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This is the Musical Pyre, where deserving examples of bad music journalism are singled out to be destroyed, obliterated, sown with salt, burned to ashes and rocketed to the sun



It wasn't my intention to get mean-spirited here. But there's so much schlocky writing about classical music ~ especially from Southern California news outlets. If musical critiques are worth taking seriously, then they certainly warrant the same critical scrutiny as the music and musical performances they critique. In November 1999, a music critic in Baltimore was fired for plagiarism, having lifted a critical description of an opera from a standard opera reference. In March 2000, an Atlanta critic was let go for inaccurate reporting; she had mistakenly heard that a certain singer and conductor had worked together in the past and reported it as fact. On the face of it, infractions like plagiarism and inaccurate reportage sound bad. Personally, I didn't think the specific incidents warranted such draconian responses. But some papers have a zero-tolerance policy, and people's jobs are on the line. That's not universally true, however. I know one music critic who averages about one zinger in every article he writes. I've seen him claim that Metastasio was an opera composer (he was a librettist), identify the opera in the film "Moonstruck" as "La Traviata" (it was "La Boheme") and habitually spell the possessive of Brahms as "Brahm's" (like the Texas ice cream store chain). Yet I can't think of an instance when he has ever reported something that resembled current events in the world of music ~ "glorified program notes in the newspaper" is how I characterize his copy. He gets away with this because his editors don't know any better and because the level of writing in the local papers is so low. What's more, he enjoys a huge circulation in the Los Angeles area. Think of it. Large readership. Wide latitude to make factual errors. Total impunity with regard to such lapses. What a great gig!

Maybe we're lucky that so many inept comments are made about classical music. Otherwise, future generations of listeners couldn't enjoy the risibly inane writings of professional observers (see Nicolas Slonimsky's Lexicon of Musical Invective). So from time to time, I'll be scaning the music reviews and features in the local press for howling exaggerations, shop-worn anecdotes that defy the point of a newspaper, and language florid and fertile enough to sprout fresh growth next spring. I'm sure my colleagues won't disappoint me.

See if you see anything wrong with the following passages. If you're using Internet Explorer 5.x, you can get a hint by holding the cursor over the highlighted text (Netscape 6.x doesn't wrap around automatically and may run off the screen):




Did we check our facts first?

Long Beach (California) Press-Telegram, 3/25/2000:
The way of the modern musical world is that living composers are rarely heard from. Local musical groups will commission a new work, give it a premiere performance, and then the work and the composer are forgotten, buried under mounds of Beethoven and Bach and Brahms. Behzad Ranjbaran is an exception to that rule.




It was flowing along nicely until....

Los Angeles Times, 4/09/2000:
Twenty years ago, a pair of twentysomething brothers named Assad traveled from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Bratislava, Slovakia, unpacked their handmade instruments and won a competition. They were virtual unknowns on the world music scene before that, and the prize launched their careers....Somehow, it's hard to believe that the Assads have been at it for so long, partly because of their relatively ageless countenances...




Why use five sentences when one will do?

Los Angeles Times, 4/10/2000:
This was an auspicious debut for the handsome, competition-winning singer,who, assisted by his splendid pianistic partner, Victoria Kirsch, put together a beguiling, unconventional program that began with four spirituals -- two of them unaccompanied -- ended with an engrossing Rachmaninoff group in Russian, and included five persuasively sung Duparc melodies and an intriguing cabaret showcase anchored by eight provocative songs by William Bolcom.




It's what musicians do for a living...

Los Angeles Times, 4/12/2000:
In the sense that it offered Romantic blandishments from familiar composers, the Peabody Piano Trio's program Monday might be considered conservative. In terms of interpretive and technical risk, however, it was an act of almost foolhardy daring.




Ah, Romance is not dead!

Los Angeles Times, 4/22/2000:
One proven virtue of the UC Santa Barabara annual New Music Festival over the last decade has been the window it opens on rarely heard contemporary music of other cultures. Intriguing sounds from Mexico, Asia, Britain and even from the rich world of film music have, thankfully, passed through these hallowed halls.
In concerts Wednesday and Thrusday, the flexible group of a dozen players [Esbjerg Ensemble] displayed virtuosity, a casual precision, and, not incidentally, measured musical poetry.
A finely tuned sense of timbre and color was the prevailing theme Wednesday, opening with Susanne Giraud's alluring trio "Episode en forme d-oubi." Nigel Osborne, like Giraud, has worked within the electro-digital realm and brings a certain analytical scrutiny to timbre in his "Zone," working with hushed, coiled energies.
In Rolf Wallin's "Solve et Coagula," ephemeral waves of activity breeze across the ranks, as if blown by a fickle wind, and Henri Dutilleux's "Citations" relies on painterly deployment of ensemble color and balance.
Music of the younger Danish composers Anders Nordentoft and Per Norgaard also impressed, conveying, in respective ways, an essential muscularity and dreaminess within their abstract designs. Yet the works that dazzled most and touched deepest were Bent Sorensen's. Wednesday's performance of his wind quintet "Maddelin" evinced a memorable, striking palette.
Sorensen's "Desert Churchyards" is another small wonder, impressionistic on its own terms, and beholden to no particular school. Skittering piano/vibraphone lines brush past smeary washes of string and winds, to a somehow pictorial end. Music like this, played with such cool bravura, is enough to make one a fan of Danish way.




Maybe there's really nothing wrong with the symphony itself...

Los Angeles Times, 8/03/2000:
[Guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard] plucked Franck's muddy old Romantic-era vehicle, the D-minor Symphony, from the bottom of the hit list, put it through the carwash (Armor All on the tires, spray wax, the works) and then proudly displayed it... Putting Franck's long, heavy, serious, self-important and sometimes turgid symphony at the beginning of a [Hollywood] Bowl program looked, on paper, like the dumbest idea of the season.... Dausgaard didn't quite achieve the impossible, but he came close enough, often enough, in a committed, exciting performance to lift underrehearsed orchestra, fidgety audience and incredulous critic alike out of midsummer doldrums. People paid attention, players came to life, and Franck sounded downright impressive.




Duh!

Long Beach Press-Telegram, 1/12/2001:
The first thing that "Figaro" requires, of course, is a singing actor capable of carrying the title role, one of the best-known in opera.






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© David BŁndler, 2001
Last revised: January 13, 2001