A prominent music critic offers some sound common sense

A prominent music critic offers some sound common sense


norman lebrecht

February 05, 2018

The Washington Post asked five of its art-form critics to write a few paragraphs explaining how they go about their jobs.

In her final paragraph, the classical music critic Anne Midgette offers as good a summary as I have read anywhere of what a critic’s priorities need to be in this year of our confusions and decline, 2108.

… debate, finally, is the point of the exercise. Don’t try to find a “right” answer, as if the performance you heard were a code that you’re trying to crack. Think of the experience as a conversation: The evening offers a point of view, and you respond to it. Is it a conversation that you want to continue, by going back and hearing that music again? Is it one you’re glad to have behind you? Is it something you want to talk about to other people — and can another person change your mind? All of this is part of the experience we have with any art form. And it’s a lot more fun to become an active participant than it is to receive the music in reverential, passive silence.

— Anne Midgette

Read the full article here.



  • William Osborne says:

    This is in the vein of the work of Christopher Small who coined the term musicking. He defines music as a verb, not a noun. Musicking is a creation a complex Gestalt of human relationships. To musick, spoken as a verb, is a complex and myriad Gestalt of activities. The fluid interaction of creation and reception becomes an inseparable part of what music is. The act of musicking includes the whole gamut of how a concert is created: the performers, the nature and history of the hall, the nature of the audience, the program booklets, the way the concert was promoted, the funding system, the concert rituals, the methods of applause, and clothing. Musicking also includes the management ranging from CEO to ticket takers and stage hands. Even the spiritual implications of the art become part of musicking. Every element shapes what the experience is. To musick is not just a dialog between the performers and audience, but a dialog and complex form of cooperation between all involved.


    This understanding is largely missing in music journalism, and especially in the USA where an unmitigated form of capitalism tends to objectify artistic endeavor. When music is objectified it becomes a noun instead of a verb. Through objectification it loses its agency. It becomes a dead butterfly pinned inside a glass box. Europe is hardly better.

  • Scott MacClelland says:

    I have spent the last 40-plus years as a music critic (and educator) seeking to demystify the art for readers and students alike. I approach the task from the perspective of a reporter, to describe the events as they unfold with a vocabulary that accounts for those five “W” questions reporters are supposed to answer even while fleshing out the ‘story’ to give it perspective and dimension, i.e., historical context. The judgment or opinion often touted as criticism’s primary purpose has always struck me as of a lower priority, especially when a review is published after a reader has any chance of ever hearing the performance. Further, most opinion I have read tends to lack nuance and all to often disobliges the art itself.

  • YoYo Mama says:

    Virgil Thomson is the only one who ever seems to have understood the proper role of a newspaper “critic.” A pity so few follow in his footsteps. Midgette has poor artistic judgement, though she can write well. Typical.

  • Caravaggio says:

    It is far more complicated than that. Mainly, and I write about the world of opera and classical vocal music, the environment and narrative have long been hijacked by a small cadre of know it alls and their sycophants who desire nothing more than to gain admission to the club and to belong. Thus the cycle gains a false sheen of authority and perpetuity through groupthink and even fear through intimidation. Alternatives that dare question or challenge the authorities are quickly damped. Then there are the social media paid bots falsely inflating subscriptions, followers, likes, positive comments and so on. When you spot millions upon millions upon millions of views on a mere YouTube music track that may not be even a video, e.g., Callas, Tebaldi, Caballé, Sutherland, et.al., do not believe it.

  • Fred says:

    Midgette is indeed as fine a critic as can be.

  • a colleague says:

    George Bernard Shaw and Andrew Porter were among the best…

  • Rgiarola says:

    On 2014 she said:
    “Gustavo Dudamel, L.A. Philharmonic quiet the critics”. On 2018 I’m still wondering if he said it concerning the hype lover, or about the unbelivers of the messiah.

    There is only one choice between both options, if she wants to be considered really proeminent.

  • Steven Honigberg says:

    Isaac Stern had such a problem with critics and their roles in the field that he held a public symposium on the matter. How did that go? In my opinion, It’s nice when a critic supports a smaller community’s music events.It get everyone feeling good and wanting to return to hear more not to mention making the donors happy. Washington DC (not a small community) hosts many world class music events each season and not only at the Kennedy Center. In this case a music critic must voice their opinion on what is excellent and what is not; who should be heard again and who should not. I feel Midgette does a fine job with this responsibility and although we may not agree 100% of the time, she tells it like it is.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    ==Isaac Stern had such a problem with critics

    The dreadful way he played in the second half of his career – it’s no wonder.

  • Elvira says:

    Critics =wine turned vinegar