandfury.com/

Posted by: ACDouglas1 | August 10, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

"what can a critic do if called on to review, week after week, an artist whose work he doesn't really like?" A critic is not hired merely to have an opinion. (Every taxi driver in NY has an opinion.) A music critic (especially when he's the only significant voice in town) needs to educate, explicate, appreciate, and be a cheerleader for an endangered species--classical music. To write only negative reviews, week after week, serves no purpose--in fact, it's destructive. From what I've read, Rosenberg did indeed have a vendetta against Welser Most. To answer Anne's question: the critic should resign.

Posted by: BobG5 | August 10, 2010 11:02 PM | Report abuse

ACD,

Thanks for your response above to my question, and I agree that it was extra-ordinary, in the true sense of the word, because it is a question that is almost never asked. It is assumed by all that a critic's job is to render his or her personal judgment, and although I wanted to see how you would answer the question, I do agree that that is part -- but by no means all -- of it.

A critic's job is to render (hopefully) informed opinion as to the substance and merits of a given performance, but a critic should always be writing in order to elucidate the art form and educate the readers -- in order to guide them in the process of growing into informed listeners. If a critic's writing comes to be primarily about tearing down a conductor, artist or institution, or worse, about self-aggrandizement, then it will cease to perform its highest function. (Of course, if the critic is of the ilk of Sir Thomas Beecham, at least he will be entertaining, and perhaps he will keep his job for a good long time as a result. Editors tend to be more interested in selling papers than in elucidating an art form.)

Dewey's quote is indeed relevant here, and perhaps one way to demonstrate that is to look at the definition of the root word of "obtrusion," which is "obtrude," and means "to become noticeable in an unwelcome or intrusive way." Anybody who reads a lot of reviews, and reads them critically, has encountered more than a few critics of this stripe.

Was Rosenberg one of them? Again, I don't know because I don't live there. But if so, he wouldn't be the first -- nor the last.

Contrast that with a critic I know who told me of his own professional epiphany, how after years on the job he simply "woke up one day and realized I just wasn't that important." And you know what? That critic performed the function of elucidating the art, and informing the readers, better than any other I have known.

Also, ACD, it is amusing that you would even suggest that an orchestra of Cleveland's stature should consider removing a music director because of the opinion of one critic. And your characterization of the entire Board and administration of the Musical Arts Society as "a bunch of political-corporate suits" is simply ignorant.

Posted by: abuelow | August 11, 2010 12:41 AM | Report abuse

Abuelow wrote: "Also, ACD, it is amusing that you would even suggest that an orchestra of Cleveland's stature should consider removing a music director because of the opinion of one critic. And your characterization of the entire Board and administration of the Musical Arts Society as 'a bunch of political-corporate suits' is simply ignorant."
—————————————

Rosenberg's opinion of Welser-Möst as a conductor outside of the opera house has been echoed by any number of qualified classical music critics, not to even speak of orchestra musicians. You make it sound as if Rosenberg was the only qualified classical music critic to voice a negative opinion of Welser-Möst's performance on the concert stage. (BTW, and just for the record, I have no opinion of Welser-Möst as a conductor myself, one way or the other, as I've no experience of his work, so I have no hobby horse to ride in that matter.)

But all that's beside the point, the point being that The Plain Dealer and its editor, Susan Goldberg, acted — shamefully and cravenly — in response to the demands of an outside entity — an outside entity that represented the subject of Rosenberg's criticism — and that's unforgivable and against the very concept of a free press.

You say I'm ignorant for characterizing the makeup of the board of the Musical Arts Association as "a bunch of political/corporate suits." Well, I'm always open to learning from my mistakes. So tell me, Abuelow, what is the makeup of that board that they'd set their aesthetic opinion above the aesthetic opinion of a longtime, acknowledged expert in the field? A bunch of qualified classical music critics, are they? Or a bunch of professional musicians? Or a bunch of...What, exactly? Tell me, Abuelow. I'm willing to learn.

--
ACD
http://www.soundsandfury.com/

Posted by: ACDouglas1 | August 11, 2010 6:51 AM | Report abuse

"Second to None" was the working title of Michael Charry's never-published biography of George Szell. I suspect that Gary Hanson hasn't the slightest idea of what goes on outside his cozy circle.

Posted by: ward29800 | August 11, 2010 7:40 AM | Report abuse

ACD,

You make a good point -- Rosenberg is not the only critic to have panned Welser-Most. And certainly over the course of time, an orchestra board would give consistently poor reviews by a variety of critics its due weight (along with many other factors) in considering whether or not to renew a music director's contract. However, my understanding is that, in the case of this conductor, there isn't a consensus among the musical intelligentsia that he's simply bad. And did Rosenberg go so far as to call for his dismissal on the grounds of incompetence?

