Category Archives: Media

Arts journalism summit slighted still-potent power of print

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Last weekend, the good folks at the Annenberg School on the campus of the University of Southern California hosted the first-ever National Arts Journalism Summit.

I entered Palm Beach ArtsPaper in the summit contest (hey, we could use the money), but didn’t win; still, we hosted the live stream from the summit on our Website for anyone who wanted to see it. (Yes, it was big of me. Spurned, but I took the high road.) The summit lasted about four hours, and I caught around two hours of it, dropping in from time to time on presentations as well as discussions.

I learned about some interesting projects and heard some good chatter from arts journalists, but in the end it came across as somewhat tentative, and lacking at least one perspective that I thought was important.

And that perspective is the idea of print. At ArtsPaper, all our revenue still comes from print advertising — and yes, I pay everyone who works for the paper; another Web site that claimed the same thing drew astonished gasps from the summit — and frankly, I don’t see print fading away as much as everyone seems to think.

I didn’t catch any reference to actually printing any of these projects from anyone that I saw; everything was Web-based, everything was multimedia. Nothing wrong with that, but ignoring print is not a good idea. People still like it, journalists still like to see their work in ink on a page, and it still has more weight than work on the Web. By that I mean that the great stream of news we hear everyday is still driven by journalists working for print media, or in the case of wire services, work that is headed for print.

That will not change in the near future because the new brands that would supply the news to more established organizations have not yet established reliable brands that everyone respects. The current media organizations whose brands dominate the news discussion today will not only continue to do so, they will get even more powerful. So look for more clout, not less, from the New York Times, the AP, and other respected brands (including relatively new ones such as Bloomberg, which is really the model for what needs to happen).

At best, the vast blogosphere will inspire many like-minded people to express themselves in print, but only the tiniest fraction of them will emerge as national figures around whom brand loyalty can be built. It’s true that a fraction of our society will get all its news from alternative media, but only a fraction. Most of the country will continue to get its information from the mainstream media because that’s where the brands are.

No matter what anyone tells you, most people trolling the Internet are not rejoicing in all the things that are out there, exploring all the reaches of the Web. They are in fact narrowly directed repeat visitors to brands they trust, which means the only hope that arts journalists have is that they create, or become associated with, a brand that means something to people.

Other than that, we’ll have to get our arts news from a very small number of sources, and it will stay that way until someone builds a sustainable brand. And that brand will have to include print in some way, because media companies are going to have to give their customers their product across multiple platforms.

Everyone at the summit seemed to be interested in how journalists would make money at arts writing, and it’s quite difficult. The business model that made arts journalism possible has fallen on hard times, and that leaves us with only two options: Charitable foundations step up to fill the gap, or the media takes another look at the old model and finds that it still has life in it yet. The second of these two options is much more likely; we’re in a period now where this line of work has become totally devalued, and that means arts writers will work for cheap for some time to come.

But eventually, the economy will bring arts writers back to established brands when surviving media companies look to diversify their offerings and say: Hey, what about the arts? The challenge for newer media companies is to follow in the footsteps of someone like Michael Bloomberg and build a brand, and if you are an arts-journalism startup that doesn’t have a broadcast network at your disposal, you’re going to have to supply some of your work in print.

It’s early in the morning, it’s been a long, frustrating day, and my argument is not as coherent as it could be were my brain firing on all cylinders. But I think the direction ahead is clear, and it’s not going to be all that different than what we had. It will take some time, but ultimately arts journalists will be able to make a real living at this work again. People still want it, they always will, and one day the lean days will be just a memory.

I think we’ll need a second stimulus plan to get there, but I’m betting we’ll get one — later rather than sooner, but I think it will happen.

Thoughts on Michael Jackson

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It’s a little off my usual subject, but I did want to weigh in with a couple observations on the death of Michael Jackson.

I was never a big fan of Jackson’s, though his talent was unmistakable. I remember being a young kid and marveling at the power of the young voice that sang I Want You Back, which was a giant hit in 1970. That’s still one of the performances I like best of his: The way he first kicks in with Oh, baby, give me one more chance is a moment of pure pop bliss.

