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PostPosted: Mon Jun 11, 2007 10:43 am 
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From The New York Times:

June 9, 2007
Newspapers Trimming Classical Critics
By DANIEL J. WAKIN

Classical music criticism, a high-minded endeavor that has been around at least as long as newspapers and reached an English-language peak with George Bernard Shaw, has taken a series of hits in recent months.

Critics’ jobs have been eliminated, downgraded or redefined at newspapers in Atlanta, Minneapolis and elsewhere around the country and at New York magazine, where Peter G. Davis, one of the most respected voices of the craft, said he had been forced out after 26 years.

The developments have flustered the profession, which views robust analysis, commentary and reportage as vital to the health of the art form. But the changes have also disturbed the people who run musical institutions like opera houses and orchestras, several of whom have protested to local editors.

The worries come as classical music is already riled by fears of aging, declining audiences and an increasingly marginal role in American society: curiously enough, the same worries afflicting newspapers, which are cutting costs and trying to grope their way in the multimedia world. Often the first targets have been the arts and book review pages.

“These actions from Atlanta, Minneapolis and New York compellingly demonstrate the decreasing value that those in position to influence public opinion place on the value of the arts to a society,” Henry Fogel, the president of the American Symphony Orchestra League, wrote in his blog on artsjournal.com on June 1. “If that does not alarm you, I cannot imagine what will!”

In Atlanta, a broad staff reorganization seemed to threaten the role performed by the classical music critic, Pierre Ruhe, who, along with other staff members, was told he would have to reapply for a beat. Reports that his position would be eliminated prompted denunciations from Robert Spano, the music director of the Atlanta Symphony, and Dennis Hanthorn, the general director of Opera Atlanta. The paper was already smarting from reaction to the elimination of its book editor.

But this week, Julia Wallace, the paper’s editor, said that Mr. Ruhe’s job had merely been retitled arts critic-reporter and that he would continue to review classical music. Mr. Ruhe’s title had been classical music critic.

“There’s no substantial change here,” Ms. Wallace said, noting that Mr. Ruhe had already been writing profiles and features about the field and reporting on news developments. That is the case with music critics at most newspapers.

Mr. Fogel, on his blog, rejoiced in the news, suggesting that the paper had caved in to the criticism.

In Minneapolis — a musically rich city, with the high-riding Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in its orbit — the music critic of The Star-Tribune said he had taken a buyout when a round of cutbacks left no place for a classical music critic.

“They didn’t fire me,” said the critic, Michael Anthony. “They fired my job.” He said the paper had yet to announce how it would deal with classical music, although it planned to rely on stringers.

“The audiences are large and fervent, and moreover they’re readers,” Mr. Anthony said. “I don’t think the management knows a lot about local culture, and that’s one of the reasons they cut the job.”

Mr. Anthony, who joined the old Minneapolis Tribune as a music critic in 1971, was a fixture on the classical music scene, and his departure also drew protests. Lani Willis, the marketing and communications director for the Minnesota Opera, wrote in a guest column in The Star-Tribune that it was a “huge blow to classical music organizations, artists and audiences.”

An assistant to the editor, Nancy Barnes, said Ms. Barnes was out of the office for family matters and unavailable to comment.

The latest casualty, Mr. Davis, 71, of New York magazine, said he had been forced out by an editorial leadership that had increasingly devalued classical music.

“It’s been clear that classical music is of less and less interest to them,” he said. He said he had been told that the magazine no longer needed a full-time classical music critic and that classical music coverage would be “treated differently.”

A spokeswoman for the magazine, Serena Torrey, said a week after Mr. Davis’s departure became known that no decision had been made on whether he would be replaced. She also said no editor would be available to comment. But she added, “It’s an important category for us to continue robust criticism in.”

A year ago, the music critic of The Sun-Times in Chicago, home of one of the world’s great orchestras and an important opera house, took a buyout. A freelancer writes reviews there. Donald Hayner, the paper’s managing editor, said that he imagined the number of reviews had declined, and he blamed the loss of the critic on cutbacks.

