Author Topic: Music Criticism and Performers  (Read 355 times)

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Offline SurprisedByBeauty

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Music Criticism and Performers
« on: November 07, 2017, 08:38:21 AM »
This is an interesting article that appeared a few days ago on "VAN Magazin", by a Jeffrey A. Brown:

Critic Bashing - Defending the Music Media


Offline Mandryka

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Re: Music Criticism and Performers
« Reply #1 on: November 07, 2017, 09:07:16 AM »
This is an interesting article that appeared a few days ago on "VAN Magazin", by a Jeffrey A. Brown:

Critic Bashing - Defending the Music Media

I'm going to say some strong things, I may change my mind, I just want to record my initial responses to the article, which in truth I probably haven't read very closely. And I probably haven't thought about the issues enough anyway,

If you did say that Perlman or whoever  is a mess, just like that, without a lot of stuff in support, I think you shouldn't have. (Not that I've read it!) It does no good, what good did you think you were doing? It can only offend people, destabilise people who enjoy Perlman, put them on the defensive, make them think they've got bad judgement, that sort of thing.

 I'm very opposed to the idea of critic as a person who evaluates. .I think the critic's job is to describe, put into context and maybe to hazard some ideas about explanation, about why the performance went like that. Why did he play slowly etc. What was the Mahler like, what did it sound like? Why did he do that? To say that it's ugly etc is, I'd say, unprofessional.

I don't think you should say that it's a good or bad performance - say instead what the performance was like, and what the consequences of the performers' decisions were.

It may even be unprofessional to say whether you like it or not, that's a private thing, it's a bit arrogant to think that it matters. It's about you, your mood that night. It's ephemeral.

Leave evaluation to individuals in private.

Of course it's a lot easier to say it was great or was rubbish. And it's probably what the journals want for clicks and ads. But that's a different point.
« Last Edit: November 07, 2017, 09:14:30 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline Scarpia

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Re: Music Criticism and Performers
« Reply #2 on: November 07, 2017, 09:12:51 AM »
I'm very opposed to the idea of critic as a person who evaluates. .I think the critic's job is to describe, put into context and maybe to hazard some ideas about explanation, about why the performance went like that. Why did he play slowly etc. What was the Mahler like, what did it sound like? Why did he do that? To say that it's ugly etc is, I'd say, unprofessional.

Couldn't agree more.

Offline SurprisedByBeauty

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Re: Music Criticism and Performers
« Reply #3 on: November 07, 2017, 11:49:57 AM »
I'm going to say some strong things, I may change my mind, I just want to record my initial responses to the article, which in truth I probably haven't read very closely. And I probably haven't thought about the issues enough anyway,

 I'm very opposed to the idea of critic as a person who evaluates. .I think the critic's job is to describe, put into context and maybe to hazard some ideas about explanation, about why the performance went like that. Why did he play slowly etc. What was the Mahler like, what did it sound like? Why did he do that? To say that it's ugly etc is, I'd say, unprofessional.

Quote
"It's not a critic's job to be right or wrong; it's his job to express an opinion in readable English" (H.C.Schonberg)

What you speak of isn't criticism, but reviewism. A critic, by definition, judges and doesn't just describe. A review is not a description of an event... even if that makes up part or even the majority of the space it takes up. Goodness, how tedious would that be! I agree that one need not always be leading with judgemental adjectives or the like, because a simple description is often neater in achieving the desired effect... but even then judgment underlies the whole matter. All of criticism is built on that and to pretend that it's possible to critique without a value judgment going on would not only not be preferable, it would be disingenuous and insidious. Better get it out of the way how one feels about it so that the reader doesn't have to wade through the subconscious judgment that would otherwise invariably go on. Also: Think of a food- or a movie critic as you imagine an ideal critic to be one who refrains from judging. Roger Ebert elaborately describing the plot of Robocop, but then coyly leaving you bereft of any kind of critical summary of his general impression.


Offline Mandryka

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Re: Music Criticism and Performers
« Reply #4 on: November 07, 2017, 12:20:19 PM »
I agree that the critic should express an opinion: he should certainly make a judgement / form an opinion about what is going on and why and what the consequences are. This is hard, and is not without it's own subjectivity. That's what he should write about.