But his death has caused me to think of a couple things, and the first one is something that the New York Times touched on today (which is why I regret not finding the time to write something earlier), and that is the question of his fame. Gore Vidal said a few years back that “real fame is no longer possible for any of us,” or something similar to that, and when I first read it I didn’t understand what he meant.

Yet he was right, I think, though perhaps he called it a little early. Because Michael Jackson was truly famous in a way that is most unlikely to be duplicated, though some people today come close: Barack Obama, Bono, Bill Clinton, perhaps a couple others. But Jackson had Elvis-style fame in that his name alone conjured up an instant image of dance and song that people all over the world responded to.

Which brings me to another aspect of his art, and that was its very conservative nature. Yes, he did break the last of the artificial music color barriers that had been raised by industry and the critical apparatus (though not the fans), but he still was essentially an old-fashioned song-and-dance man, drawing on the heritage of a century of American popular stage art.

That’s one of the reasons his return would have been so cannily accomplished, had he lived. His personal life had cast him in a ruinous guise, but more importantly, he was out of touch with the musical times, which were dominated by hip-hop. But that genre has begun over the past couple of years to fade in favor (probably at least partly through the offices of American Idol) of song rather than the spoken word.

No doubt he would have returned to the studio, seeing that his kind of entertainment had returned to favor, and with the right kind of material he probably would have been able to engineer what would have looked like a brilliant comeback from out of nowhere, but which in reality would have been a most shrewed comeback based on knowing instinctively what a mass audience was in the mood for.

As for his troubled personal life, his death was very much like Elvis Presley’s in that he died during a period of exile with an in-house physician attending to what apparently was a serious involvement with pain medication. Doubtless the aggressive physicality of his dance work is much harder on a 50-year-old body than it is on one nearly 30 years younger, and surely he was in a good deal of physical pain while working hard on his stage show.

One other thing, too, worth mentioning is that Jackson was born in 1958, and as a gay man he would have had much more difficulty expressing that in the 1970s than he would had he been born 20 years later and come to a knowledge of his sexual identity in the early 1990s, when the taboos against homosexuality had begun to crumble. Surely today, as a man of 30, he would be far less worried about maintaining a facade of heterosexuality when the majority of his mass audience couldn’t care less.

Whether that means he would have been more likely to have relationships with fully grown men is something impossible to answer, but in general I think a wider acceptance of same-sex orientation in the culture at large almost certainly would have made his emotional life easier.

Because that’s what happens to entertainers like Jackson and others who are show biz people from the get-go; it’s always about topping yourself and making your audience love you all the more, but it’s also about being almost a prisoner of that same audience. It’s their adulation that provides the air you breathe, and without it, you’re lost.

And Michael Jackson was down, but he was not out. He knew he still had a huge following that would cling to every falsetto hiccup, every moonwalk, every bit of glam and glitter. Had he lived, he would have showed the world just what it really means to be a truly big entertainer, the kind you see maybe once in a generation, and the absence of which makes everyday life a quieter, and sadder, place.

Master criminal? Must be a classical fan

 

 

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Robin Tunney and Simon Baker in The Mentalist.

My wife Sharon is a fan of police procedural shows, which means she has most of network TV to choose from (J. Edgar Hoover must be smiling somewhere, having innovated with newsreels and so effectively propagandized for the good guys in the Big G).

One of the shows she likes, and which I must watch with her,  is The Mentalist (renewed Wednesday, according to CBS, though she’s not happy about losing Eleventh Hour and Without a Trace). The Mentalist stars the fine Australian actor Simon Baker, and this is a cute show because he’s good and so is the ensemble of actors he works with — though he was much more interesting on a far better show, The Guardian, a few years back.

Be that as it may, the plot of the season finale Tuesday night turned on the return of Red John, a psychopath who killed the wife and daughter of Baker’s character, Patrick Jane, a mind-reader who works with the California Bureau of Investigation. I despise hackneyed plots like this, with returning super-criminals presenting the big challenge to our hero; it’s lazy and stupid.