“I wish we did have a full-time” critic, Mr. Hayner said. “But that’s where we are right now.”

Similarly, Barbara Zuck, an arts columnist and senior critic who reviewed classical music and dance performances at The Columbus Dispatch, is taking a buyout, although she will continue to review as a freelancer.

The changes were naturally a hot topic last week at the annual meeting of the Music Critics Association of North America in Charleston, S.C. Tim Smith of The Baltimore Sun, the president of the association, said he was unsure why they were all happening at once. To some commentators, he said, “It looks like some sort of anticultural movement among the suits in newspapers.”

“I don’t know if it really is,” he added, while lamenting any loss of local classical music coverage. “That’s where part of your local voice and personality as a newspaper come from,” he said. “I don’t see if it’s any different from covering your sports teams or City Hall. It’s part of your community.”

Music criticism, like other areas, has expanded into the blogosphere. A number of major newspapers still have full-time classical music critics, including The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Boston Globe. The New York Times maintains a staff of three full-time classical music critics and three freelancers, as well as a reporter and an editor for classical music and dance.

“The Times has a commitment to classical music not just in New York but across the United States and abroad,” said Sam Sifton, the culture editor. “Rumors of the death of classical music have been much exaggerated. There’s a lot to cover, and we need a lot of people to cover it.”

Threats to classical music criticism have been noted before. An article in The New York Times by Virgil Thomson, the composer who had been a critic for The New York Herald Tribune, was headlined, “A Drenching of Music, but a Drought of Critics.”

The nature of reviewing hadn’t changed, he wrote. “It is merely that the amount of music criticism and reportage is smaller.” Fewer papers, earlier deadlines and competition from more dance performances were to blame, he wrote.

The year was 1974.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 11, 2007 3:01 pm 
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Ralph wrote:
From The New York Times:

June 9, 2007
Newspapers Trimming Classical Critics
By DANIEL J. WAKIN

Classical music criticism, a high-minded endeavor that has been around at least as long as newspapers and reached an English-language peak with George Bernard Shaw, has taken a series of hits in recent months.


Wakin is just showin' off here. Of course music critisicm did not reach it's peak with Shaw. Among newspaper critics, Thomson and Newman were far better critics and authors authors on the subject and longer-lived at the job, thus producing more content. And I'd stand up the guys who wrote for Gramophone, Fanfare, Opera, Records and Recordings and Music and Musicians between 1964 and 1984, the years I read them studiously, against Shaw any day of the week. On top of that, Shaw was giving to the dismissive cocktail-party quip more indicative of a wit than a serious critic.

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 12, 2007 5:41 am 
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Quote:
Critics’ jobs have been eliminated, downgraded or redefined at newspapers in Atlanta, Minneapolis and elsewhere around the country and at New York magazine, where Peter G. Davis, one of the most respected voices of the craft, said he had been forced out after 26 years.

I deplore the trend of eliminating these positions, but frankly, as a New York Magazine subscriber, I will not miss Peter Davis. His column was devoted almost exclusively to opera, which is fine if that's the focus of one's interest, but for those of us who are fans of classical instrumental music, his column was rarely pertinent.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2007 7:45 am 
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Some of my friends, who read my blog reviews, tell me I should go in to writing/music critic/reviewer, etc... I think I am safer where I am.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2007 7:51 am 
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Corlyss_D wrote:
Of course music critisicm did not reach it's peak with Shaw.

A most apt criticism, esteemed Corlyss.

Cheers,
~Karl

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2007 9:15 am 
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Corlyss_D wrote:

"Of course music critisicm did not reach it's peak with Shaw."

That's for sure! Especially with his remark about the "stupid" Brahms Requiem.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2007 4:07 pm 
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Wakin does not say that music criticism reached its peak with Shaw. What he said is that it "reached an English-language peak with George Bernard Shaw." "An," not "the." This is the conventional view, and it's right.