This isn't the same as publishing an evaluation, writing about whether it was a good experience or not. That informs the reader much more about state of mind of the reviewer than about the content of the thing reviewed. More subjective than the what and the why I'd argue. Evaluation might have been valid to people to write about when people believed in "authority", an expert view,  but those days have gone, that story has been debunked. The critic doesn't have a special authority, apart from having been there, seen it, heard it.

« Last Edit: November 07, 2017, 12:27:17 PM by Mandryka »
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Offline Scarpia

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Re: Music Criticism and Performers
« Reply #5 on: November 07, 2017, 12:41:50 PM »
What you speak of isn't criticism, but reviewism. A critic, by definition, judges and doesn't just describe. A review is not a description of an event... even if that makes up part or even the majority of the space it takes up. Goodness, how tedious would that be! I agree that one need not always be leading with judgemental adjectives or the like, because a simple description is often neater in achieving the desired effect... but even then judgment underlies the whole matter. All of criticism is built on that and to pretend that it's possible to critique without a value judgment going on would not only not be preferable, it would be disingenuous and insidious. Better get it out of the way how one feels about it so that the reader doesn't have to wade through the subconscious judgment that would otherwise invariably go on. Also: Think of a food- or a movie critic as you imagine an ideal critic to be one who refrains from judging. Roger Ebert elaborately describing the plot of Robocop, but then coyly leaving you bereft of any kind of critical summary of his general impression.

I will tell a story. I attended a concert. February 26, 1989, Carnegie Hall, New York City. Herbert von Karajan conducted the Wiener Philharmoniker in a performance of Bruckner Symphony No 8. Karajan, suffering from crippling back pain, had to be helped to a specially designed podium. He raised his arm and the music began. It was most beautiful, compelling performance I have ever witnessed. I have no words do describe how he shaped the music, and the the sounds he evoked from the orchestra. I still have vivid memories of the beauty of the phrasing of certain passages for horn in the finale. When the music stopped the audience jumped to its feet for a standing ovation. When Karajan would look to the left or the right, people on the left or then right would cheer more loudly because they saw he was looking at them. It was as if his gaze was a searchlight sweeping the hall.

The next day, I read the review of the concert. There were pedantic quibbles with this or that, and a general dismissal. According to the music critic, the concert stunk. Clearly the critic was a Karajan detractor and he was going to condemn what took place no matter what.

After experiences like this, I have never allowed a music critic to influence my decision to attend a concert or purchase a recording. I have concluded that the only useful information in a review of a recording is the fact that the recording exists, and perhaps some objective facts such as "the tempo is fast," "the repeats are taken," "the strings play without vibrato, "the recording has a lot of reverberation." Even that has to be taken with a grain of salt. In fact, if a recording is condemned in a review, my impulse is to buy it immediately.

I don't say this because I wish to offend, and I feel sorry that it will certainly offend.  But this is my experience.

Offline Brian

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Re: Music Criticism and Performers
« Reply #6 on: November 07, 2017, 01:26:24 PM »
Better get it out of the way how one feels about it so that the reader doesn't have to wade through the subconscious judgment that would otherwise invariably go on. Also: Think of a food- or a movie critic as you imagine an ideal critic to be one who refrains from judging. Roger Ebert elaborately describing the plot of Robocop, but then coyly leaving you bereft of any kind of critical summary of his general impression.
Food critic here! I want to make sure I understand exactly what you are saying/suggesting here?

Roger Ebert's review of Robocop left you with plenty of ideas as to his general impression:
"We're no longer quite sure where "RoboCop" is going, and that's one of the movie's best qualities....There is comedy in this movie, even slapstick comedy. There is romance. There is a certain amount of philosophy, centering on the question, What is a man? And there is pointed social satire, too, as the robocop takes on some of the attributes and some of the popular following of a Bernhard Goetz....Most thriller and special-effects movies come right off the assembly line. You can call out every development in advance, and usually be right. "RoboCop" is a thriller with a difference."