But the worst part was the plot development, when Jane goes to visit a blind woman (Alicia Witt) at her home, and learns that she knows Red John, though of course she’s never seen him. (Another cheap gag.) And what do we learn about this mysterious killer, this freak who haunted the whole first season and doubtless will do so in the second?

He loves classical music.

And we learn this as Witt’s character plays the familiar C major Prelude from the first book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

Not all that long ago on another cops show, Criminal Minds, a master serial killer played by Keith Carradine, who thwarts the dedicated FBI profilers, is described as a lover of Beethoven.

What is the deal? Why is elite criminality associated with a love of classical music? Surely it’s just more lazy scriptwriting, in which writers can easily telegraph to the audience that this is a criminal to be reckoned with, simply by summoning up the idea that he listens to string quartets.

In a way, I suppose it’s a complimentary stereotype: If you love classical, you must be a brainiac. That’s certainly not true; classical music is just music — of a different genre than others, but still music.

I guess the thing to do is research the musical tastes of the world’s biggest criminals and find out whether Mozart was or is on their turntables, CD players, or iPods. I’ll pass on this, since it would be gory, depressing research, but I’ll wager a guess that their musical tastes would vary widely, and classical probably wouldn’t be right up there at the top.

But maybe someday one of these recurring creeps can be enamored of a completely different kind of music. They wouldn’t be any less scary, and Bach wouldn’t have to be besmirched in the process.

‘Vertigo Years’ explores century’s vast changes

 

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I’ve mentioned several times before in the course of this blog and others that the root causes of World War I escape me, and they get more mysterious the more I look into them.

But a book I finished reading earlier this month has been quite helpful in that regard, even though it was written with the aim of explaining the first years of the 20th century without the shadow of the coming war over them.

The book is The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914, by the Austro-German historian Philipp Blom. In the course of its 15 chapters, Blom takes a look at each year, using them as a stepping-off point to take a look at immensely complex issues. (Here’s the Economist review, for one.)

The year 1904, for instance, is devoted to a look at two men — one a crusading journalist, the other a civil servant — who exposed the horrors of the Congolese rubber plantations managed by King Leopold II of Belgium. It’s also a chance for Blom to discuss the meaning of empire, and how the major powers pursued it even when it was more about prestige than anything else and not worth the immense costs involved.

The rise of feminism is explored in the quest for the female vote, which Blom attaches to the year 1908. In addition to introducing us to many now-forgotten seminal figures such as the French psychiatrist and writer Madeleine Pelletier, Blom points out, crucially, I think, that the great transformation in relations between the sexes was an interior transformation, not one in which a new fad or guru appeared on the scene.

It was one of those things in which everyday people started to wake up every day and think: Why is it that we do things this way, and how can we change it?:

Within less than a generation, most received truths about the social order and the roles of the sexes had been invalidated. Among the millions of women who did not become feminists or who were even hostile to feminist ideas, there was hardly one whose life was not affected, whether by taking a job, by having access to a rudimentary education, or by choosing to have fewer children than their mothers and grandmothers had.

The great joy of this book is how much ancillary history Blom provides while taking a look at larger issues. This is one of those texts in which even offhand comments are packed with interesting information and ideas. The chapter on 1911, a brilliant study of the impact of movies and department stores on contemporary culture, points out that while globalization had begun to reach ordinary consumers and “technology had now taken hold of people’s dreams,” commerce had not yet discovered young people: “…they had not yet become a commercial, urban tribe. There were no special clothes for the young once the boys had outgrown their short trousers.”

What I came away with was a better understanding of the kinds of ideas that were in the Zeitgeist of the first years of the 20th century. It was a heady, exciting time, full of great change and radical restructurings of society, and it made me think that World War I is better understood the way it has been described by some historians: as an atavistic war that was the result of mid-19th-century impulses, and therefore even more tragic thereby; in a way, its stalemates proved its obsolescence.

