Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Like all right-thinking people, I join the chorus of deploration (is that a word? Evidently not, unless you're Josquin) over the news that Alan Rich has been ousted from the pages of the LA Weekly. Perhaps the surprise is that they let him hang around as long as they did, given the longstanding and almost explicitly stated commitment of Village Voice Media honcho Michael Lacey and his troupe of flunkies to Lack of Quality at all costs. I'm not intimately conversant with the LA Weekly, but the SF Weekly up here where I live certainly carries the banner for all that is smug, fatuous, and thought-deadening. Alan's columns must have seemed defiantly, definitively out of place.

The good news, of course, is that he is still among us (note to bloggers: never title an item about an 83-year-old widely beloved legend "Bad news from LA" unless your express intention is to give your readers a nasty shock), and that he will continue to post his columns on the internet. I for one couldn't do without them — not so much for the window they provide onto Los Angeles' musical life as for the entree they offer into Alan's amazing musical consciousness.

It was reading his reviews in New York throughout the 1970s that first made me want to get into this game. Imagine what an eye-opener those articles were — the smart, pugnacious prose style, the insatiable curiosity, the breadth of knowledge, and best of all, the passion for music (it's a fortunate critic who loves and hates as keenly as Alan does). They opened up whole new worlds, and continue to do so, week after week.

Not, of course, that there haven't been missteps. In a post from Bizarro World, ACD singles out for praise Alan's most regrettable recent episode, his shameful tirade against fellow critics Adam Baer and Chris Pasles. True Richophiles would prefer to blot out the memory of that one; it was, in the memorable words of Tibor Fischer on Martin Amis' Yellow Dog, "not-knowing-where-to-look bad. . .like your favourite uncle being caught in a school playground, masturbating."

I wish I could counter with an extended quotation of Alan at his best, but my copy of his recent published collection seems to have absquatulated. And in any case, as I say, the Richerei I savor most dates from the old New York period, and lives on in my memory in bits and pieces — a glorious Mozart's Birthday essay (an annual staple in those days) connecting "Porgi amor" with the slow movement of the Bassoon Concerto, an unforgettable excoriation of George Rochberg's (in)famous Third String Quartet, a sidelong self-outing in something like 1970 (!).

Probably Alan's single greatest gift to me was a column he wrote, God knows when, about his declining ability to listen to and enjoy Brahms' symphonies. Drawing the comparison to a love gone cold, he wrote, "We have grown apart, Brahms and I." I caught my breath on reading that, not because I shared the sentiment — my love for those symphonies continues unabated — but because I hadn't known you were allowed to say things like that. Alan gave me courage, and an example. He still does, LA Weekly or no.


At 4/10/2008 4:56 AM, Blogger Lisa Hirsch said...

It was Andrew Porter who got me really interested in music reviewing; will have to find a Rich collection.

Absquatulated: very good. When did you last get to use that?

At 4/10/2008 8:43 AM, Blogger Lisa Hirsch said...

ACD fires back, claiming you don't really get his point. I bet you did. I note that Rich also called out as one of the best reviewers Mark Swed, which lots of people would disagree with.

At 4/10/2008 10:55 AM, Blogger Henry Holland said...

Mr. Kosman, your characterization of the Chris Pasles swipe as "a misstep" is too kind by half. It's been his modus operandi for at least 20 years. I stopped reading his stuff ages ago, not only because he's a critic that falls in to the "if he likes it, move to Siberia to avoid it; if he hates it, check it out immediately" category for me, but the bile and sheer spite of the man in print (and the few times I've been unfortunate to be around him at concerts and hear his bloviating) is breathtaking.

In my view, he's not worthy to lick the soles of Martin Bernheimer's dirt-encrusted shoes clean with his bare tongue (thank you, Monty Python) yet how many trees died because Rich spent yet *another* column snarking at Bernheimer, seething that Bernheimer (rightly) didn't deign to acknowledge him and not even bothering to disguise his bitterness that Bernheimer was a respected critic at a major newspaper while he toiled at a rag that people only pick up to see when U2 tickets go on sale or to hook up with "escorts"?

