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Cleveland critic, redux

This afternoon, I went on WNYC's Soundcheck to discuss the Don Rosenberg case (as I prepare, in my mind, a future blog post following up on this active discussion -- see the comments -- of the role of the critic).

By Anne Midgette  |  August 11, 2010; 2:40 PM ET
Categories:  national , random musings  
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I don't know why the newspaper did what it did. Was it maybe an excuse to cut costs?

But if my memory is correct, newspapers have been known to change critics because they thought the criticicsm was too negative. Wasn't that what happened with Gary Arnold (movie critic) and the Washington Post many years ago? He ended up writing for the Washington Times for some years after that. And didn't Neil Simon refuse to open new plays in DC because of the Post's theater critic's pan of Lost in Yonkers? I don't remember her name, but I do remember that she panned, big-time, "Crazy For You" when it came here pre-Broadway. (I saw it, loved everything about it that she hated.) It seemed to me in reading her reviews that she found something to pan in every comedy or musical that came to town. But despite her opinion, Crazy for You became a huge hit on Broadway, won tons of awards, and when it returned to DC later, she wrote nice things, but in a grudging manner, it seemed to me. Not long after that, she left the newspaper to write a book.....

Posted by: c-clef | August 12, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Listening to the WNYC interview I was sorry to hear Anne sound as if she had a cold -- hope you're feeling better!

Otherwise it was a pleasure as always to hear her discuss a subject in civil, urbane, and intelligent terms, with none of the usual media defensiveness, no soundbites and no self-promotion. It also was interesting to listen to the excerpt from Beethoven's Ninth, now become musical candy, played for her comment (and to note that she did not comment). My own version is conducted by Furtwangler. I am no music critic but, believe me, Franz Welser-Möst is no Furtwangler.

I am curious about her (and the other commenters') view on what the job of a critic really is. There seems to be a general assumption that a critic is a mixture of Grand Inquisitor and Consumer Reports, adjudicating sins after their commission and recommending best buys. I doubt that we really need anyone to write about the salvation of a musician's musical soul. We'd much rather they just got on with the music and let us listen.

My own, reader's, view is somewhat more utilitarian. I view criticism as part of my continuing education (even if I may appreciate the opportunity to exercise snobbery pro or con). The fundamental shortcoming I see in criticism is that it is after the fact. I can't revisit a concert once reviewed and, if I need to read the critique to decide whether I enjoyed it or not, I probably should not have gone anyhow.

Where the critique is helpful is in telling me what to listen for; how to assign priorities, within my limited resources, among the vast number of musical offerings; and, how to fill out and, perhaps, expand my musical horizons and their cultural context.

As for biases, Anne rightfully comments that biases are not necessarily an impediment. I would say that they add spice to a review. Perhaps a conscientious critic, finding herself at odds with a particular ensemble or performer more frequently than not, might deal with imputed unfairness by providing space for op-ed criticism from individuals whose judgment she respects, but who disagree.

BTW, this blog is a surprisingly civilized place, with considered
and often enlightening comments, serving as a sort of op-ed locale in the sense I suggest above, and none of the savagery present elsewhere. Have we been tamed by music? To the extent that this is influenced by Anne Midgette, thanks! Maybe it would be useful to print excerpts in your column from time to time?

Posted by: gauthier310 | August 13, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

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