I really should do a more extensive review of this fine work, but suffice it to say it will take an honorable place on my war studies shelf with the histories of John Keegan and Barbara Tuchman, and Paul Fussell’s literary study of how the war affected its poets and their work. 

I’ll close with a historic photograph of yours truly, taken 25 years ago by a friend at college that shows me, beardless, with my nose in a book, as always. And with a high nerd factor in the oversized glasses and buttoned-up shirt.

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Once  a book geek, always a book geek.

Loss of music store means loss of healthy serendipity

 

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Wanted to make a brief note about the closing of the Patelson music store in New York, which I never was able to visit, but which has engendered much talk from musicians living up there.

Here’s Frank Oteri’s take at New Music Box, and the Sequenza 21 version has fascinating comments from well-known musicians who weigh in on the disappearance of the store. Several of them have very sharp things to say about what they thought was a history of terrible service, and it may be that simpler retail considerations such as carrying a wide selection of material and being nice and helpful to customers had more to do with its demise than everyone’s favorite villain, the Internet.

I say this because I really do think serendipity, as Oteri notes in his piece, is more than just a nice thing that we will miss once the traditional sources of printed matter have vanished down the memory hole to be replaced entirely by digital sources. Serendipity on the Web tends to be possible once you’ve already looked up something, and there might be something in what you’re reading that leads you down the endless research tunnel that is the Web.

Serendipity in the library or a well-stocked music store is easier because so many things are right there in front of you, and the pleasure of looking through physical objects to see the kinds of paper and typefaces the publishers used, the covers they created, the way they laid out the music, is something delightful enough in itself. 

But the best part is simply stumbling on something because it just happened to be there, and you just have to see where it leads. For instance, I used to frequent a music store in Hagerstown, Md., called Machen Music, and one of the best things about it was the deep selection of titles it had. I picked up several things there simply because they were there, such as Poulenc’s Les Soirees de Nazelles and the Third Piano Sonata of Ned Rorem, which make a good pair when played together, incidentally.

One thing I kept meaning to pick up but never did was the Ricordi vocal score of Belfagor, an opera by Ottorino Respighi, who to my mind is the most important Italian composer in the generation after Puccini, if for no other reason than that he made it acceptable for Italian composers to pursue instrumental music again. I still haven’t heard the opera, but the score looked fascinating, and I still don’t know why I didn’t buy it.

Another good thing about Machen, not to mention Carl Fischer, in downtown Chicago (which must have had a huge selection, but I didn’t go often enough to find out, just once or twice), was its wide selection of manuscript paper. Now I have Sibelius, and there are many other ways to make as much staff paper as I want right here in my home office. But nothing beats being able to sift through format after format of blank staves on different colored papers, dreaming about what you’re going to put on them. 

And I think that’s a habit of mind that is not only healthy, but vital. Serendipity on the Web is more like a research project or investigative reporting, but serendipity in a good bookstore or music store is a chance to give your brain free intellectual play. You let it go, it leaps after what it wants to leap after, and you always come back from it energized. The Web experience is very different. It can be fun, but more often it’s a chore, and ends for me in exhaustion and sheer despair about the overwhelming number of choices I’ve come across.

And maybe that’s what makes it more fun in a physical-object setting: There, choices are limited by what’s there, and you have to make the best of it, and you find that there’s more than enough choice for you to deal with for weeks, not to mention a single day. 

So I regret the loss of another bricks-and-mortar music store; the IMSLP is wonderful, but it also is incomplete, and some of the editions are of necessity quite old and out of date. A really good store with excellent help and a wide, deep selection gathered by people who know what they’re doing is something that can’t be replicated on the Web, not really.

It’s also better for you as a person to be in a store with other people, I think; we are social animals and we need the contact. It’s also a good place to meet other musicians, who might very well point you in the direction of that stack of Henle editions over there, where you might find the Mozart sonata that’s been eluding you.

I’d like to think there always will be a need for a good music store, if for no other reason than mental and social health. Here’s hoping Patelson’s is replaced by someone even better who knows how to reach one of the nation’s leading musical communities in a way that will be mutually beneficial.

