This critic hates the new New York Phil

This critic hates the new New York Phil


norman lebrecht

September 30, 2018

Daniel Gelernter in the National Review:

For years, the maniacal self-absorption of Music Director Alan Gilbert allowed the New York Philharmonic to deteriorate into a sloppy shambles and become the worst of the world’s best orchestras. This season, there is a new music director, Dutch conductor and violinist Jaap van Zweden. Van Zweden gave his opening subscription series this weekend, and the transformation was obvious: Under his baton, the orchestra is no longer sloppy. Now it is merely unmusical….

Read on here.



Gelernter, 31, is CEO of the tech startup Dittach. He studied music at Yale.



  • Thomas Roth says:

    “Stravinsky didn’t like Beethoven,” Wrong! Stravinsky admired pieces like the eight symphony and the late quartets, and much more of course. It is always amusing to read texts like this from writers who are so full of themselves.

  • The View from America says:

    Reading the entire review, the first half of the concert sounds like it was pretty dreadful. Here’s another review with similar opinions to the one above:

    But hopefully the NYPO will eventually make the concert available online, so that we can make our own judgments rather than taking someone else’s word for it.

  • Jon H says:

    Jaap’s guesting in Chicago has shown many quailities, none of which unmusical – but IMO the Phil, like many orchestras, are prone to deliver a very ordinary view of the repertoire they always play (or play too often). They tend to show their greatness when it’s outside that core, or when the conductor has such a distinctive view that the players are inspired to change for it.

  • Bruce says:

    Negative reviews are fun to write, but to write a good one you need to give objective information about the music and/or the performance, as well as your own subjective response to it.

    I don’t always agree with Tommasini in terms of what he likes and what he thinks is important; nevertheless, I thought his review ( gave a much clearer idea of what actually happened during the concert. He enjoyed the Fure piece, but his review of it was essentially the same as Gelernter’s, i.e. I could read it and go “oh brother, I’m not sorry to have missed that.” Gelernter’s take seems to have been that it was silly and pretentious, and only the sheeple liked it.

    The concerto was different (they played Ravel for the performance Tommasini reviewed), so I can’t compare directly. But Tommasini says much more about how Trifonov played the Ravel than Gelernter says about how he played the Beethoven (it was romantic, mushy, and boring, apparently; but people applauded because the piece is famous and Trifonov is fashionable).

    Again, with the Rite of Spring, Tommasini writes a fair amount about why he had the opinion he had; Gelernter simply says it was “an exceptional rendering” and “van Zweden brought out every ounce of the piece’s huge stored energy.” That’s all about the Stravinsky; the rest of the review is a mini-rant about the tastelessness and gullibility of the cultural elite.

    IMNVHO, a critic should be able to write a review from which readers can decide for themselves what they would have thought if they had been there. Tommasini’s review tells you more about what the concert was like, as well as his reaction to it. Gelernter’s just sounds grouchy and dyspeptic. (From AT’s review I can say I might have enjoyed the Fure but it doesn’t sound like a piece that has a long life ahead of it; the Ravel was spiky with more emphasis on the modernist aspects of the piece rather than the jazz elements; and the Stravinsky had moments where the dark brooding sections threatened to turn inert. From DG’s review, I pretty much learned that if I enjoyed anything on the first half then I have no taste, but the Stravinsky was good.)

  • Forza del destino says:

    Who is being maniacal & self-absorbed here?

