Critic-In-Residence

Sometimes I bang my poor head against the wall trying to write a weekly post here on NewMusicBox, and sometimes someone just goes ahead and writes one for me. This week, I have the South Florida Classical Review to thank: According to a recent blog post, the Cleveland Orchestra has hired a “critic-in-residence,” Enrique Fernandez, whose job is specifically to not criticize the orchestra. Fernandez’s writings will appear on a blog connected with the orchestra’s Miami residency.

Disclaimers first: From a bottom-line point of view, this is not a great time in Western music history to be an orchestra. No symphony marketing professional worth his or her salt wouldn’t recommend outreach through online social media as a savvy tactic—it might not be a silver bullet, but it can’t hurt, right? And you have to withhold some sympathy for Fernandez, who probably thought he would be using his comparative literature degree to concretize Mille Plateaux rather than to hawk the Cleveland Orchestra’s repackaging of dead people’s music. (Maybe he does both—I don’t know.)

But, as the South Florida Classical Review can’t help but intimate, there’s something perverse about hiring a critic to supply advermation rather than to write critically. A few of his blog posts demonstrate that he’s clearly capable of lucid, inviting, and even thought-provoking prose regarding the Cleveland Orchestra’s activities, but to call him a critic is, in this context, disingenuous. If a congresswoman declines to run for reelection and takes a job on K street, she still has the competences of a congresswoman—but she’s now tugging on the opposite end of the rope, and nobody would call her a congresswoman without noting that what she really is, at this point, is a lobbyist. In this case, the Cleveland Orchestra is getting away with calling Fernandez a critic-in-residence; he may write “critic” on his tax returns, but what he does for the orchestra is not criticism. It’s not particularly fair to any of us to claim otherwise.

2 thoughts on “Critic-In-Residence

  1. TJOG

    “…the Cleveland Orchestra’s repackaging of dead people’s music.”

    Perhaps the critic-in-residence can encourage them to perform some music by Milton Babbitt. Oh, wait…I forgot. He’s dead, so now he’s irrelevant.

    I wonder if it has ever occurred to Mr. Holter that some of his readers might have interest in both New Music and the music of some deceased composers. If it does, it might also occur to him that those same readers would find his disparaging reference to “dead people’s music” childish.

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  2. Colin Holter

    I wonder if it has ever occurred to Mr. Holter that some of his readers might have interest in both New Music and the music of some deceased composers. If it does, it might also occur to him that those same readers would find his disparaging reference to “dead people’s music” childish.

    It has, and I mean no disrespect to Babbitt or any other dead composer. Some of my favorite composers are dead, and many have been dead for a long-ass time.

    But for such an obvious distinction – between living and dead, that is – it’s one that we often overlook. You might say that one of the most significant things to know about a person is whether or not he or she is alive; however, there are probably more than a few important composers – mostly of 1930s and ’40s vintage and who get little coverage in US media – who I can’t say off the top of my head are still with us or not.

    The way composers are often discussed – as appendages to their corpora of music – makes it easy to forget this. Whether a composer is living or dead may be irrelevant to his or her catalog (except regarding its likelihood to grow!), but it’s most certainly relevant to his or her position in the field of production, which is an important consideration too.

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