Tech takes composers back to old days of entrepreneurship

 

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At a concert the other night given by a chamber offshoot of Philadelphia Baroque orchestra known as Tempesta di Mare, which I wrote about for the Palm Beach Daily News, a sentence in the program notes about the pioneering English publisher John Walsh brought me up short.

In it, the writer Susan Halpern pointed out that Walsh’s method of engraving music on metal plates led to the start of an international system that “made it possible for composers’ music to be profitable to them as it was published without their paying for it themselves and was distributed without their having to do it themselves.”

This made me laugh, because nowadays we’ve done away with 300 years or so of progress and reverted to the practice of the late 17th century. Most composers today who want to be heard have to do everything themselves, founding their own companies, setting up their own distribution networks. The old days of the publisher and his representative have retreated in the face of changes in the marketplace for music.

But just because technology allows us to self-market our music and reach people all over the world, that doesn’t necessarily make it a better system. Publishers and their representatives are a good thing to have, especially if you are working yourself to the bone on creative output and you’re just too tired after that to have to get up and then go “sell your smart ass door to door,” as John Hiatt once said.

Notation software is a perfect example. I love my Sibelius software; it makes everything look beautiful, and it presents next to no problems for performers, who in my experience are now not willing to read any handwritten manuscript, unless it’s from the past. But putting my pieces together on Sibelius is a different craft than actually writing it. What I’m doing there is essentially working as a graphic artist, and those are the concerns I have: how does it look, what about this typeface, should I put another bar on this page or is the whole thing too crowded?

I like doing that work, and always have. I’m a newspaperman, after all, with years of design experience on copy desks in addition to my writing. But it’s adding another job onto the burden of the actual composition, and that takes valuable time away from writing. Time was when Beethoven, whose scores were a horrible mess, could hand them off to a trusted copyist and turn his attention immediately back to the next piece he was writing.

Having to do everything yourself is good in one respect, and that’s that you get to make the final call on how things look and include whatever editor’s notes you want, and things like that. But aside from that, it’s a pain, and it’s another way in which technology, because it makes it possible for one person to do three jobs at once, has made it mandatory.

What we really need is another John Walsh who wants to take on the task of promoting composers, printing their music, and getting it out into the marketplace, while the composer gets back to the work of composing.

Old edition provides insights from Schnabel

 

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I managed the other day to wheedle off the shelf of a friend of mine the two-volume Artur Schnabel edition of the Beethoven sonatas, originally published in 1935. My friend has the 1953 reprint, which was sort of an hommage to the pianist, who had died two years earlier.

Because I have the ancient so-called Urtext Schirmer edition, which is by Carl Krebs and dates from 1898 (I really should get a newer edition), it’s fascinating to see how Schnabel approaches each of these works. I suppose the most important thing is to say that it’s essentially the anti-Urtext, because Schnabel has advice for almost every measure.

For instance, just at random, I’ve opened Volume I of the Schnabel to the slow movement of the Third Sonata, Op. 2, No. 3, which is in C major. The slow movement, however, is in E, probably because that’s the dominant of A minor, the relative minor of C. I used to play this piece many years ago when I was a kid, and it was humbling; the whole sonata is far more difficult than it looks at first, and you need precise fingers and a real sense of bravura to pull it off.

I never wanted to work that hard when I was that young, and it cost me plenty in years afterward. But I could get through the slow movement all right, if not the outer two, and I find Schnabel’s emendations interesting. To begin with, he calls for two basic tempi, the first being the opening Adagio in which an eighth note equals 46 (metronome mark), and then a slightly faster motion (quarter note equals 52) 11 bars later when the music shifts suddenly to E minor.

He adds numerous expressive directions, to say nothing of extremely explicit pedal markings, tenutos and accents. At the top of the E minor section he writes: “Molto dolce, sempre un poco espressivo, ma senza rubato, egulamente,” which roughly means very sweet, lightly expressive all the way through, but don’t stretch the tempo, keep it steady. 