  • Vioshi says:

    Daniel Gelernter sounds like a bitter @$$hole. As a professional musician and a member of one of the big five orchestras, I have worked with Jaap on several occasions and he is anything but unmusical. He is one the most energetic conductors around. This article is deeply troubling and offensive. I tried to do some research on Daniel, to find out where his authority to write such blemish comes from. All I could find is he has BA in music from Yale. No trace of any accomplishments whatsoever. From my years at Juilliard, I can say that Yale was never considered anywhere near to being a top school in terms of music and people with genuine talent who chose to go there either did double major to pursue different path or went there for masters because Yale is one of the few schools that offers full ride. In his article, Daniel sounds like a typical example of a conservatory failure, someone who possibly loved classical music and got accepted to a high profile school (unfortunately in this case renowned for many things but music) but did not possess necessary talent and ability to make it at the professional level. Now he writes articles for 3rd rate newspaper and criticizes pretty much anything that is considered the highest standard in the world of classical music. This is what he wrote about the recital of Emanuel Ax at Carnegie hall; “Ax plays Bach as though he’s baking a pastry, and during his performance of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F Major, K. 533, the most exciting thing that happened was when someone fell off his chair in a first-tier box.”
    Daniel, it requires little more to criticize people who are hundred levels above you than a degree from a third rate conservatory and no accomplishments in the field. Keep to your startups and leave the job of music critic to someone who has something to say.

    • esfir ross says:

      Vioshi smears in ugly way critic DG not for his writing qualities that’re excellent but for his choice of school, place to work. You fail, Vioshi. I’ll look forward to read DG review.You should be GOP judging people in congress of USA

      • Vioshi says:

        First of, I am not a citizen of this country, therefore I could not be in the Congress. Never mind that, can you point out the “excellent qualities” in Daniel’s writing? Because I have surely missed them. I have nothing against constructive criticism but maybe you should read Thomasini’s review of the same concert to see what that looks like. And if you want to compare someone with GOP practices, maybe you should start with Daniel, his hateful rhetoric toward world renowned artists and orchestras is on par with what the great “leader” and his fellow comrades do all the time.
        Enjoy reading that puke instead of learning from top artists and enjoying something only handful of people around the world can enjoy.
        Secondly, I wrote what I wrote from my own experience with many of my Juilliard classmates who failed to make a mark of their own in the world of music, they all have jobs outside of music but all of them have one thing in common with Daniel. They all criticize those who made it with comments full of jealousy, hatred and smear, making it sound like they should have been the soloists or that any orchestra should feel honored if they were part of it. I honestly feel sorry for people like Daniel, it must be sad life if the best you can do is criticize something you yourself are incapable of.

    • Ted says:

      David Gelernter has no MUSICAL accomplishments that I know of. But he is professor of computer science at Yale, very very famous in his field; also a tech-futurist, author, and political pundit. And he used to be a wonderful funny guy, until he got maimed by one of the Unabomber’s mail-bombs. Then he turned into an ultra-religious right-wing partisan mercenary Republican. Trump actually considered appointing him as his technology-advisor.

    • Amati says:

      I’m sure you’re a fabulous musician playing where you do. Let me point out a school is not necessarily a barometer to measure quality or intellect. Yale has had some very impressive musicians on the faculty and students who have graduated and done big things and some not so impressive graduates.

      In addition to some of the great talent that has matriculated at Juilliard, there have also been many not so impressive ones. We all know how Lisa Kim, Associate Principal 2nd violin of the NY Philharmonic, and Lewis Kaplan, a current Juilliard violin professor plays the violin. You’d be deaf to even think they are competent, which I’m sure you agree they are not (if you’ve ever heard them play)!

    • Average New Yorker says:

      I disagree that one needs to have some levels of accomplishment in music in order to be able to be a critic. This is why the classical scene is dying. Only music nerds like you go there. I was at Fure’s concert and it was just embarrassing. Why on earth people who have a career in music seem to like such compositions or performance, while any other average New Yorker hates it? People like you should just feel embarrassed. Besides, Gelernter wrote more than one review on Ax’s performances, and I found another review where his judgment was the opposite, probably that time Ax just had a bad night.

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    Who, in their right mind, is going to believe the opinion of a 31-year-old? Once more, he proves the complete lack of any need for critics. Not when they merely review something according to their own mythical expectations. Any fool can do that. Has he even studied Virgil Thomson’s (who’s that) writings? Why did the NR hire him?