When you place the responsibility for Rosenberg's fate squarely on the shoulders of the editor, I must completely agree with you. I have felt from the start that that's where it belongs, end of story. And that's why I found it curious that so many people, including most of the leading music journalists, were so quick to heap condemnation on the Musical Arts Society. Unless they were in the room at the time they could have NO first hand knowledge that Musical Arts Society officials had any hand in this -- and responsible journalists shouldn't write about what they don't know. (I know, silly me -- it happens all the time.) By all means, condemn the editor and the Plain Dealer all you want. At the very least, their action was very unusual, and they must have known it would be controversial.

But ok, let's say, worst case scenario, everyone is right and the CO board and staff bitched like mad to the Plain Dealer about Rosenberg. Isn't that their right? If an editor fired or reassigned a journalist every time that happened, she'd get vertigo just trying to keep track of who was on what beat. And if she can't take heat from her readers in the first place, she's in the wrong business.

Finally, although two former friends and colleagues of mine used to work for the CO, I don't know Gary Hansen personally, nor any of the rest of the administration. I have worked in orchestra administration for 20 years, however, and every orchestra administration I have worked for has been chock full of trained musicians, highly educated about the art form, and deeply passionate about it. You don't put up with the long hours, stress and low pay unless you're motivated by passion. As for the Board, it's true that you want to have people of political and corporate influence on it. Here again, however, you'll find men and women who are motivated by passion for the music, or at the very least for the orchestra's role in the community.

I appreciate most of what you have to say even if I disagree, but I am always angered when people disparage the volunteers (for that is what Board members are) and staff members who make an orchestra go. Stereotyping them as "a bunch of suits" just seems unworthy of you. That's all I was getting at.

Posted by: abuelow | August 11, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Abuelow wrote: "But ok, let's say, worst case scenario, everyone is right and the CO board and staff bitched like mad to the Plain Dealer about Rosenberg. Isn't that their right?"
——————————————

Yes indeed. The board of the Musical Arts Association's has the right to complain, absolutely. No one, least of all myself, has said differently. What was wrong — dead wrong — was The Plain Dealer's and its editor's shameful and craven capitulation to the demands of the board that Rosenberg be muzzled where the orchestra was concerned. (And let's not be naïve here. No matter what language the board used in lodging its complaints against Rosenberg, it was understood as a *demand* for his muzzling by *everyone* concerned.)

To better make my point about the shamefulness and cravenness of the newspaper's and its editor's action, I give you an extreme hypothetical.

Suppose the newspaper and its editor had pretty much on their own decided between themselves, *before* the board lodged its complaint and made its demands, that they need to get rid of Rosenberg in the imminent future precisely because of his repeated criticisms of Welser-Möst, but before they could act on that decision, the board of the Musical Arts Association lodged its complaints and made its demands.

How should the newspaper and its editor have responded?

Answer: At that point, they have no choice, and but a single recourse. To tell the board, — gently, of course — to take a hike. They stand behind their classical music critic 100% in his honorably and responsibly fulfilling the imperatives and obligations of his job by offering up in print his informed, expert opinions on the orchestra and its music director no matter how disagreeable those opinions may be. That's precisely what he's being paid to do, and has been doing admirably for the past 30 (that's *thirty*) years or so.

Period. Full stop.

And that's the end of the matter — or, rather, should have been for any newspaper that pretends to quality, integrity, and authority.

See how that works — must work in such a circumstance?

And as to your, "I appreciate most of what you have to say even if I disagree, but I am always angered when people disparage the volunteers (for that is what Board members are) and staff members who make an orchestra go. Stereotyping them as "a bunch of suits" just seems unworthy of you. That's all I was getting at," please note, I did NOT make any characterization of the orchestra's administration and staff members, but of the *board* of the Musical Arts Association. That it's made up of political/corporate suits is a given, just as it's a given for the board of any arts organization. One don't get a seat on such a board unless one has political clout and/or lots of money, either personally or through connections.

--
ACD
http://www.soundsandfury.com/

Posted by: ACDouglas1 | August 11, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Uhhh..., "One DOESN'T get a seat on such a board unless one has political clout and/or lots of money, either personally or through connections."