Shaw is the earliest English-language reviewer of classical music and its performance who is still read today. This isn't just because he's such an entertaining writer, though no classical music critic is more fun to read than Shaw; he understood that to inform and educate readers, you have to induce them to read. But he was also a passionate crusader for what he thought was the best of new music, notably late Wagner, and old music that was undervalued in his time, notably Mozart. And against the trivial music and bland, underprepared performances that so abounded in late Victorian London, and which he dutifully chronicled and mercilessly skewered week after week.

Music reviewing in English has reached other peaks since the 1890s. Andrew Porter's weekly "New Yorker" columns are my choice of the post-Saw reviewers, and like Shaw's, his reviews were collected into books soon after they appeared, so they are easy to acquire and read. Many think highly of Virgil Thomson's reviews; he can be almost as entertaining as Shaw, and is often enlightening within the narrower scope allowed him as a daily reviewer (Shaw and Porter wrote weekly). Thomson the critic sometimes kept the interests of Thomson the composer in mind; performers like Ormandy and Bernstein, who played his music or might do so, generally got more politick treatment than others like Heifetz and Toscanini who wouldn't. But you can learn from Thomson, as from Porter and Shaw, and for me that's why read reviews, especially of long past events.

No one should expect a serious critic to think equally well of all the "standard" composers. It's been mentioned that Shaw found some of Brahms's music unrewarding, as did many pro-Wagnerites of his time; in 1936 he wrote that he had been wrong and actually apologized. Thomson wrote in 1947, "Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, and Shostakovich are demagogic symphonists because the expressive power of their work is greater than its interest in music; it does not fully or long occupy an adult mind." This tells us more about Thomson's taste, and the establishment taste of his times, than about Tchaikovsky's, Sibelius's, and Shostakovich's quality. And if these composers suit our taste better than they did Thomson's, there's nothing wrong with that either.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2007 4:33 pm 
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John F wrote:
Wakin does not say that music criticism reached its peak with Shaw. What he said is that it "reached an English-language peak with George Bernard Shaw." "An," not "the." This is the conventional view, and it's right.


I think he was showin' off and I still don't agree whether it's "an" or "the."

Quote:
Shaw is the earliest English-language reviewer of classical music and its performance who is still read today.


Well, I guess that leaves poor Mr. Burney in the ash heap of history. I take your point, tho', since he's largely read today by Handel specialists. I doubt you could find anyone who "still read [Shaw] today" for his music criticism. I occasionally refer to his accounts of monster concerts and his puckish opinion of Vladimir de Pachman, but, really, who does read him today for serious insights?


Quote:
Music reviewing in English has reached other peaks since the 1890s. Andrew Porter's weekly "New Yorker" columns are my choice of the post-Saw reviewers, and like Shaw's, his reviews were collected into books soon after they appeared, so they are easy to acquire and read.


Image Of course! How could I forget Porter. Another of my favorites. Thank you for bringing him up.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2007 5:55 pm 
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Corlyss_D wrote:
I guess that leaves poor Mr. Burney in the ash heap of history.


Charles Burney was not a "reviewer of classical music" as Shaw, Thomson, Porter, and Berlioz, Schumann, Hanslick, and Debussy were. I used those words instead of "music critic" or "music writer" carefully and on purpose to make this distinction. Historians like Burney, musicologists like Joseph Kerman, philosophers like Peter Kivy, and indeed critics like Charles Rosen all write about classical music. But they aren't playing the same game as regular newspaper and periodical reviewers like Shaw, Newman, Tommasini, et al.

Corlyss_D wrote:
I still don't agree whether it's "an" or "the."


If you're making an issue of which word Wakin actually used, it's "an," case closed. Here's the link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/09/arts/music/09crit.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

If that's not it, then what are you making an issue of? I don't get it.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 3:58 pm 
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Another grim reminder of the coming Age of Darkness. Michael Anthony was a tough, but highly articulate critic for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. His reviews had subtlety and considerable depth, especially given the obvious time/space limitations of newspaper writing. Unfortunately his exit is only the latest in a long littany of wackiness and small-mindedness from the editiors of what was once an excellent newspaper.