He also says that he laughs at a certain scene, in accordance with his dictum that a critic must always honestly report if he laughed at a movie.
(The original quote is a little more interesting, actually: "Two things that cannot be convincingly faked are laughter and orgasm. If a movie made you laugh, as a critic you have to be honest and report that. Not so much with orgasms.")

Offline SurprisedByBeauty

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Re: Music Criticism and Performers
« Reply #7 on: November 07, 2017, 01:46:08 PM »
I will tell a story. I attended a concert. February 26, 1989, Carnegie Hall, New York City. Herbert von Karajan conducted the Wiener Philharmoniker ...

Surely we are not suggesting that art criticism were only valid, if there was a way to criticise and evaluate anything (a performance, a burger, a film, a work of art) in one such way that everyone would have to agree with it.

Everyone is at liberty to agree or disagree with a critic. The amount of agreement with him or not does not make a good or bad critic. What does, though, is consistency, relatability, inferability. If that's the case, then a review is useful, even if it differs wildly on the subjective matters of taste. A good film reviewer will be useful to me, regardless of whether we share the same taste... if I am well enough acquainted with his tastes and propensities.

In any case, reviews surely are not to be judged by how much we agree with them but to the degree that they add to a general picture of the state of the arts. They are a subjective map (the more overlap, the better) of the scene on which others may clamber with points of reference.

Which is why big cities have (or had) an array of critics; the best of which you knew would have their certain takes on matters. Virgil Thompson would be the contrarian, with an elite taste and never bound to the public taste. His temperament and the newspaper he worked for allowed him to be that. Olin Downes was the spokesperson for the majority; generally positive and reinforcing of that which was popular. And so on. Once you know that, and readers back then obviously did, you were able to put criticism and reviewsm into proper perspective. People knew with which critic their tastes might most likely line up with ... and subsequently put accordingly more stock into their views when they recommended something.

Really no different from what goes on at GMG; the Veterans all know the other veterans' tastes, roughly, and how they align or not. So when, for example, Sarge likes a recording or a certain composer, I will be intrigued by it, knowing that our tastes align far more often than not; that we have a musical sensibility that share many points in common. And when we disagree, it's just as interesting, because we can put our prejudices to the test and are encouraged to try harder to see if it wasn't us who have missed something.

It's a bit different with negative (or rather: detractive) criticism... That merits quoting M.D.Calvocoressi from "Musical Criticism" (1931!)

Quote
When ‘jumping for joy’ in honour of a known work, or holding it up to execration, you may be writing in accordance with the prevailing view or against it. Now suppose that you are urging your readers to amend the unfavourable opinion they entertain of works which you think highly of: you are promising them something positive, an addition to the range of their enjoyment. They may wonder at finding works which leave them cold described as thrilling and lovable, yet eventually be swayed by the inducement held out.

On the contrary, if you are trying to make people see that their taste and faith is at fault, the position is that you are holding out no direct, positive inducement: ostensibly, you are proposing, not to add to their stock of artistic pleasure, but to detract from it. The task is as graceless as that of taking a bone from a dog. […] Wordsworth is reported to have alleged that ‘a stupid invention, in prose or verse, is quite harmless’. Knowing how much smaller the average man’s capacity for and chances of assimilating music are than with literature and the other arts, how very much less varied his musical experiences are than any others, one could hardly say the same with reference to the stupid inventions in music with which the world is overrun. Judicious criticism, therefore, has a great and much needed part to play with regard to the extirpation of bad music.


Offline Scarpia

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Re: Music Criticism and Performers
« Reply #8 on: November 07, 2017, 03:58:55 PM »
It's a bit different with negative (or rather: detractive) criticism... That merits quoting M.D.Calvocoressi from "Musical Criticism" (1931!)

Quote
On the contrary, if you are trying to make people see that their taste and faith is at fault, the position is that you are holding out no direct, positive inducement: ostensibly, you are proposing, not to add to their stock of artistic pleasure, but to detract from it. The task is as graceless as that of taking a bone from a dog. […] Wordsworth is reported to have alleged that ‘a stupid invention, in prose or verse, is quite harmless’. Knowing how much smaller the average man’s capacity for and chances of assimilating music are than with literature and the other arts, how very much less varied his musical experiences are than any others, one could hardly say the same with reference to the stupid inventions in music with which the world is overrun. Judicious criticism, therefore, has a great and much needed part to play with regard to the extirpation of bad music.

