American composers reflect on the state of music criticism in America today James Wierzbicki



What an interesting task: to comment briefly, from my current perspective, on the state of music journalism in America and its impact on the community. When I was working in the trenches—i.e., as the chief music journalist for the Cincinnati Post (1974-78), the St. Louis Globe-Democrat (1978-83), and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (1983-94)—I pondered this long and hard, and I fought many a battle to convince philistine editors that what music-lovers wanted to read were intelligent discussions of music, not interviews with famous artists or puff pieces about upcoming musical events. I vacated my presumably prestigious position in part because I had grown tired of the fight but mostly because I realized it was time to tend my own garden.

Since my “retirement” I have happily devoted my musical energies to my own compositions, to teaching (at the University of California, Irvine) and to critical writing of the sort the newspaper venue could ill accommodate. Over the last eight years I have indeed read reviews of performances and premieres, but primarily for the factual information they might contain. I do admire insightful commentary, but I come across this only rarely, and I find that most of what gets written about concert-hall music these days is produced either by ill-informed amateurs or by well-meaning, knowledgeable people who for some reason – probably the whim of their editors – barely scratch the surface of the topic at hand.