At bar 26 he calls for the pianist to play the octave E in the left hand a full octave lower than written — “In my opinion, here both permissible and convincing”  – and at bar 53, when the music abruptly shifts to a C major restatement of the main theme, fortissimo, he writes: “Con sublimita,” which I love (the footnote translates this as “lofty”). 

The most fascinating thing about all this for me is how detailed it is, and how much it’s really a road map to the way he would play it, rather than editorial direction or guidance. He’s showing you how he would play it, and in a way it’s as though the kind of intense teaching that goes on in master classes is written out for you.

This kind of editing is out of fashion these days, but I find it not only compelling from a standpoint of the history of the piano, but actually helpful. Great food for musical thought, in any case.

Here’s Schnabel doing the slow movement of the Pathetique Sonata:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWL3nbYmKtw&hl=en&fs=1] 

Print edition launches: I’ve had a busy week, writing-wise, with reviews of the Prima Trio and Radu Lupu and the launch earlier today of the monthly print edition of Palm Beach ArtsPaper.

It’s sort of an unsual business model, in that the print copies contain, for the most part, digests and reruns of things that already are on the Web. But I think the readers it’s destined for are not primarily computer visitors, and while I hope this brings them to our site, it’s OK with me if they wait for another print edition, too.

The one in March will be bigger and have more space devoted to visual art, which didn’t get enough ink in this one (a planning error on my part). But just having this work in print makes me feel good; I like seeing acres of space devoted to close analysis of artistic endeavors.

Guess that just makes me old-fashioned.

The music that makes us cry

 

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The other day I picked up the third season of Slings and Arrows, the Canadian series that chronicles the backstage comedy of thespians at the fictional New Burbage Festival. We don’t get cable or satellite, so we didn’t see the series when it ran on the Sundance Channel, but friends have recommended it, and we enjoyed it a great deal.

One of the key plot gimmicks of the third season is that the festival’s artistic director, Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross), is overcome by inexplicable fits of weeping whenever he has to do some public speaking. That leads to some important developments in the show, but it also made me think about the sudden bursts of blubbering with which it seems most middle-aged males I know have been afflicted.

I recently was talking via e-mail to a fellow journalist in his 40s, and we both confessed to being overcome with bursts of crying, triggered in our case by the most inconsequential pieces of music. I find myself tearing up at certain chord changes, or particular arcs of melody (none of which I can think of right now), but it’s the songs that cause my friend and I the most problems.

His particular recent difficulty was with, of all things, Oh, Babe, What Would You Say, a hit back in the early 1970s for the English record producer and songwriter Norman “Hurricane” Smith. This is a song, like most of Paul McCartney’s contributions to the Beatles, that is steeped in the British music hall, and it shuffles along amiably enough for three minutes before evaporating .

Here’s a hilarious video on YouTube of Smith on the Carson show. You can’t fake the Seventies authenticity of this:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJdkCs5RdQg&hl=en&fs=1]

Now the thing in the lyrics that gets my friend, the weeping momemnt, is this:

For there are you, sweet lollipop

Here am I with such a lot to say

We figure that what gets him about the whole song is that it reminds him of being young and carefree, which of course he is no longer.

As for me, the most recent bout of bawling followed this classic Johnny Mercer lyric to a Hoagy Carmichael tune:

Skylark, have you seen a valley green with spring

Where my heart can go a-journeying

Over the shadows and the rain

To a blossom-covered lane?

It makes me a little sad just to type these out even now, but when I heard them a few months ago, I was inconsolable. And of course I had to listen to it again at least 20 times in a row before the waterworks dried up.

Aside from being a lovely tune and a nice lyric that takes old cliches and freshens them a bit, it has that same idea of refuge from the cares of the moment, and that’s what turns on the tears. Here’s my current favorite version of Skylark, by the young jazz singer Rachael Price, who came to town back in November (this is on her MySpace page, and it’s the second selection under the MP3s).

