‘Music critics are running out of credit’

In my essay in the new issue of Standpoint magazine, I reflect upon the plight of music critics, faced with falling pay and status and finding themselves at the centre of unsought storms.

tara erraught munich

 

 

Sample par:

No one had a kind word to say for the music critics, who were perceived to be misogynist, sadistic, collusive, sensation-seeking and altogether blinder than a Fifa referee at an England football match. Most, if not all, of these perceptions are false. The critics I have known are generally idealists who wish the world were better than it is and labour unsocial hours for low pay in a vain effort to elevate its condition. They are not, on the whole, random wreckers of young careers.

Read the full essay here.

Download my complete Standpoint essays, Conduct Unbecoming, here.

 

UPDATE:  Correction to the first sentence of the fourth paragraph: Today, hardly any US city outside New York has a full-time staff music critic.

 

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  • In my experience, music critics range from glorified reporters to self-serving opinionators with no talent for writing. I know of no one of Virgil Thomson’s caliber, whose reviews deserved collecting in book form. Nor of Andrew Porter, who at least seemed to know all one could know about opera. Alex Ross comes close, but he appears now infrequently in the New Yorker and covers very little. I am fortunate to live in a city where the main newspaper has (gasp) TWO full-time classical music critics. Yet, between the two of them, they cover perhaps two-thirds of the number of performances their predecessor did. He was more of a journalist and they are more of the opinionators. That is the problem. They write like snobs, deigning only to attend the most-funded ensembles, as if that somehow glorifies their own standing and importance. The fact is, most critics are untalented (at writing), out of touch, have made themselves unessential, and therefore have lost their jobs. It takes talent to be a good music critic. A writing talent, and an appreciating talent, not a talent for opinion. Too many abuse the platform to issue judgements that are inappropriate to the format. The first function, as I see it, is to report on the event and document it, and to describe the audience’s reaction, and perhaps to quote from the audience. The secondary function, if even needed, is to compare and contrast the performance to others. The last of all is issuing criticism and evaluations. Praise is of vital importance to the performers, without which they cannot build audiences, and while it must be earned, the critic must not be miserly with it. The worst thing of all is to provide no coverage at all, to not support developing artists and independent artists.

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