Maybe that was true 100 years ago. With electronic media the "average" person's chances of assimilating music are enormous. Even leaving that aside, I think critics are more likely to extirpate good music than bad. (Extirpate, what a lovely way to put the reader on the defensive, sending him or her to the dictionary.)

Let's be honest, the purpose of a critic is to sell newspapers (or whatever media).  Creating controversy is the primary function. Hurwitz is the epitome. His excoriations are very entertaining. I wouldn't for an instant allow one to influence my decision what to listen to.
« Last Edit: November 07, 2017, 04:05:20 PM by Scarpia »

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Music Criticism and Performers
« Reply #9 on: November 07, 2017, 04:54:41 PM »
Food critic here! I want to make sure I understand exactly what you are saying/suggesting here?

Roger Ebert's review of Robocop left you with plenty of ideas as to his general impression:
"We're no longer quite sure where "RoboCop" is going, and that's one of the movie's best qualities....There is comedy in this movie, even slapstick comedy. There is romance. There is a certain amount of philosophy, centering on the question, What is a man? And there is pointed social satire, too, as the robocop takes on some of the attributes and some of the popular following of a Bernhard Goetz....Most thriller and special-effects movies come right off the assembly line. You can call out every development in advance, and usually be right. "RoboCop" is a thriller with a difference."

He also says that he laughs at a certain scene, in accordance with his dictum that a critic must always honestly report if he laughed at a movie.
(The original quote is a little more interesting, actually: "Two things that cannot be convincingly faked are laughter and orgasm. If a movie made you laugh, as a critic you have to be honest and report that. Not so much with orgasms.")
I am also reminded of Siskel and Ebert. Because I think the problem with them (one of them) exemplifies what I think is wrong with reviewing (some of the time, not all the time) and even comments here at this site. I loved Siskel and Ebert growing up. But I was clearly a bigger fan of Ebert. And the reason can be simplified to this: Siskel too often gave a review based on what he wanted the movie to be rather than what it was. Ebert, to my knowledge, never did this. He accepted what it was and reviewed that.

I think we see that a lot in music. Reviewers/Critics sometimes review what they want to hear or how they want a piece played rather than accepting how it was performed. Sometimes it has to do with internalized prejudices (which Ebert refers to in the quote Brian cited).

The other issue is simply focusing on the 'why' of things, rather than the rating. The rating is useless, but the comments for why a critic/reviewer liked something is critical (haha). I often read reviews where the reviewer said how awful something was with a number of points to support. But when I read the points, I think to myself, "wait a minute, I like the things that person dislikes'.

But today, we focus too much on the end result (4 stars, 2 thumbs up, etc), rather than how/why we got there. And that is in part, as people here have already said, due to the need to make money/different goals of the reviewer/critic.
Offenbach gets a raw deal in recordings considering his talent! For a discussion of this outstanding composer too little recorded: http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,5572.

Offline Pat B

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Re: Music Criticism and Performers
« Reply #10 on: November 07, 2017, 05:05:25 PM »
I agree that the critic should express an opinion: he should certainly make a judgement / form an opinion about what is going on and why and what the consequences are. This is hard, and is not without it's own subjectivity. That's what he should write about.

This isn't the same as publishing an evaluation, writing about whether it was a good experience or not. That informs the reader much more about state of mind of the reviewer than about the content of the thing reviewed. More subjective than the what and the why I'd argue. Evaluation might have been valid to people to write about when people believed in "authority", an expert view,  but those days have gone, that story has been debunked. The critic doesn't have a special authority, apart from having been there, seen it, heard it.

In the case of some critics, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that they did hear it.

But there are good critics too. Part of being a good critic is to describe the performance (and to describe it well), like you said. Part of being a good critic is to recognize the state-of-mind effect and for recordings, to listen multiple times to minimize it (obviously not feasible for reviews of live performances that generally run the day after opening). And part of being a good critic, I think, is being able to state judgements without taking an authoritative air — to leave space for readers to have their own preferences. But I don’t see why a good critic should omit their judgements altogether.

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