    • jim says:

      I agree that this guy sounds like a jack***, but the problem isn’t his age. The problem is that he’s a jack***. Anyone who thinks someone’s opinion should be ignored simply because of that person’s age is also a bit of a jack***. The opinion of a 31 year old can be just as valid as that of some tired old goat living in the past.

  • CYM says:

    About music critics, Felix Mendelssohn might say … « Words Without Songs »

    • Simon Scott says:

      Dame Nelly Melba gave a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The critic on duty that night duly panned her. At her next appearance at that venue she came with her husband,dressed in an Ascot tie etc,as only an Englishman would do. After the concert he waited for his prey to appear and publicly whipped him.
      There are sundry ways of dealing with critics….

      • Duane says:

        I didn’t know that! Very interesting.

        • Simon Scott says:

          Actually,I made a mistake. It was Clara Butt who did the singing,and her husband,the baritone,Kennerly Rumford who did the whipping!

      • BillG says:

        The Dallas Morning New Music Critic in the 1960s, John Rosenfield, was much a proponent of classical music in the city as he was a critic. He used his byline as much as a bully pulpit for the Dallas Symphony as he did review their performances. Dallas is much the better for his efforts.

      • BillG says:

        I am surprised Max Reger’s observation hasn’t appeared yet –

        “I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your review in front of me. Soon it will be behind me.”

        It seems almost de rigueur when speaking of critics.

        • RW2013 says:

          I used it a few posts ago (without acknowledging Reger, I thought everyone knew who said it…)

          • BillG says:

            I didn’t see your quoting Reger must have scanned past it without noticing it. I’ve been in a few venues where the author of that has been a matter of minor debate.

    • John Borstlap says:

      After having slaughtered Wagner many times, some German newspaper informed its readers that ´naturally´ Herr Wagner hated music critics. Upon Wagner wrote a letter to the ediutor, which was duly published, in which he corrected the assumption and made it clear he did not hate critics, but had only contempt for them.

      • Ted says:

        Like Nixon, who said that he was not angry with the New York Times, because you can’t feel anger toward someone whom you don’t respect.

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    One doesn’t read “The National Review” for its classical music reviews. In fact, people with minds of their own don’t read it for anything.

  • BillG says:

    Gelernter review is at best the mark of hubris and NYC conceit. As to his heroic plumber or cab driver, one is better served by Beecham, “Composers should write tunes that chauffeurs and errand boys can whistle.”

  • RW2013 says:

    Why should anyone be interested to know what this person (or any other critic) has to say?
    If you can’t get your a** to a concert to make your own opinion, you have no right to know how it was.
    That being said, Trifonov just brilliantly played a fascinating programme of Bach, Schnittke and Stravinsky concerti here in Berlin.

    • Bruce says:

      Well… there are some of us who live nowhere near New York and are never likely to hear the NY Philharmonic live, but are interested to hear about what’s happening there…

  • Thrown_out_of_the_Kremlin_for_Singing says:

    David Gelernter has no MUSICAL accomplishments that I know of. But he is professor of computer science at Yale, very very famous in his field; also a tech-futurist, author, and political pundit. And he used to be a wonderful funny guy, until he got maimed by one of the Unabomber’s mail-bombs. Then he turned into an ultra-religious right-wing partisan mercenary Republican. Trump actually considered appointing him as his technology-advisor.

  • Ted says:

    OK, but there is one hilarious line in the review:

    “The composer’s stated goals included ‘to democratize proximity’ and ‘to activate a theater for the social.’ I feel compelled to note that, once the singers had finished hissing into their megaphones like a suite of deflating tires and van Zweden had turned slowly and balletically to stare at the audience as the lights were gradually dimmed to black, we were not left feeling that our proximities had been particularly democratized.”

  • Enquiring mind wants to know says:

    The review sounds like something a freshman would write for a general education Music Appreciation course.

    • Papagena says:

      I agree.