ACD

Posted by: ACDouglas1 | August 11, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I disagree entirely with ACD when he (or she) says that once the Plain Dealer editors heard from the Musical Arts Association, they had no choice but to retain Rosenberg. That is nonsense. Given how long Rosenberg was on the beat, the editors had a long history with him. Anyone who has been in administration (as I have) will tell you that in evaluating personnel, a hundred different factors will be analyzed. None of us knows what those factors were, but I am certain the editors weighed many of them in reaching their decision to shift Rosenberg. To have put aside all those considerations just because the MAA "suits" complained about his performance would be irresponsible and would have tied Rosenberg to the paper, and to that beat, forever. No responsible editor could do that. Finally, I agree with other writers that it is an insult to board members to call them "suits." I am a "suit." I give time and money. Without thousands of people like me all over this country, the non-profit arts sector could not survive, especially in this economic climate. If ACD loves the arts, ACD should thank us "suits" every day an orchestra or an opera company performs, or every day a museum opens its doors.

Posted by: DavidMRubin | August 11, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

DavidMRubin wrote: "I am a 'suit.' I give time and money. Without thousands of people like me all over this country, the non-profit arts sector could not survive, especially in this economic climate. If ACD loves the arts, ACD should thank us 'suits' every day an orchestra or an opera company performs, or every day a museum opens its doors."
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I do indeed appreciate and thank the suits for their service to the arts. Nothing I wrote should have indicated otherwise.

Read again what I wrote, please — more carefully this time so that your jerking knee doesn't get in the way between what I wrote and its context, for as you ought to know and be teaching your students, context is everything — always.

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ACD
http://www.soundsandfury.com/

Posted by: ACDouglas1 | August 11, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I love the idea that not wearing a suit (and being too poor to sit on a board?) makes your opinions ipso facto superior to the ones who do. I haven't worn a suit for decades.

Posted by: BobG5 | August 11, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Actually, I wear a suit far more often than anyone on my Board does.

Posted by: abuelow | August 11, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

ACD writes: "I do indeed appreciate and thank the suits for their service to the arts. Nothing I wrote should have indicated otherwise."

Previously, ACD writes: "Surely the opinion of an expert classical music critic trumps the opinions of a bunch of political/corporate suits, does it not?"

This sounds very appreciative indeed, and I can't imagine how anyone could read disparagement into it.

Posted by: abuelow | August 11, 2010 10:06 PM | Report abuse

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 shamefully and cravenly 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
http://www.soundsandfury.com/

Posted by: ACDouglas1 | August 12, 2010 6:08 AM | Report abuse

It seems too obvious to point out that critics disagree. Whatever Rosenberg's opinions, some other critic would have said different things. Nothing privileges Rosenberg or makes his opinions more valid. If the critic is perceived as writing negative and destructive reviews, why shouldn't the objects of his contempt complain? And why shouldn't the newspaper have the right to replace a destructive critic with someone else?

Posted by: BobG5 | August 12, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Coming to this discussion a little late, but I want to add a few comments.

1. David Rubin's many questions don't include "is Rosenberg's view of FW-M defensible?" As one of the other commenters notes, other critics have agreed that FW-M is (at least sometimes) weak or mediocre in the orchestral repertory and excellent in opera.

2. The idea of rotating critics is an interesting one. Please tell me which newspapers in the US have enough music critics to actually do that.

The answer is the NY Times. Yes, there are always good free-lancers around, but to cover an orchestra's many programs...well, that's a lot of free-lance fees to pay.

3. Even if you're going to do that, it has to be an established policy in advance of a mess like the Plain Dealer/CO problems.

4. Even if a musical organization has the right to complain, is it a good idea to do so??? The orchestra now looks as if it ran Rosenberg off the beat. If I lived in Cleveland and if I were a donor, I'd stop donating.

5. Sometimes it's just a good idea to ignore the critics. Does the orchestra have evidence that they were harmed by Rosenberg's reviews? Could they make a factual claim that ticket sales and donations were down because of the reviews? If ticket sales were down over the last few years, it's almost a sure thing that the recession was a major cause. And maybe, just maybe, a conductor who is not as good as Dohnanyi was.

6. Do we know if there was any kind of ongoing dialog between Rosenberg and his editor about his reviews of FW-M?

Posted by: LisaHirsch1 | August 12, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I do live in Cleveland and have followed the Rosenberg case from the beginning. I have met Mr. Rosenberg, read his book about The Cleveland Orchestra, read the majority of his reviews during the period of time he covered The Cleveland Orchestra and attended many of the concerts he reviewed.

This case was never about age discrimination. I also don't believe that Mr. Rosenberg's reputation has suffered. He continues to cover many events for The Plain Dealer.

The case should have centered on whether an employee of a newspaper can write freely without fear of reprisal.

