Why review a concert you know you’re going to hate?

Why review a concert you know you’re going to hate?


norman lebrecht

November 15, 2016

John Allison in the Telegraph:

Once a superbly incisive music critic but now long established as a best-selling composer, Michael Nyman is surely right to be satisfied with his career switch. While he continues to churn the stuff out to feed lucrative film and record contracts, no reviewer anywhere has ever earned enough to be fairly compensated for having to sit through a Nyman concert. It’s a cautionary tale, if nothing else.

It is, but not for the reasons Allison cites.

Everything about this opening paragraph declares prejudice and a closed mind.

So why review something you’re going to hate?

It’s discreditable.

Full review here.

nyman liverpool


  • Graeme Hall says:

    I once read a review in the Sunday Times of a Steve Reich CD. It was obvious that the reviewer simply hated Reich’s music and there was no discussion of the quality of the performances on the recording. He or she was entitled to their opinion about the music of course, but it gave a reader who loves Reich no meaningful information about the CD.

    • Jon H says:

      Amen. Someone has to have the position of “classical music critic” – and in their defense that’s a lot of music to appreciate in order to deal objectively with the quality of the performance. But some critics trust what they read from other sources more than their own ears – and this can get them into trouble.
      It’s one thing if the critic doesn’t like a composer, but if they don’t like a music director – that’s multiple years of predictable reviews. It can get old.

  • John Borstlap says:

    But imagine a newspaper, if it likes to have music reviews at all – which becomes ever rarer nowadays – would only send-out critics to concerts they know that they will love tremendously beforehand, you would get the opposite. Music criticism will always be on the rude side, hit and miss. Maybe mr Allison loved to go to that concert so that he could produce a put-down, which is, in general, the regular professional attitude of music critics. (When they really like something, they must have been very happy people when they came into the hall.)

    Interesting that mr Nyman was a music critic, did not know that. But it explains a lot. Maybe his work is one long review of what he thinks of the music world.

    Mr Nyman’s indigestible products fill the gap between pop and classical, and it is not against the law to suffer such bad taste….. Maybe the money he is making with that stuff is best considered some consoling compensation for the lamentable public exposure of his embarrassing musical persona.

    • Hilary says:

      Besides being a music critic, Michael Nyman also penned the libretto for Birtwistle’s “Down by the Greenwood Side”.

  • David Osborne says:

    “Failing to heed Adorno’s warning?” I like this composer!

  • Stephen Soderberg says:

    Q: ‘So why review something you’re going to hate?’
    A: Why send a reporter to a Trump rally?

    • Mikey says:

      Because if a reporter is TRULY doing their job, they will remain neutral and “report” what it is they see/hear.
      Don’t send a rabid Bernie Sanders believer to cover a Trump rally.

      It always drives me crazy to read film reviews where the reviewer starts with “I hate sci-fi films” then proceeds to lambaste the sci-fi film they were sent to review.

      If a music reviewer doesn’t like a specific type of music, then they should be strong enough and honest enough to put aside that bias and give a neutral evaluation of what they heard.

  • Bruce says:

    I wondered if perhaps the critic would say something like “I went to this concert hoping to have my prejudices overturned, but instead I only had them reinforced.”

    Or, perhaps, that he would take the approach of trying to see why this music appeals to people (going beyond the simplistic “because they’re stupid, and they like stupid music”), even if it doesn’t appeal to him.

    Or maybe critique the performances as distinct from the repertoire. (In fairness, this did happen once, embedded in a complaint about the acoustics and the loos.)

    Oh well.

  • Sue says:

    For me, Nyman is the equivalent of Leonard Cohen; some people like that stuff. I want to be disturbed, challenged, moved, surprised and inspired. Ergo, I’d give a lot of it the flick.

  • MWnyc says:

    Maybe the real question is why a Telegraph editor assigned a critic who, as a first principle, can’t abide Nyman’s music to review a Nyman concert. It’s not as if London is short of critics to choose from.

    It seems fairly obvious that an editor shouldn’t send, for instance, a critic who thinks of the medieval rep as stone-age music to review Gothic Voices or a critic who thinks Schoenberg ruined classical music for the next 70 years to review Moses und Aron. This is no different.

  • Jackyt says:

    Reading this review was great fun, just as reading a restaurant review of a meal the reviewer really hated is more interesting for the reader than one he loved. We readers can be glad we weren’t there and revel in the power of the critic’s invective & imagery.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Nicolas Slonimsky’s hilarious collection of bad reviews of what appeared to be masterpieces; ‘Lexicon of Musical Invective’, is still in print.

      Most music critics are very reluctant to write negatively about new music, fearing to appear in the next edition, but Nyman is a safe target, of course.

  • Halldor says:

    First obligation of the newspaper critic is to write something readable and lively in a manner that the newspaper’s readership (most of whom are unlikely to be musicologists) is likely to find interesting and engaging. Editors send critics with strong views to review things they dislike (and it’s generally the editor, not the critic, who makes that choice) for precisely that reason.

    This review has provoked strong reactions and achieved a wide readership: job done. If you want an anodyne, generally positive account of Nyman’s music, ask his PR, who’ll be more than happy to oblige. (As the saying goes: “journalism is something someone doesn’t want printed; everything else is PR”). Reviews are despatches from the front line: the first draft of history, not a judgment for the ages. A valid long-term consensus is more likely to emerge from the clash of strongly opposed views than a general agreement to be witlessly positive or blandly polite.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      You miss the point. The critic knew he would hate the concert. He should have disqualified himself from reviewing.

      • Halldor says:

        Nonsense: should critics also disqualify themselves from covering things they know they’re going to enjoy?

        • John Borstlap says:

          Maybe best would be to send-out critics on a ‘blind date’: entirely ignorant of what is going to be played by whom, and of the location; being blindfolded and taken by a blinded car just shortly before the concert, and with ear plugs which may only be removed the moment the conductor raises his arms. And, of course, without a programme booklet.

      • Sue says:

        In short, he wasn’t being objective. This seems a reasonable basis upon which to judge something.