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.