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 8:57 am 
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Just thought I'd post a bit of Shaw's writings to show his acuteness as a serious critic, all jesting aside. This excerpt is about Verdi's "Falstaff" and dates from April 13, 1893, two months after the premiere. Shaw, in his mid-30s, had not seen or heard the opera but had acquired the Ricordi vocal score, and was musician enough to read it and grasp what he had read:

GBS wrote:
"Falstaff" is lighted and warmed only by the afterglow of the fierce noonday sun of "Ernani"; but the gain in beauty conceals the loss in heat--if, indeed, it be a loss to replace intensity of passion and spontaneity of song by fullness of insight and perfect mastery of workmanship. Verdi has exchanged the excess of his qualities for the wisdom to supply his deficiencies; his weaknesses have disappeared with his superfluous force; and he is now, in his dignified competence, the greatest of living dramatic composers. It is not often that a man's strength is so immense that he can remain an athlete after bartering half of it to old age for experience; but the thing happens occasionally, and need not so greatly surprise us in Verdi's case, especially those of us who, long ago, when Von Bülow and others were contemptuously repudiating him, were able to discern in him a man possessing more power than he knew how to use, or indeed was permitted to use by the old operatic forms imposed on him by circumstances....

During the abundant action and stage bustle of the piece we get a symphonic treatment, which belongs exclusively to Verdi's latest manner. Some tripping figuration, which creates perpetual motion by its ceaseless repetition in all sorts of ingenious sequences, as in Mendelssohn's scherzos or the finales to his concertos, is taken as the musical groundwork upon which the vocal parts are put in, the whole fabric being wrought with the most skilful elegance.

"Falstaff" got its London premiere the following year, and Shaw was there; but having already said his say about the opera itself, he mainly reviewed the performance. In the same week he also saw "Manon Lescaut," Puccini's first characteristic opera and first major success, premiered in Italy and London almost simultaneously with "Falstaff." Shaw instantly recognized the composer's special qualities and his importance:

GBS wrote:
In "Manon Lescaut" the domain of Italian opera is enlarged by an annexation of German territory. The first act, which is as gay and effective as the opening of any version of "Manon" need be, is also unmistakeably symphonic in its treatment. There is genuine symphonic modification, development, and occasionally combination of the thematic material, all in a dramatic way, but also in a musically homogeneous way, so that the act is really a single movement with episodes instead of being a succession of separate numbers, linked together, to conform to the modern fashion, by substituting interrupted cadences for full closes and parading a Leitmotif occasionally.

Further, the experiments in harmony and syncopation, reminding one often of the intellectual curiosities which abound in Schumann's less popular pianoforte works, show a strong technical interest which is, in Italian music, a most refreshing symptom of mental vigor, even when it is not strictly to the real artistic point. The less studied harmonies are of the most modern and stimulating kind... Puccini...shows no signs of atrophy of the melodic faculty: he breaks out into catching melodies quite in the vein of Verdi: for example, "Tra voi, belle," in the first act of "Manon," has all the charm of the tunes beloved by the old operatic guard.

On that and other accounts, Puccini looks to me more like the heir of Verdi than any of his rivals...

Whang in the gold! (Or, if you prefer, "Bullseye!") All the more impressive when you consider that Shaw was "the perfect Wagnerite," and in those days (as the reference to Bülow's attitude shows) it was evidently as hard to admire Wagner and Romantic Italian opera even-handedly as to admire Wagner and Brahms.

Again and again in his weekly columns, Shaw the journalistic reviewer not only characterizes the new music of his time with precise accuracy, but immediately assesses its quality and significance in terms which, over a century later, not only stand up but often have become the common view. This in addition to being compellingly readable, so that as he told his editor, he could make a deaf stockbroker read his columns on music.

