International violinist responds to bad reviews

International violinist responds to bad reviews


norman lebrecht

February 03, 2016

The irrepressible violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja has opened a trash bin on her website to deal with bad reviews.

Yes, deal with them.

She responds to factual errors in reviews and rebukes lapses of taste. She demands gently to know who – herself or the reviewer – has spent longer studying the score or living with the composer. She gets personal.

We like that. Read Pat’s trash bin here (in three languages).

More performers should do this.





  • Nurhan Arman says:

    Good for her. She is a wonderful violinist.

  • Christian Elsner says:

    Sorry but I disagree: I don’t think that more performers should do this, because when you react to such writings of those so called experts you take their meaning for serious…after about 25 years in this business I’m sure that every performer knows exactly what was good and what could be better or has a teacher, a coach, a partner, friends or other people who she/he can trust.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed, reacting to unsophisticated reviews is dignifying them, undeserved. But there are also well-thought reviews which unintentionally miss the point, and criticising them – by the performer – may correct things, and contribute to the listener’s understanding. Often a negative review is the result of a receptive framework, different from the performer’s intentions, so that a ‘lean’ Beethoven symphony with a smaller string section is considered ‘meagre’ by a critic, expecting a Karajan sound, and thereby not hearing what is really achieved in a musical sense.

      There are critics complaining about things which were never intended, like waiting for side-splitters in a Samuel Becket play, and audiences reading the reviews next day – curious whether their own impression would be confirmed or rejected – would only be served better when provided with more information about the experience. I’m sure audiences would appreciate that, and more debate about classical music would stimulate interest in the art form.

      But we are talking here about reviews about performance, where critics feel free to ventilate their personal frustrations, while if reviewing contemporary music, they behave like lap dogs – because in the field of performance, there has as yet not been a ‘Lexicon of Musical Invective’ like Slonimsky’s, showing critics’ misconceptions.

      • MWnyc says:

        John, Beckett plays can be very funny indeed. Does that not come across in productions in the Netherlands?

        • John Borstlap says:

          … I don’t think that Becket was particularly renown for his side splitters, rather for some bitter stiff upper lip humour, the effect of which travels across the water with difficulty. And even if noticed, I don’t think that kind of humour is very funny. Neither was Becket’s libretto attempt in Feldman’s ‘Neither’, which I found unbearably pretentious and boring, both words & sonics.

  • Dan oren says:

    Trying to justify your eccentricity males it artificial (and so it is)

  • Halldor says:

    Right. ‘Cos no-one’s better placed to comment on what the audience hears than the person standing on the stage with a violin 4 inches from their ear.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Criticizing the critics is what they deserve. They should not be given the privilege of ‘the last word’.

  • TorF says:

    To be reviewed badly is bad enough, to not be reviewed at all is a catastrophe

    • John Borstlap says:

      “All reviews are good, including the negative ones”. Richard Strauss.

      Wagner often got really venomous reviews, not only of his works, but also of his conducting (taking liberties in tempo with Beethoven symphonies, conducting Menselssohn with white gloves, etc. etc.) When a critic observed in one of his negative reviews that Wagner ‘hated the press’, the offended composer sent-in a ‘letter to the editor’ protesting that he did not hate the press, but held it in wholehearted contempt.

      • John Borstlap says:


        My memory tricked me – it’s been so long since I spoke to him – but in reality Strauss said, as pointed out by my staff: ‘Only good reviews are right.’

        • Jaybuyer says:

          Lovely aural ‘contempt for critics’ in Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben”

          • John Borstlap says:

            Indeed…. When I heard the piece for the first time without reading the programme booklet, I thought that Strauss was laughing at himself, that’s how it sounds to an innocent ear. Musical story telling is tricky.