I know my buddy and I can’t be alone in having otherwise inexplicable moments in which songs make us come apart, and if anybody else wants to confess to being a member of this club, I’d love to hear what music it is that makes you do so. It’ll be good for you to let it out.

A further word about the future of critics

 

daumierthecriticA piece by Thomas Garry in today’s Daily Gorilla suggests that the Internet has made an infinite number of ways for people’s opinions to be heard, and therefore diminished the standing of the legitimate critic.

This is something I touched on a week or so ago in my comments on the CJR piece about arts criticism, and I bring it up not only to show that the Zeitgeist is grappling with this right now, but that the idea of criticism in general is what’s under siege here.

Just to second the arguments I made earlier, the Gorilla piece quotes Tom Moon, the former Philadelphia Inquirer music critic, and paraphrases him this way:

The online blog and review culture of saying whatever is “cute, smart or attention-grabbing” gives less chance for context and leaves no room for reasoned discussion, Moon says. The problem is that few people have an extensive knowledge or understanding of what went into the work. As critics more and more simply report their visceral feelings, actually knowing something about music has become seemingly unnecessary.

As I said in my earlier post, those of us who believe in the art of criticism take it very seriously indeed. In the last two days, I’ve reviewed two different casts in the Palm Beach Opera production of Bellini’s Norma (still not one of my favorite scores), and to prepare I went back to the recording, to YouTube excerpts (mostly of various divas doing, well, Casta Diva), and looked at the full vocal score on the International Music Score Library Project (the full orchestral score is there, too, but the download was so large my computer started to whine in protest). 

I played through portions of the score on the piano, read excerpts of three or four books on opera of the period, read my Grove’s entries on Bellini and other topics operatic, and did my best to compare what I was seeing and hearing with previous performances (I hadn’t seen Norma live in a long time). I think that’s the kind of thing you have to do when you’re a critic, and it sort of comes down to your own personal sense of integrity rather than the clout of whatever outlet you’re writing for. My reviews might not have been as good as others, but I have come by them honestly.

I still think that good critical voices will rise up to assume the role in culture that they always have, because most consumers of culture are just that — consumers — and they don’t have time to do elaborate research projects before going to an arts event. The best and most reliable expert opinion will out, but it will do so in different technological formats than before. 

But I don’t think the wave of opinion on the Net will in the long run destroy the role of the real expert or the true critic, or make a career in criticism impossible. Only a small number of people at any one time will have the intellectual interest and the drive to spend their time writing about (or talking about) the arts, and we’re going to need them even more than we did in the past because we’re going to have even more choices.

The YouTube Symphony project

 

press_carnegie_mIf you’ve been paying attention to the AdSense blurbs on your Gmail (which are kind of creepy, the way they read your mail and find ads to go with it), you might have said something that took you to the site for the YouTube Symphony project.

At a concert this April in Carnegie Hall, Michael Tilson Thomas will conduct an orchestra in a piece written for this project by Tan Dun. You can see what this is about here, and I have to say this is a fascinating idea.

It’s a good way to find people who might otherwise be overlooked, and also a good way to make something as putatively old-fashioned as orchestral music and new symphonic work interesting and cutting-edge. The piece itself, which Tan Dun calls Internet Symphony No. 1 (Eroica), isn’t very good, but it’s probably fun to play , and this is an interesting project.

I don’t know whether this piece will be what the Brits like to call a “one-off,” or whether it will lead to other collaborations for YouTube in the future. But I like the idea of using technology to make these things happen; today’s computing power allows all the previous barriers of distribution and contact to come crashing down, so there’s no reason why something like this can’t be done.

It could also be a useful tool for recruiting that drummer you need for your rock band, or a trumpet player for the jazz combo you founded. It’s a very 21st-century way of reaching out, and then to have everyone cap the whole thing by going to Carnegie Hall gives it a nice genteel culture touch — the new meets the old.

Here’s the video of the London Symphony playing the piece back in October. As I say, it’s not a good piece, especially the last couple minutes or so, but it presents enough challenges that lots of players will want to take part.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tqiro1kdRlw&hl=en&fs=1]