American composers reflect on the state of music criticism in America today David Rakowski



Photo by Stacy Garrop

Music critics have a difficult job. At a time when major newspapers and magazines are severely cutting or eliminating coverage of classical music, they have to sift through the mountain of press releases, complimentary CDs, and calls from publicists and decide which ones are covered, which are not. Eighteen years ago, my first New York performance (I was still a graduate student!) was reviewed (panned) in the New Yorker. Fat chance of that ever happening again.

That said, it would seem that said critics could, and should, make choices that would better make the case for American music. When there is so much good American music being presented by those who are in it for the love of it and paying for it out of their own pockets, do we really need to read yet more about well-paid European conductors with well-paid European soloists in performances of music by Europeans? Do we really need to be told that there are no great American composers? Do we really need to be told, again, and at regular intervals, that postwar American modernism is the source of the malaise in classical music? Do we need to read more reviews of premiere performances by Americans that do little more than repeat the program notes?

By and large, practicing musicians have little use for music critics except as blurb machines. There are excellent critics working (and you know who you are) who can, and should, make it otherwise.

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