Tuesday, June 17, 2008

More fun with critics… or not

At the classical music critics conference in Denver last week, I heard an interesting panel discussion of “what happens when a critic is perceived to have an agenda, negative or positive; how that critic is perceived by performers, presenters, press representatives; and questions of tone, responsibility and fairness.” The panelists were Mary Lou Falcone of M.L. Falcone, Jessica Lustig of 21C Media, Susan Elliott of musicalamerica.com, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra president Fred Bronstein, St. Louis Post-Dispatch music Critic Sara Bryan Miller, and New York Times classical music and dance editor Jim Oestreich.

I didn’t take many notes at this meeting but I recall moderator Susan Elliott created a scenario with a hypothetical city with a major orchestra and opera company and one major newspaper with one music critic, and that critic was perceived by the arts organization as giving a series of unfair reviews. Fred Bronstein suggested calling the arts editor of the newspaper and invite him/her to a performance to see if he agreed with the critic. Jim Oestreich said that he would certainly attend a performance to see what he would perceive, if he had received such a phone call. Oestreich said that, over the years at the Times, he has talked with reviewers on such occasions, but his main concern was if a reviewer had a “mean streak.”

Mary Lou Falcone and Jessica Lustig talked of ways to work behind the scenes, but their perspectives come from working a big city and didn’t apply all that much to most cities in which a major touring artist only stops by every two or five years.

Sara Bryan Miller told about her negative criticism of a prominent instrumentalist in St. Louis and how the arts organization involved – over time – agreed with her and moved that person off its roster. She also described how careful she has to be in a city like St. Louis, where she sings in a church choir and knows a lot of people who are involved in the arts.

The discussion covered situations in which a critic was perceived as unnecessarily positive in his/her reviews, but the entire conversation gradually shifted to blogging. It turns out that Falcone does not recognize bloggers at all as legitimate arts critics (unless it is Alex Ross or a blog associated with a newspaper). She feels that blogging is still in its infancy and will take time to figure out who is responsible/accountable/etc. In fact, Falcone described arts blogging as the Wild West.

Lustig does send PR information to some classical music bloggers. She said that she reads the blogs in order to determine which blogs are worth the effort.

This is a continuaton of the postings regarding the classical music critics conference that I attended last week. The first posting was on June 10th.

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