Critical platitude of the year?

Critical platitude of the year?


norman lebrecht

February 11, 2014

I have just read this little gem in a newspaper of record:

… I was struck especially by the way these musicians play with a unanimity that must be a result of hard work but comes across as intuitive.

Someone, please, tell me what that adds to the sum of human knowledge.

(Below: not the group reviewed)

Bristol Ensemble Quartet


  • Ant Dean says:

    It’s obvious, but often unsaid. I like it.

  • I dunno; I like the acknowledgement that “spontaneity” often must be the result of hard work.

  • Smerus says:

    I have often been struck by the way that critics sometimes address the topic of music in a manner which indicates that they might know a little of what they are going on about.

  • Paul Mann says:

    I’d be the first to find fault with a critic, but I don’t see what’s wrong with this.

    • MWnyc says:

      The complaint seems to be that it’s stating the obvious. But bratschegirl is right: many of us would be surprised at how many civilians don’t consciously know this. Critics for daily newspapers are not writing only for the knowledgeable likes of Slipped Disc readers.

  • Iain Scott says:

    It’s a pretty dire piece of writing and reminds me of the restaurant reviews that include such phrases as ” my companion had the lamb which was melt in the mouth” etc etc

  • NYMike says:

    I’ve sometimes wondered if Tommasini and I were at the same concert after reading his review. In this case, I have to agree with what he wrote. The Danish String Quartet is remarkable for the attributes he mentions: intonation, blend, surety, etc. In the past few years, Lincoln Center’s CMS has introduced another remarkable young quartet – the Escher String Quartet, exhibiting many of the same attributes. Incidentally, they’ve played both the BBC and Wigmore.

  • bratschegirl says:

    Do you really not know how many folks there are, out there in average-person-land, who in fact *don’t* know this? Who’ve never given any thought to how much hard work it takes to make something look so effortless? Who possibly factor that into their opinions of why musicians who ask to be paid fairly for their work are whinging? I say hooray to whomever took the time to acknowledge that.

    • Interestingly, that argument works just as well if one substitutes “stagehands” for “musicians”.

      • m2n2k says:

        Yes, with an ignorant interlocutor it might work just as well.

        • I suppose it depends upon whether one defines “ignorant” as “actually has experience with and first-hand knowledge of both stagehands and musicians.”

          …And merely showing up to rehearse and perform does not give one knowledge of the stagehands’ job.

          • m2n2k says:

            Those stagehands with whom I talked about it could not site any part of their job that could be meaningfully compared with what musicians of world-class orchestra do in terms of required training, preparation, lifelong practice, concentration, intelligence, talent, sophistication, instantaneity of reaction, peripheral vision, knowledge and understanding of musical styles, etc. I do not think that they would keep such things secret. If you know something they don’t, make sure to share your expertise.

          • m2n2k, let’s run an experiment. The same show, set up by two different crews in two different theaters. I’ll work under the 2,000 lb. set piece rigged by a professional rigger; you work under the one hung by the oboist.

          • Anon says:

            That’a an odd experiment. Leaving aside that in most concert halls I know there isn’t much hanging over the musicians that isn’t fairly fixed in place, far less something anyone would have rigged for the gig… isn’t the better theoretical experiment this?:

            – do you think anyone could pick up an oboe, and in four years learn music, the oboe, and be a good orchestral player that an orchestra and an audience would willingly accept? Not really.

            – do you think someone could train to be a perfectly competent stagehand in four years? Um, yes, I do.

            Incidentally, I say this from the point of view of someone who used to work as crew in a theatre and a busy touring venue, so I have at least a small knowledge of it.

          • This is the same faulty logic this discussion always attracts: “Playing a musical instrument is hard; therefore, no other occupation is difficult.”

            …And concert halls are not the only places stagehands work and — believe it or not — musicians are not the only performing artists. Really.

          • …And, yes,we know you *think* stagehands are easily trained;that’s the problem.

          • m2n2k says:

            No Jeffrey, I would not want to listen to oboe being played by a rigger. Thank you Anon for being reasonable and for showing that the “experiment” does not prove anything that would contradict a single word of what I said earlier.

          • OK. Now show me where I said anything about an ” oboe being played by a rigger”.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            “OK. Now show me where I said anything about an ” oboe being played by a rigger”.”

            That’s called “logic”, Jeffrey. It follows logically from your own “experiment”.

            And nobody ever said that stage hands are all that easily trained or that they don’t play a very important role in putting the show on the stage. Just not as important and as highly trained as some of the totally overblown salaries we discussed recently suggest. That’s just the unions taking advantage of their monopoly situation to load their gravy train. Although in some cases, it’s not a gravy train, it’s more like a gravy aircraft carrier.

  • Barbara says:

    Thanks for giving the link to the full review. It was more appreciated than snooty remarks picking out an excerpt.

  • ed says:

    Nothing so spontaneous as a little bit (or, in this case a lot) of preparation?

  • m2n2k says:

    The writing may not be first rate, but I do not see anything wrong with the quoted sentence.

  • Dave K says:

    I agree, there’s not a lot wrong with it apart from a certain clumsiness. It does at least try to say something. I’d much rather you took aim at critics who fall back on lazy platitudes such as the tired old “the choir was well-drilled”.

  • Martin says:

    Sometimes spontaneity can be a result of a lack of preparation. Maybe the reviewer intended to avoid that his words are interpreted that this is a possible hidden meaning of his wording.

    Not all musicians work hard. Even some, who claim to be musicians, aren’t.