Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

I know we've beaten a dead horse with discussions about Pitchfork and their approach to criticism. On the most recent thread about Pitchfork, one reader (who was addressing me specifically) wrote "it's really a sad commentary that we feel so protective of the guys/gals who wear the badge of critic".

One trend that makes me defend critics (even ones I don't care for or agree with often) is that newspapers are downsizing and replacing their arts critics with freelance writers – drama and classical music are often hit the hardest. While they may often be excellent critics and even better writers, their audiences often suffer without someone covering specific beats full time.

This is another story that shows the dire state of arts criticism. It is from The New York Times last week and concerns the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who reassigned their long time theater critic Donald Rosenberg because he was a consistent critic of the maestro of the Cleveland Orchestra, Franz Welser-Möst. Says the Times:

The decision is sure to send shivers down the opinionated spines of critics everywhere. Arts officials, Broadway producers and Hollywood executives have never been shy about marching into newsrooms and denouncing their judgment passers as unfair, mean-spirited, ax-grinding nincompoops who don’t know what they are writing about. Most often editors stick with their critics.


Classical music critics these days are especially sensitive. As newspapers cut back, they are often among the first to go, and their ranks have thinned significantly in the last several years.

It is well known in music circles that Mr. Rosenberg has been a dogged critic of Mr. Welser-Möst, in contrast to the much kinder treatment he gave his predecessor, Christoph von Dohnanyi. Mr. Rosenberg praised Mr. Welser-Möst on occasion. But more typical were comments like this, about Mr. Welser-Möst’s handling of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in one of his first concerts as music director: The piece “received a generalized account that smoothed over most of the composer’s markings, largely rendering the idyllic scenes lifeless and subdued.”


Some players regret Mr. Rosenberg’s removal. Jeffrey Rathbun, an oboist and 18-year veteran of the orchestra, said Mr. Rosenberg was “maybe overly” hard on Mr. Welser-Möst but called him knowledgeable and conscientious. “It’s a shame for someone of his stature not to be covering the main thing in town musically,” he said. “I don’t see the justification for it.”

Another troubling aspect of this story is that it notes that the Plain Dealer's publisher is also on the board of the Cleveland Orchestra.

As problematic as this is, the Cleveland Orchestra still has a lot of catching up to do if they want to match the Seattle Symphony for pure dysfunction.