        • Milka says:

          One wonders to which reality Borstlap refers – speaking with the dead Strauss
          or his supposed staff which keeps him in line .Curiouser & curiouser

  • Gary Carpenter says:

    I do not know this particular player’s work, but it might not be a bad idea were she to devote the time she spends ‘blogging to practising more. Responding to critics is always a bad idea, it only encourages them – although Steven Berkoff’s and John Osborne’s ripostes set a certain standard:

  • Milka says:

    One would have to be pretty dumb to be taken in by the Kopatchinska antics.It’s a” shtick’

    If this works for her then she displays knowledge to the stupidity of her audience The so
    called critic presents nothing but a personal view of a performance … give that
    view any more weight than it deserves is stupid , but it is done daily. So and so
    says it is great ,so I’ll buy a ticket . She is a clever marketer…but musically stupid when it comes to her observation concerning Vivaldi. De gustibus non est disputandum

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      You forgot to mention that she also plays the violin very well, Milka. You probably can’t play any instrument.

      • Milka says:

        Don’t know how well or not she plays the violin so do not make ignorant assumptions
        as you do .

        • Frederick West says:

          What a useful phrase JB has given us..
          They should not be given the privilege of ‘the last word’ . Wonder if it works here…

  • Scott Fields says:

    The artist should respond to criticism; it’s called “dialog.” And just as critics evaluate artists, artists should evaluate critics.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Agreed entirely.

    • Leonard Martine says:

      I agree too.
      That’s why I wish more people would call out that music-killer, Anthony Tommasini, and hold him accountable for how much he costs audiences and arts organizations.
      Because of his position, arts organizations go out of their way to try to please him, or at least not incur his wrath. OMG, the NY Times!!!!
      Lock this ass up in a soundproof room somewhere. He can listen to NEW music to his heart’s content. He can “cleverly pair” whatever he just listened to with another piece of garbage that nobody wants to hear (except for him). He doesn’t have to worry about why there is a great piece on the program, which is the reason that everyone bought tickets. He doesn’t have to provide his own rendition of the program notes on his review.
      Oh my god, the future of classical music…the future lies in the fact that we all became passionate about classical music because of GREAT works which inspired us. We were not inspired by the modern garbage that he likes. This music does not attract new audiences; it drives them away and it drives away existing audiences too.
      Mr. Tommasini, please move to wherever they are doing what you seem to like. St Louis? Atlanta? Stay there and enjoy it. Allow music to thrive and survive. A man like you should not be writing for an esteemed publication.
      As the numbers of great works increases, the amount of new music (mostly garbage) that should be programmed should go down. Get that through your thick head, Tommasini. What’s next? Should we “attract new audiences” by farting in their ears? Should we “take chances” by screwing PAYING CUSTOMERS into sitting through noise that they can’t stand?
      If the NY Times had an ounce of integrity, they would get rid of this guy.
      Dear Norman, do a post on Tommasini. Then do it again, and again. Let every one of his reviews be subject to comments (since the NY Times doesn’t allow that). That would be wonderful: do a post that provides a link to every single one of his BS reviews and allow people to comment. I’ve wondered if he even attended the concert at times, or if he wrote his review based on how “interesting” the program was to him.
      An orchestra plays Beethoven symphonies….Tommasini asks why they are doing it and pretends it is not important….the series SELLS OUT and the audiences love it. That IS HOW YOU ATTRACT audiences.
      It would be quite fascinating to get a quant in here to compute how many hours of audience enjoyment have been contaminated by Anthony Tommasini, and how many dollars of an organization’s money have been spent in trying to either please this idiot or avoid incurring his wrath.

      • John Borstlap says:

        A purple scream from the abyss of audience frustration…. but touching the core problem of symphony orchestras all over the world, and especially in NY. It has to do with the problem of symbols of modernity, and Tomassini is not the only one stirring this sensitive spot. Here is some writing which may help to clarify the problem, and especially why it may hurt in NY more than elsewhere::

  • FreddyNYC says:

    Listening to the beginning of her Tzigane and Brahms D minor (on YT) is enough to make me side with her critics……

  • David says:

    I think it would be giving way too much credit to her critics to even think that PatKop is dignifying them by engaging in dialogue with them. Rather, she must be truly amused at the sheer ridiculousness of many these negative reviews, and her gesture should be understood as a form of parody. The bottom line is, anyone who needs critics to make up their own musical judgment regarding a performance should perhaps not even step into a concert hall in the first place. Most critics, as many of us know, have serious axes to grind and are often failed musicians themselves. Were we to take them seriously, we would be deprived not only of some of the most significant performers, but also of many composers who are celebrated today but vilified in their own time. Who cares what a critic might think? Many of them just don’t know what they’re talking about, no matter how impressive their prose might be — they’re the musical equivalent to what the sophists once were to genuine philosophers. PatKop is one of the few performers today that is not afraid to have her own voice, and in an age of unprecedented conformism and aesthetic puritanism, that’s obviously bound to meet with much opposition.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Critics are part of the context of public concerts: composers (dead or alive), performers, audiences, critics, promotors, agents. (Did I forget someone?) It all hangs together. Coverage in the media of public concerts is important. People going to a concert and being curious for the review the next day don’t read it to make-up their mind, but to see how other people experienced the concert. Irritation or perplexity because of a difference of opinion does not deter the listener from future concerts, and discussion in the media about performances only heighten the general interest. That there are many incompetent critics out there, does not mean that in principle, they don’t have a role to play. They do have a responsibility to the art form and its functioning in society. In an ideal world, the critic is an informed and musical person, knowledgeable, and fair. With the shrinking of music coverage today, such people become very rare. The few who are good, like Alex Ross at the New Yorker, often lack in taste and musicality, which is compensated by intellectual prowess & brilliant twriting. So be it…. you cannot have it all.

  • esfir ross says:

    You can take a girl out of provincial Kishinev, Moldova, but you can take Moldova out of her. Gipsy spirit. And there ‘re no factual error on part of critics. Patricia, have class!

  • Holly Golightly says:

    Peter McCallum from Sydney is an internationally recognized critic. He is a noted music academic, married to the renowned concert pianist and recording artist Stephanie McCallum. If you read what he wrote (very eloquently), he wasn’t suggesting the violinist’s playing was sub-standard – he merely suggested her approach was unusual. The rest of the review was good, I thought.

    There’s a certain defensiveness which one deliberately goes about trashing critics.

    • Holly Golightly says:

      I meant, of course, “when” one goes about…..

      There’s no ‘edit’ function here. Clearly others have found this a nuisance too!

  • Milka says:

    That she is the most interesting violinist before the public is a given ,that she resorts
    to” shtick” writing stupid assertions to dim wits commenting on her performance is puzzling .
    If indeed it is a marketing shtick she does herself more harm than good ,as she pulls
    herself down to the level of her critical detractors.She is quite above the dull herd
    of fiddle players now sawing away be they western or asian .They play the fiddle
    she makes music with the fiddle ,quite a difference .

  • weezy says:

    If you can’t handle criticism, don’t be a concert violinist

  • Peter says:

    I find her music making interesting, but she and Janine Jansen make me feel drowsy if looking at them, they are moving around so nervously and unnecessary, that it distracts me big time from even hearing what they play. I try to keep my eyes closed.

  • Frederick West says:

    Having just read this months Gramophone one really does wonder at the sheer vapidity of their reviewers, essentially recorded music critics/overpaid BBC presenters. Makes you question how much mutual back slapping really goes on, especially when you read such obviously questionable statements stating their independence. Do they really expect us to swallow that, or am I getting cynical. I’ll go and get my coat….

  • Robert Hairgrove says:

    Yawn … much ado about nothing. Who reads this stuff, anyway? I would never have read it (and I certainly didn’t read farther than just the first two or three); takes me enough time to read both of the Zurich daily newspapers as it is.

    “More performers should do this.”

    I certainly hope not! Besides, writing the commentaries can easily be delegated to an agent/fan/family member, as the case may be.

  • All Miller says:

    i don’t criticize her, just the audiences who applaud when she is finished playing. They lack taste entirely.