Could you or Matthew Guerrieri switch jobs with Mark Swed? Please? [increasingly desperate] Please?

It's sad that another space for classical music criticism bites the dust, but as for Alan Rich, no tears from this quarter. At least we won't be subjected to 4,982,317th mention of the C# in the sixth bar of the Beethoven 3rd (big effing deal! enharmonically, it's a b7, so what!) or the Schubert "Unfinished".

At 4/10/2008 12:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Henry Holland,

Was that the same Martin Bernheimer who categorically refused to give Gerhard Samuel a good review based solely upon Samuel's height, weight, and sexual and preference?

At 4/10/2008 5:48 PM, Blogger Henry Holland said...

Anon., you posted the same thing on Parterre Box. I love the follow-up comment there:

Blogger JATM2063 said...
I wouldn't give Gerhard Samuel a good review either. He always had his head buried in the score. Half of the time he was confused, the other half of the time he was an asshole.

So, unless Martin Bernheimer is engaged in sock puppetry, ouch. And 30 seconds of Googling tends to discount your "categorically" claim (from his LAT obit):

"He built up the Oakland Symphony from a position of modest provincialism to one of international respect," critic Martin Bernheimer wrote of Samuel in a 1970 profile for The Times.

Under Samuel's direction, the orchestra's concert programs were a mix of "fascinating exhumations" of overlooked works and "experimental pieces both conservative and way out," Bernheimer wrote.

Maybe Gerhard was an asshole to Bernheimer too at some point after that and Bernheimer used the power of the press to rip him? Who knows?

In any case, Gerhard Samuel's stint in Los Angeles as Zubin Mehta's associate conductor was waaaaay before my time as a customer of the Philharmonic and a reader of Mr. Bernheimer's criticism. How do you know he had it in for Mr. Gerhard? Love the typo "sexual and preference" though, even though it's "sexual orientation".

I'm not naive enough to think that Bernheimer didn't/doesn't have axes to grind, favorites and not favorites and vendetta's and every other single failing humans are prey to.

I simply love his writing and find that I agreed with him a lot of the time when reading his reviews of concerts I attended; he can conjure up for me what it was like to be at that concert in 3 short paragraphs on a web page (his Financial Times reviews), whereas Mark Swed can write half a page's worth of copy in the paper, using considerably more words and I'll have no idea of how the music actually sounded. I was simply commenting that I found Alan Rich's bitter and well neigh psychotic reaction to Bernheimer utterly off-putting.

At 4/11/2008 11:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone dispute the assertion that the examples Rich cites were awful and drub-worthy?

Vague, obscure adjectives connoting anything or nothing are the bane of my reading existence. They're the sign of a lazy writer at best, and a lazy thinker or listener at worst. Much of today's music writing is just an updated, hip/ironic version of those quaint 19th-century "analyses" full of "insights" such as "We hear Beethoven's noble first theme ..." or, well, something being "sung lyrically." And this is not to mention the out-and-out errors that Rich cites.

It's hard enough to describe music, let alone do it every night. But many writers manage to do it without resorting to smug, obscure or too-clever-by-half writing that's a turnoff to readers looking for guidance - and to those of us who know what's supposedly being discussed, it often feels like fraud. In LA, a city of millions served by essentially one newspaper to connect the performing arts community with its potential audience, writing of the sort that Rich cited squanders a scarce and valuable public resource An occasional outburst of reasoned indignance is entirely understandable.

At 4/18/2008 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you very much, Henry Holland.

At 4/19/2008 2:30 PM, Blogger Empiricus said...

A few days later...

I just heard that Melinda Bargreen of the Seattle Times was the latest to receive a severance package.

Here's a link from David Brewster

At 4/19/2008 2:57 PM, Blogger Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, jeez.


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