Against concert previews

Recently, I made some comments in favor of the concert review over the concert preview, the latter of which I often feel are shallow and ultimately a waste of newsprint. (A brief defense of reviewing, Feb. 20, 2019.) Concert previews are all the rage these days among arts editors, though, both in small as well as prestigious publications. These arts editors seem to feel that reviews of concerts are useless if the reader can’t attend the same concert under review. Additionally, they also feel that it’s their duty to support the arts community by selling tickets to its concerts and events. (It’s not.) Thus the preference for concert previews over concert reviews among arts editors.

This week I was reminded once again of another reason — really, I guess it’s the main reason — that I don’t like writing concert previews. The concert that I could have written a concert preview of for several publications but didn’t, turned out to be a dud from the get-go.

I’m talking about the performance by the Emerson String Quartet of its concert/play “Shostakovich and the Black Monk: A Russian Fantasy,” which I heard Tuesday night at Samueli Theater and reviewed here. The event had just about everything an arts editor could want for a concert preview: a prestigious, Grammy-winning ensemble trying something new, exploring an interesting political topic and important composer’s life in an innovative way and meaning to reach a diverse audience of aficionados as well as newbies. The story had lots of angles.

And it might have been a decent story, in the hands of the right writer. But the trouble is, the event itself was a mess and, in my opinion, not really worth going to. And the further trouble is that, no matter how you write it, a concert preview is implicitly or explicitly recommending to the reader that he and she should consider buying a ticket to the concert and attending it. For a critic to put his neck out for such a thing as the Emerson’s “Shostakovich and the Black Monk” before even seeing it and write such a preview is dishonest and unfair to readers and will ultimately hurt his credibility.

When I was writing regularly for newspapers back in the day, I not infrequently had the experience of showing up at a concert that I had also written a preview of and said concert proving to be a lemon. At such times, I felt like crawling under my seat. I also felt responsible for at least some of the attendance at the concert, which is not a feeling you want your dispassionate and objective critic to have.

No, bring back the concert review. Make it the ne plus ultra of music criticism. Let there be concert previews, or season previews, once in a while, but have someone other than the critic write them. Allow audiences to decide what concerts they’d like to attend by reading the ads and concert calendar. And by reading the critic’s reviews, which will shape his readers’ taste.

Review: ‘Shostakovich and The Black Monk: A Russian Fantasy’

Review: Emerson Quartet Explores a Play on the Life of Shostakovich. Voice of OC, May 16, 2019.

Jacques Casterede: ‘Menage a trois’

Worth another listen.

Ocarina Sousa

High School Cadets.

Review: David Lang’s ‘the loser’ at L.A. Opera

By Timothy Mangan, Musical America, Feb. 25, 2019

David Lang’s the loser, presented by LA Opera in its West Coast premiere February 22 and 23, works on the principle of musical mesmerization. It relies on a single voice relating its hour-long tale in the first person in a kind of unrelenting tuneful singsong. The accompanying quartet of instruments, latterly a quintet, burbles, stutters, goads and echoes sparingly in support, with limited sets of notes. There is no action, just a man in a tuxedo on a platform, feet planted, looking at us as he tells the story. 

Lang’s theater piece — calling it an opera would be a stretch — was presented as part of the company’s Off Grand series for alternative opera. Bang on a Can, of which Lang is a founding member, produced. The venue was the Theatre at Ace Hotel, a restored United Artists movie palace from 1927, located in a rapidly transitioning area, still with seedy trimmings, of south downtown. The audience was seated in the large, ornate balcony, no one downstairs. In the dark, one could see baritone Rod Gilfry mounting a steep set of stairs until he stood on a small square landing with rails, in mid-air before us. Cue the lights. If he had even wanted to stroll while he sang, he would have had to go downstairs. He didn’t.

Read more…

‘Agon’, with score

Stravinsky’s late ballet, Agon, an astonishing hybrid of diatonic, chromatic and dodecaphonic harmonies, while much of the rhythmic element is inspired by 17th-century French court dances. The orchestration features unique small combos of instruments. Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the London Symphony Orchestra.

Review: Grazinyte-Tyla, Kopatchinskaja, LA Phil

Review: Mirga Returns to LA for the Worst of Times, the Best of Times. Musical America, April 8, 2019.

Review: Third Coast Percussion

Review: Third Coast Percussion Lays Down a Virtuosic Set at Samueli. Voice of OC, April 9, 2019.

Video: ‘Torched and Wrecked’ by David Skidmore

That’s the composer who starts things out. This piece served as finale to Third Coast Percussion’s concert at Samueli Theater on Friday.

Pacific Chorale to perform the music of women composers

Pacific Chorale to Sing the Praises of Women Composers. Voice of OC, March 26, 2019.

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