There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Rosenberg's reviews of the performances conducted by Franz Welser-Most became detrimental to the image of The Cleveland Orchestra. Although Mr. Rosenberg tried to separate the expertise of the orchestra from what he perceived as the less than stellar performance of its director, the result was not successful, especially for people who were reading the comments from afar. The negative reviews, though focused on Mr. Welser-Most, actually poorly reflected on the orchestra, itself, because you can't separate the two.

I could predict the reviews, and eventually didn't bother to read them. Cleveland has been hard hit in these tough economic times. The Cleveland Orchestra is its crown jewel. The concert-going public became upset and did write letters to The Plain Dealer.

Since I have been in Cleveland, we have had four Music Directors - all of varying interpretative skills. We are so privileged here to have this magnificent body of musicians. I applaud the work that these Music Directors and guest conductors have produced. I know that when I attend a concert at Severance Hall, that I will hear excellence, regardless of tempos and shadings,etc.

Both Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Welser-Most are highly qualified and respected in their professions. Would that they could have avoided this artistic collision.

Posted by: jhls | August 12, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

DavidMRubin asks:

Once they DID complain, does that mean that ethically the editors of the paper could never remove Rosenberg from the beat? Would such complaints immunize him? Would removing him be a sign that the paper was caving in to the criticism?

"Non-compete" clauses in the corporate world, and legal limits on the speed at which the public-private sector revolving door spins, are familiar ways of trying to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Once the PD knew of the board's dissatisfaction with Rosenberg, it seems to me, their responsibility shifted; they should have bent over backward to show their editorial independence wasn't compromised. Did they talk with Rosenberg about a possible re-assignment, or shared assignment, in future, or did they just rid themselves of that meddlesome reviewer? Another commenter refers to a "bias against the artist," but surely that assumes a fact not in evidence, i.e. that Rosenberg's criticisms of Welser-Möst were motivated by spite rather than expressions of an educated (if hardly "objective," whatever that means in this context) opinion. No, Rosenberg didn't get a lifetime job guarantee from when the board complained, but the PD has earned a permanent bad name for spinelessness.

Posted by: rootlesscosmo | August 15, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

I have lived in Cleveland for more than 30 years and have enjoyed the Cleveland Orchestra throughout that time. I also read Don Rosenberg's reviews of the orchestra regularly. So many of the above comments regarding Rosenberg's claims against the Musical Arts Association, The Plain Dealer, and their representatives miss issues which are critical to the discussion. Certain of the writers have not heard the Orchestra or read Don's reviews. Had they done so over time, they would have recognized that Rosenberg had lost his journalistic judgment. He belittled Welser-Most's conducting as producing "nothing more than recitation led by a traffic cop". Don invited readers "to begin to understand how polarizing a figure Welser-Most has become". Rosenberg persistently went out of his way to attack, insult, and denigrate the extraordinary work of Welser-Most and the Orchestra, and many in the Cleveland community were outraged by his actions. We expressed our concerns regarding his biased coverage through Letters to the Editor and directly to PD staff. Rosenberg had become the polarizing figure, not Welser-Most. Rosenberg's lawsuit was an amalgam of baseless claims. His first amendment rights were never violated. He is free to publish any comments he cares to make regarding the Orchestra, Welser-Most, or anyone else at any time, simply not in the Plain Dealer. He is an employee, and the PD has every right to determine which views to publish on any issue. The PD determined that Rosenberg's judgment and credibility were impaired. Firing him certainly was an option and perhaps would have been a better choice. He should be thankful that he remains employed. The decision by the PD to drop his coverage of the Orchestra was a proper exercise of the newspaper's first amendment rights. Any criticism of Rosenberg's vitriol by the Musical Arts Association or PD subscribers similarly was a proper exercise of first amendment rights. No such criticism gives rise to a cognizable claim of tortious interference with employment under Ohio law. Expression of those opinions is privileged under the first amendment and is not actionable. Rosenberg presented no evidence to establish that his age was a motivating factor in the decision to remove him from the Orchestra beat. Moreover, as a public figure, he had to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the PD, the Musical Arts Association, or their respective staffs made defamatory statements concerning him which they knew to be false or were made with reckless disregard for the truth. He produced no such evidence. All his claims were deficient under the law. He was no David fighting Goliath. He was an arrogant man who believed himself entitled to use his position as a journalist to insult others. The law does not require any employer to tolerate such behavior. Rosenberg should be held accountable for the costs his arrogance imposed on the parties to his failed lawsuit.

Posted by: alistener | August 17, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

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