There was nothing in this concert worth reviewing

A dyspeptic rant by a non-critic after a chamber music concert in Oregon is gaining an inordinate amount of attention. Tristan Bliss, a local composer, went along in a bad mood and came away feeling worse.

Basically, he only wants to hear stuff in a concert he has never heard before. So he laid into the programme and declared it boring, vacant and unnecessary. Read here. It’s worth your attention if you’ve ever felt the same.

Tristan (yes, that name has been used before) Bliss (that one, too) does, however, make a telling point: ‘What do concert reviews review? Is that what you wanted reviewed? Well, that’s what I saw to review.’

He’s right. Often we are amazed that critics find anything at all to say about a concert where everything was familiar, unremarkable, routine. I have seen critics chew the inside of their cheeks til they bled for something worthwhile to say. It’s no wonder that concert reviews are among the least-read bits of your failing daily newspaper.

Maybe Tristan has a point: maybe we should stop reviewing the same old, same old, all over and over again.

Maybe we should leave Carnegie Hall, Royal Festival Hall, the Philharmonie and Musikverein unreviewed?

carnegie hall interior

What do you think?

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  • That concert program looks interesting, and if well performed the musicians should receive the merits of it in a positive review. It is the critic (I will not give him even more attention by mentioning his name here) who is surely “gaining an inordinate amount of attention” in this affair.

  • Interesting but very subjective. Besides repertoire there are few more factors to consider in the worthiness of music criticism: the competence of the reviewer, the readership, the importance of the event and the potential of impact.

  • Classical music is all about music. The smaller part is unknown. The major part however are the “same” pieces being interpreted day by day, and yet never the same.
    If you don’t find it enjoyable and interesting your in the wrong business.

    • Indeed. The best works of the repertoire are contemporary forever and inspire musicians to bring it to life again and again, and interpretations differ from performance to performance, sometimes to such an extend that it seems to be another piece altogether (whether that is a good thing, is another matter).

      The (un-)mentioned critic was not blessed with understanding music and therefore it comes as no surprise he is supposed to be a composer. New music after WW II opened the doors to fools and poseurs, and of course they never hear anything interesting in existing repertoire because that repertoire consists of music.

  • Mahler once wrote: “For me there is no hundredth time. I conduct for that young man in the balcony who has never heard Lohengrin and who must go home with an impression which will last all his life.”

    Jaded critics, and musicians, might want to keep that in mind.

  • When it’s the music the critic doesn’t like, it’s hard for them to find nice things to say about the performance. It happens quite often that the performance is flawless, but the critic doesn’t like the music and so everything else doesn’t matter. Critics really shouldn’t review music they do not know (except for premieres) – that would be like reviewing a rap concert and we don’t care what that person has to say if they come to it with no experience. It’s especially amusing when it’s a work that has been played by all the greatest conductors. If you can’t connect with it, sorry, you’re in the wrong line of work, or review whatever music you do know.

  • If TB is still working on his Bachelor’s degree, why is publishing reviews.?

    But he does make a fair point here:

    ===They’ve already reviewed themselves. Seriously, read their bios.

    • That is nonsense. Bios in programme booklets are there to inform the audience about what the performer(s) has/have done. There is nothing in bios referring to the quality of performance itself, which is part of the task of the critic.

  • Horovitz once referred to a critic, who had written a negative review simply because of the fact that he didn’t like the music per se, saying:

    “It’s just an opinion!”

  • So long as reviewers are articulate, objective and more than adequately educated on the material they’re reviewing, I am happy with the status quo.

  • Provocative question, Norman, but in my opinion Yaakov Rubenstein has responded perfectly. Fine if one is not interested in hearing works from the canon interpreted by different artists on different temporal occasions in different acoustical environments….but that is essentially the point of the art form. I suggest “let’s not review a piece which has been performed previously” is another way of saying “I’m only interested in hearing a piece of music one time”! Personally, I treasure the re-creative nature of today’s classical music performances; along of course with the new. As with nearly everything in life, it is about balance.

  • I am not a classical music reviewer, though I have quite a lot of published reviews of other types of music. When starting out nearly 40 years ago I decided that my reviews needed to address three questions:

    1. Did the music/performance move me and if not, why not?
    2. Where does the music/performance sit in the wider tradition?
    3. Was there anything about the performance or audience that was particularly notable?

    And yes, I have written reviews about extremely good musicians about whom it was hard to write very much.

  • No reason to be so moved by an undergraduate motorcycle dirtbagger’s confessions. The concert would certainly have been improved by replacing something with say a Beethoven ‘cello sonata.

  • I read his piece but frankly my interest started to wane around paragraph 3. Also, I had no idea that Cage was the equivalent of Mozart or Stravinsky the equivalent of Bach. Interesting (on a vaguely curious or curiously vague level).

    Someone should make him go to the Portland Symphony’s concert on 24 January. Beethoven 8 and a bit of Strauss including the finale of Salome. I’ve be curious to hear what he would say about it. It might give the Portland Symphony more global publicity !

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