So when Daniel Wakin wrote in the NY Times that classical music criticism (he's writing particularly about newspaper reviewers) "reached an English-language peak with George Bernard Shaw," he was speaking nothing less than the truth--and the obvious truth at that.

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 9:15 am 
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A couple years ago I acquired a copy of Shaw's book on music, a compilation of writings on various composers. The book consists of selections drawn from his vast writings. He had a truly masterful command of the English language and a sharp, often scathing, tongue. ....I'm still making my way through the book...

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 9:28 am 
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John F wrote:
Wakin does not say that music criticism reached its peak with Shaw. What he said is that it "reached an English-language peak with George Bernard Shaw." "An," not "the." This is the conventional view, and it's right.

Understood.

As a casual opening remark, and singling out Shaw for mention without (say) your own shrewd amplification, it is apt to give the impression to which Corlyss takes exception.

Cyril Ignatius wrote:
A couple years ago I acquired a copy of Shaw's book on music, a compilation of writings on various composers. The book consists of selections drawn from his vast writings. He had a truly masterful command of the English language and a sharp, often scathing, tongue.

Oh, no doubt it is of literary interest, and has some gossipy titillation to it :-)

Cheers,
~Karl

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 9:42 am 
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John F wrote:
This in addition to being compellingly readable, so that as he told his editor, he could make a deaf stockbroker read his columns on music.

No doubt because he wondered if any fellow Englishman could be so entirely self-important :-)

With a character of such winsome humility, how could Shaw fail to admire Wagner, eh? Oh, and the music too, of course.

Cheers,
~Karl

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 1:39 pm 
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It might help to know a little about the background. Shaw had been hired by "The Star" as a member of the newspaper's political staff. But he was a Fenian socialist and wrote his articles accordingly, and his editor refused to print them. "He was too good-natured to sack me; and I did not want to throw away my job; so I got him out of his difficulty by asking him to let me have two columns a week for a feuilleton on music. He was glad to get rid of my politics on these terms; but he stipulated that--musical criticism being known to him only as unreadable and unintelligible jargon--I should, for God's sake, not write about Bach in B Minor. I was quite alive to that danger: in fact I had made my proposal because I believed I could make musical criticism readable even by the deaf." And told his editor so.

So Shaw brought music reviewing to a newspaper which hadn't provided it before. And under orders, he wrote a column that was as untechnical and entertaining as he could make it, which is about as far as music criticism can go and still be real criticism. That it was indeed real criticism is obvious from the paragraphs on "Falstaff" and "Manon Lescaut," above, and countless others I could have quoted.

But Shaw followed orders only so far. His very first column was in fact about Bach in B minor. And before mentioning the performance, he criticized the taste and seriousness of the London musical public. "The number of empty seats at the performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor at St. James's Hall on Saturday afternoon did little credit to the artistic culture of which the West End is supposed to be the universal center. This Mass towers among the masterpieces of musical art like Everest among the mountains, but we still prefer 'Elijah.'" And he ends with: "It should be mentioned that there were plenty of shilling seats: a great improvement on the high prices of the early days of the Bach Choir." Shaw made it his business to try to improve his city's musical life in every way, addressing not just the musical repertoire and the performing artists but the presenters and the audience as well, and even the music publishers. Seems to me this is what a critic in a newspaper should constantly seek to do--but how many do it today in our newspapers?

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 4:56 pm 
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No doubt their jobs are being outsourced.

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 5:23 pm 
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karlhenning wrote:
As a casual opening remark, and singling out Shaw for mention without (say) your own shrewd amplification, it is apt to give the impression to which Corlyss takes exception.


I never said he wasn't good. I reject any claim that he was either the first or the best. People who say he was the first are usually saying under other guise, "Hahaha! Bet you didn't know one of our foremost playwrights put food on the table by writing pretty darn good music criticism!" People who say he was the best usually are not familiar with anything but the slop in today's newspapers that passes for music criticism.

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