Monday, January 21, 2008

The Virtual Reviewer

Innovative as ever, Bernard Holland pioneers the New Music Criticism® in this morning's New York Times:
Anyone familiar with the reputations of these three singers can imagine the quality of the performances.

Yessss. I think my work life is about to get a whole lot easier.

• Anyone with an internet connection can determine the music on the program and the names of the performers.

• Anyone with access to the New Grove can learn the background and history of these pieces.

• Anyone familiar with my work can imagine my critical reaction to the evening's performances.

Anyone familiar with music criticism can imagine the possibilities.


At 1/23/2008 3:39 PM, Blogger Celeste Winant said...

This reminds me of my general quibble with SFCV. While I overall prefer SFCV over SF Chron in that they cover a much wider spectrum of local classical music, venturing often outside of SF Civic Center or Zellerbach Hall (which the Chron regrettably never does), many of their reviews read like lower-division music history essays- like elaborations on the program notes. Some reviewers barely get in one qualitative phrase on the performance witnessed. For some primo examples, look for reviews written by a woman whose last name is identical to the first name of a Canadian cartoon character on the rocky & bullwinkle show.

It is as if writers are more concerned about quantity of information versus quality, and are afraid of putting down their own independent thoughts.

Is this a relic of the internet age? Why think on your own when you can cut-n-paste someone else's copy?

At 1/26/2008 12:34 AM, Blogger rchrd said...

I don't know if it's an aspect of the internet age. More often I see reviews on the internet of music and art that amount to just "I liked it" or it's opposite "I hated it". When I ask why they were of this opinion I'm told that they don't need to explain.

It's easier to say you like (or hate) something without having to say why. It's also probably a lot safer.

"I liked it, but your mileage may vary" is more characteristic of the internet age.

What about book reviews in publications like the NY Review of Books (or the better London Review of Books)? These are indeed essays, and sometimes they get really heated. (I love it when academics get really pissed off.) But I find that often times I actually learn a lot from the reviews .. enough to decide not to bother with the book, which may result in a significant financial savings to me, or to rush out and buy it immediately.

Some NYRoB reviewers are known psychotics. That makes for interesting reading.

But reviewing a performance is alot trickier than reviewing a book. For one thing, the event is over, and even it its going to be repeated the next day, it will be different. So ultimately, what's the purpose of the review? If the music played is well known, you can't say much more than what's already been said. So you talk about the performance .. did it rate? That's scary.

Some SFCV reviews I've read suffer from being just bad -- poorly written, useless, didactic, ponderous, and silly. But only some. It's like a small town paper trying to act like the big boys. Still, most of the time they get it right. They deserve a round of applause.

At 1/27/2008 4:18 PM, Blogger Lisa Hirsch said...

Addressing Celeste's point: What to say about a work under review vs. what to say about the performance can be a quandry. If it's a new work, it's a must to review the work as well as the performance. If it's an unfamiliar or rarely-heard work, it's a good idea to say something about the piece in addition to something about the performance. If it's standard repertory, gray zone. I once slagged Bernard Holland for spending much more ink telling us how much he hates Samson & Dalilah than telling us how good the performance was. (Yes, Joshua, I had to use S-S for my example. For one thing, you're brief in telling us how worthless his music is. :)

I've seen Joshua at Zellerbach, so will attest that the Chron does get there. But if you're your paper's only critic, you're in the Bay Area, and you have 3 or 4 reviews a week, you have to make choices about what you review.

Yes, SFCV's reviews and reviewers are variable. I have heard an earful, from time to time, though not about my own reviews.


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