      • Ted says:

        Papagena is a bird-brain.

        • Enquiring mind wants to know says:

          Taken from Science Daily:

          “The first study to systematically measure the number of neurons in the brains of birds has found that they have significantly more neurons packed into their small brains than are stuffed into mammalian and even primate brains of the same mass.”

        • Papagena says:

          Sorry you don’t like the name. I thought “I agree” was a fairly innocuous comment, but point taken.

          At your request, Ted, I will retire the name. I’ve always preferred writing under “Anon” anyway, so not a problem.

  • Tamino says:

    Among all the uninteresting critics, he seems the most interesting one.
    He is independent, doesn’t need to take false considerations about his own professional relations in the NY music circles, writes a witty diatribe, and knows a bit about music too, apparently not less then some other so called critics.
    I personally always found the NY Phil, dating even back to Maazel’s tenure, an musically uninspired orchestra. To my ears they are the technically most perfect orchestra with a surprisingly dead or mechanical musical expression.

    • Tamino says:

      Having said that, music critics in general are part of the problem, not part of the solution. They lure people into tgat ever so annoying and ignorant behavioral disorder, that it’s ok to have an opinion, without having thorough first hand experience and vast background knowledge.

      Reviews by critics are 99% of the time not more than “what Mr./Mrs. X, a failed musician, thinks about performance Y, or was paid to write about it.”, and should be labeled as such.

      • Mike Schachter says:

        Social media makes everyone an expert on music, and many other things, with little knowledge and less experience.

  • Jack says:

    As a critic, I’d say Mr. Gelertner is unfettered by the slavery of talent*. His musical insights are about what I’d expect from someone who is CEO of some tech startup. Why The National Review and The Weekly Standard consider his work printable eludes me.

    (* Thank you, Oscar Levant)

  • Edgar says:

    Methinks the young man is under the spell of the severe delusion of thinking he is a major critic. He makes a fool of himself by committing the gross indecency to publicly exhibit his large-than-life size ego. He urgently needs professional clinical intervention.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I would agree with that recommendation. According to psychiatrist Dr Beverley Hofstadter, such grumpy journalism can be traced back to ineffective potty training in early youth (‘The Disappointing Child’, APA Publishing 2006). Too much parental pressures on hygienic exercise create a profound resentment which is then projected upon the entire world, and later in life especially upon other people who achieve things because of a much more tolerant potty training (p. 305-387).

  • Brian says:

    I don’t know about the validity of this critic’s opinions – I wasn’t at the concert – but he certainly writes in a very entertaining manner. Especially with regard to the contemporary piece. Why can’t some of the major newspapers can’t be this colorful and entertaining in their music criticism?

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Exactly. The first rule of the music critic is to entertain the readers.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The second rule is to give some insightful information. The best critics combine both (Berlioz, Debussy, Virgil Thompson).

        But the most entertaining reviews – about new music – are those collected by Nicolas Slonimsky in his ‘Lexicon of Musical Invective’. They all got it pulverizingly wrong and its authors survive posthumously in the embarrassing odour of ridicule. The negative reviews which happen to be correct, disappear together with its subject.

  • walter taieb says:

    I personally liked this funny and very well written critic of this concert. In fact you can expect Dan and I to do some work together. It’s time for some loud opposite voices to this groupthink that is killing the relevance of classical music one bad commission at the time. Also ICYMI :

    • John Borstlap says:

      The best way of killing-off the relevance of classical music, is producing unsophisticated, luke-warm limonade music as well as ugly and meaningless sonic art.

      There is a wealth of tonal music in the repertoire to learn from; cheap film music is no viable alternative to the furies of primitive sound.

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    With or without credentials, let Mr Gelertner say and write whatever he wants – there is no need for (long) unwinnable debates. In any case, I’m sure any opinions expressed here won’t bother him or affect his work one tiny bit. If he is right, time will prove him right. If he is wrong, he will disappear.