First Words: A Panel Discussion About Reviewing Premieres

The Need for Professionalism

JAMES REEL: If I can just inject another pessimism here, I think that this whole effort is doomed with the egalitization of newspapers in the United States. Just take what you face in Toronto, what you face in Cleveland, and you’re lucky to have that. You’re lucky to have any problems at all because in the newspapers in the mid-sized and smaller markets, as the classical critics move on for one reason or another, they’re not being replaced. They may not even be replaced with freelancers from the university. I live in Tucson, which has a population of 800,000 or so right now, two daily newspapers there. Neither one right now has a full-time classical music critic or has any intention of hiring one. If they have anybody cover anything at all, it’s going to be what the editors there who don’t know anything about music of any kind, popular or classical, think will have the highest reader interest and that means, well, we’re obligated to go cover the symphony this month. So they send somebody who they know maybe to be an amateur cellist, who doesn’t know that much about music, doesn’t know how to write about music, certainly. And they go back, they go to the concert and to them Bartók is new music and they come back with a snide remark about how dissonant the Bartok was. And if they face music like that with such a low degree of sophistication, there’s no way that they’re going to be equipped to understand anything that’s truly new. And our problem here is the de-professionalization of our profession.

BARBARA JEPSON: I wonder if there is something that the Music Critics’ Association can do to reach those newspaper publishers and editors and change their minds?

DAVID STOCK: Coercion. [laughter] Can I one up you on that one if you don’t mind? I hate to say anything pessimistic but Don Rosenberg’s predecessor at the Pittsburgh Press got his job because–this is in the late ’50s or early ’60s–the previous music critic had died or retired or something and they said, “O.K., who here knows anything about music?” And so, a gentleman, a very nice guy whose name I will not mention, said, “Well, I played the violin in high school.” (He was writing for sports or something.) They said, “Ok, you’re the new music critic!” So he went to the symphony the first time and they were–remember this was 1960 give or take a couple years–and they were playing Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 and he reviewed it as though it were a premiere and he didn’t like it, so it’s exactly what you’re talking about. Exactly, word for word. And that’s already 45 years ago, 35?

FRANK J. OTERI: I don’t want to end this on that note.

DAVID STOCK: No, no, no.

FRANK J. OTERI: Can we have a voice with a positive story somebody who hasn’t spoken? Well, you’ve spoken but you can speak again.

MARC GEELHOED: Well, I think that all music is new music to somebody out there and that if you present that in all of your reviews, that fresh, exciting aspect whether or not it’s fresh or exciting to you at this point, I think that that would even reverse the trend and might even raise interest in new music.

FRANK J. OTERI: Here, here.

WILLIAM LITTLER: You’d rather light a candle than curse the darkness.

[laughter]

FRANK J. OTERI: On that note, I hope we’ve raised more questions than given answers!

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