Whither music criticism?

What can be done to save music criticism? In the twilight of the mass media as we know it, there seems nowhere for it to turn. Only the big city papers are able to support full time music critics anymore, and even then the record is spotty. California has but two full time music critics. The country has less than ten. Recently in The New Yorker, Alex Ross painted a bleak picture of the current state of the profession. It was accurate.

Freelancing is not the answer. Not only is there insufficient work to be had, but the pay is horrible, not to say insulting. (I’ll refrain from quoting rates.) What’s more, a freelancer gets no benefits, no healthcare. These days, freelancing turns music criticism into little more than an interesting hobby.

I believe the way ahead for music criticism is to put it on the same basis as the art form which it covers, which is to say non-profit. Every single symphony orchestra, opera company and chorale, and most if not all chamber groups, are non-profit organizations, like museums. Until recently, music criticism has been happily and vigorously supported by for-profit companies, i.e. newspapers. As newspapers sink under the weight of their own mismanagement and myopia, the powers-that-be no longer see a way to do so.

There are a few ways that music criticism could become non-profit. One is for the music critic to establish him or herself, and his or her website, as a non-profit corporation, or 501(c)(3), and then start raising funds from donors and looking for grants from foundations. (I could take your money here, but I’m not a non-profit, so I couldn’t attract large donors who wanted a tax break.)

An easier way is to get a local non-profit to act as your fiscal sponsor. That is, the non-profit (say, Arts OC), accepts the money from donors and grantees (which can then take it off their taxes) and then funnel it to you, the music critic. I’ve looked into this and it appears possible, though it would probably mean spending a lot of time raising money.

A third way would be for the music critic to join a non-profit news organization. I came close to joining one myself and was in the process of raising money to support my own salary before the deal fell apart. But the money is out there, I think, and this could be done. The money to support such a critic could come from donors and grants, but also from the performing organizations that the music critic covers. An ethical conflict? Not necessarily. And not necessarily different from the current situation, in which performing organizations spend lots of money advertising with the newspapers that have critics covering them.

All of these options are online, of course. Getting music criticism back into print in newspapers and magazines is a whole other ball of wax and would entail solving the problems facing print media in general, a task way above my pay grade.

KPCC: ‘What does a concert sound like to the orchestra?’

Interesting radio segment by Gideon Brower on KPCC today on what orchestral musicians themselves hear during a concert. Members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic were interviewed as well a certain music critic you know and love. The segment lasts 8:10. (Click here to listen.)


Los Angeles Times review: Danish National Symphony, Fabio Luisi, Deborah Voigt at Segerstrom Concert Hall

Review: Danish National Symphony debuts at Segerstrom with Deborah Voigt. Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2017.

Audio: Xenakis: ‘Pithoprakta’

Lukas Foss conducts the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Audio: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 9: 4. Largo

Andris Nelsons conducts the Boston Symphony.

Audio: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 9: 1. Allegro

Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic.

Review: Long Beach Opera’s ‘The Perfect American’ by Philip Glass

The American premiere of Philip Glass’s “The Perfect American,” an opera that ruminates on the final days of Walt Disney, was given by ever-courageous Long Beach Opera on Sunday afternoon at the Terrace Theater. The controversial work was first proposed by Gerard Mortier during his truncated reign at New York City Opera and finally debuted in 2013 at the Teatro Real Madrid. Since then, there have been no takers on these shores, Los Angeles Opera reportedly among the companies giving it a pass. A perfect piece, then, for Long Beach Opera, which also gave us our first local look at “The Death of Klinghoffer.”

“The Perfect American” is one of those pseudo biographical artworks that sends the viewer to the internet to check on the facts. Based on a German novel, it shows Disney as a (mild) racist, anti-Communist and anti-unionist, in other words, as a man with blemishes. To tell you the truth, though, I checked the internet before seeing the opera, thinking there was more controversy than actually materialized. The opera is passingly critical of Disney, but hardly turns him into a monster. And if the last 10 or 15 minutes of the opera isn’t a loving tribute to the master, with some of the most simply beautiful music Glass has ever written, I don’t know what it is.

Besides, the opera pulls punches by having the action, such as it is, unfold in a dream state, Disney’s dream state to be specific, as he slowly dies of lung cancer in the hospital. At the very beginning of the opera, he sings about “knowing” and “not knowing” what is “real” and “not real.” We often don’t know either. Presumably, when an animatronic Lincoln visits and debates him, this is an unreal moment, but it is at precisely this time when Disney utters his racist remarks.

Read more…

Alex Ross: ‘The Fate of the Critic in the Clickbait Age’

Great article in The New Yorker (click here). I’m mentioned in the first paragraph.

photo: Eric Stoner


Audio: Auber: Overture to ‘Fra Diavolo’

Light entertainment, perhaps, but irresistible.

Egyptian Army Orchestra destroys national anthems

Brought to you as a public service.