Music critic is sacked over global oboe storm
June 30, 2016 by norman lebrecht
When Wai Kit Leung, a reviewer on MusicWeb International, received a new release by Katherine Needleman, principal oboe of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, he was none too enthusiastic.
Mr Leung, a Hong Kong-based oboist, gave reasons for his disaffection, in minute detail: ‘I wish Ms. Needleman had used the forked F fingering instead of the left F fingering for some of the Fs, because the numerous descending A-F-D sequences are marred by less-than-perfect finger coordination that results in glitches between notes.’ The review, as a whole, was no more than averagely disgruntled.
But what followed was a hate storm of social media messages from the oboe community, attacking the reviewer, his personal status and his business. It has been the talk of the oboe world all month.
A few lone voices piped up in defence of free speech, among them Robert von Bahr, owner of the indepepndent BIS label, who wrote that ‘Mr Leung has written an exemplary review’ and went on to say why.
But when Mr Leung sought support from Len Mullenger, owner of the review site, he was told that MusicWeb ‘cannot cope with the distraction of dealing with numerous incoming e-mails from myself, the artists and artist’s friends’ and that his services would not be required in future.
Music Web went on to post an equivocal comment to the foot of the review: MusicWeb International acknowledges the controversy created by this review, and the negative comments made therein. We support our reviewers’ right to be honest in their assessment of a recording, as long as they support their opinions; this has been done very thoroughly here.
There are two disturbing aspects to this ugly little episode:
1 If, as Mr Leung alleges, Ms Needleman organised an online hate mob, that is reprehensible conduct. Every artist learns to cope with bad reviews. Ms Needleman has been principal in Baltimore since 2003. She’s experienced enough to take a few knocks and bounce back. Slipped Disc invites her response to these events.
2 If Mr Leung was sacked because the website could not bear a swarm of angry oboists, that becomes a credibility issue for Mr Mullenger and an existential one for MusicWeb. They, too, are welcome to respond.
Now go ahead and read the full story from Mr Leung’s standpoint here.
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