V.com weekend vote: How do you feel about music reviews?

November 5, 2022, 11:11 PM · "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." The origins of this quote are unclear, but the concept is easy to understand: it's hard to write well about music.

Don't I know; for me it's been a lifelong endeavor!

Another meaning also emerges from that quote: that music writing can be ridiculous. Why bother to write about music? Doesn't it stand on its own?

reading music reviews

Well, it does, and it doesn't. Sure, music is a form of expression, and one's firsthand experience of that expression means a great deal. But that firsthand experience can be informed and enhanced by a sense of context - historical, technical, musical, social, economic, personal. Of course, not all music writers bring that sense of context, either because they lack knowledge of the subject or they lack the ability to communicate or they aren't writing in good faith.

In these Internet days, with the glory days of printed media long in the past, writing about music seems like an old-fashioned endeavor. Why not just tweet about it, or post a picture or video? Writing takes time and effort! So does reading!

What are your feelings about music reviews? Do you ever read them, and when you do, do you value what you read? What, for you, makes a music review a good one? Would you like to see this form of acknowledging a musical performance continue? Please participate in the vote, and then tell us your thoughts in the comments.


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Replies

November 6, 2022 at 05:27 AM · They are without exception, terrible, with the exception being when I write them.

November 6, 2022 at 03:49 PM · When traveling in Europe I saw lots of monuments or statues of composers, but never for critics or music professors.

November 6, 2022 at 04:16 PM · I was surprised by the undertone of animosity. Because of the geographic diversity of v.com members, I don't find many the reviews here to be very relevant, but I enjoy reading what my favorite performers are up to or the experience of a v.com member at a particular concert. In Berkeley, California we have many well known performers coming through and sometimes a review of some past concert may influence what concerts I attend. An outstanding example for me: for many years, Cecilia Bartoli gave concerts at UC Berkeley every year starting early in her career. An interesting review of her first concert here influenced me to see her the following year. Because she was still fairly unknown, I had no problem getting a front row seat to that concert. I ended up buying two of her CD's based on how much I enjoyed it. (Well, maybe she wasn't so early in her career if she already had CD's out.) To put this in perspective, I am not generally a fan of classic vocalists.

November 6, 2022 at 04:42 PM · Even a bad review is better than none, in most cases anyway

November 6, 2022 at 05:26 PM · A few years ago, when time and opportunity arose, I used to write reviews for Bachtrack. I was able to see Lisa Battiashvili in Hamburg when she was a relatively unknown player, at least in Britain. I was able to give her an outstanding recommendation and I'm sure this is why her career has since blossomed! My favourite review response of all time was by a composer who replied (to Hanslick?) "Ich sitze im kleinsten Zimmer meines Hauses und habe Ihren Artikel vor mir. Bald wird es hinter mir sein."

November 6, 2022 at 06:11 PM · Jeremy, that was harsh of Hanslick’s correspondent, though it does remind me of a local opera reviewer who was so far below the glide slope that I could rely on his condemnation to lead me to something I would enjoy.

Concert reviewing is a rather peculiar business, because by the time the review is published, the concert is over and gone. However, the review can highlight performer(s) and works that are worth seeking out when another opportunity arises, as was the case with your review of Lisa Battiashvili. Reviews of recordings, CDs, DVDs etc. retain more value, I think. As with all arts’ reviewing, ultimately, the writer can really only convey personal insights, opinion, views and salient context. The arts live in this sustained conversation, and I realize that I have commented to various people on the exhibition and two concerts I have attended this week, so I think the talk and the writing, no matter how difficult it is to capture music in words, are vital.

November 6, 2022 at 06:19 PM · I did not vote. I'd have to vote "all of the above" but none of them with a lot of conviction.

However: Musical life depends on reviews (less nowadays when you can put recordings on youtube instead). If nobody could read what is going on in music nobody would have the idea to buy some tickets. We'll have to live with them, even if many are bad, many are unfair or prejudiced (e.g. Eduard Hanslick) or simply incompetent.

There is a language to talk about music; it is used in conservatories, rehearsals or textbooks. It is technical and does not capture the essence of the experience. Also it is incomprehensible to the average reader of newspapers. So critics are supposed to find a language that people understand and that yet conveys true insight into the topic. Not an easy job; maybe impossible.

I admit that I often get quite some amusement from the attempt of critics to convey meaning in convoluted, badly chosen metaphors (or to hide their incompetence behind those metaphors).

Finally a detail: If I read a sneering remark about Perlman's intonation (or anyone else's who happens to approach 70) I discount the writer.

November 6, 2022 at 08:51 PM · I would have opted for a different option: rarely do they practically influence me (due to geography/time/etc.) but I have read several reviews here that I've really appreciated, that have conveyed true delight and meaning in the concerts they've covered, and have piqued my interest in certain artists and works!

November 6, 2022 at 10:40 PM · I enjoy reading reviews of concerts I attended because they give me a bit more perspective about my own impressions of the event. There are things I liked that were not worthy of a mention, or things that I did not perceive as expressed in the article. Of course, having been there makes me read reviews without committing to any decision because it is behind me, and it cannot sway my opinion either. Since I go to concerts alone, it is a nice way to get other views and perceptions.

November 7, 2022 at 07:16 AM · More often than not I am left to wonder if the reviewer attended the same concert I was playing in, but the demise of the review is not good for live music.

None of your choices really fit for me so I didn’t vote.

November 7, 2022 at 02:40 PM · I have read some good write ups. The writer either was or gave others and I the impression that he or she were musicians and loved music. Any criticism was constructive and insightful. and there were others that I wondered if they knew anything about music at all? Fortunately I have good friends who are musicians and or love music who make for lively discussions over coffee.

As for swaying my opinion there were some that did and others that did not.

November 7, 2022 at 02:45 PM · Reviews of entertainment are subjective. Therefore, what you are reading, hearing or viewing is the opinion of the reviewer. Yes, some of us resonate with particular reviewers and that can guide us to a particular entertainment venue/performance.

Live performances are of-the-moment. I've witnessed top-tier professional musicians have a off-day. That doesn't mean that the next performance of the same program will be identical.

We do appreciate your reviews Laurie, it gives us a sense of having been there without the time and travel. However, if that same group/individual performs the same program locally to me, I don't expect a digital copy of the performance you reviewed.

November 7, 2022 at 04:09 PM · Well the news is so polarizing and needlessly toxic that when I can't be playing (like now during a lull in work) I'd rather read about music, as disjointed as it is from the thing-in-itself, at least it doesn't usually provoke despair. And sometimes it motivates me explore a performer or composer.

November 8, 2022 at 05:25 AM · A good number of composers wrote/write, so there were certainly things they thought had to be said through language in relation to music. Steve Reich, Matthew Aucoin and John Luther Adams all had books released recently, so I would also add that while book sales may not be what they used to (the "glory days"), publishers are still finding value in the printed medium so the book is by no means dead.

I think it is also worth mentioning Alex Ross, the New Yorker music critic, as a active writer worth one's time. His writings can range from short posts on his blog [https://www.therestisnoise.com/], to his New Yorker columns, to his books (such as The Rest is Noise or Wagnerism). Regardless of your attention span, Ross has something for you.

And for those who enjoy a bad review or two, Nicolas Slonimsky's collection of bad music reviews, the Lexicon of Musical Invective, will keep you occupied for hours.

November 11, 2022 at 01:53 PM · {#15} As from ~ Performing Concert Artist/ Artist Teacher of Violinists, Violists, String Ensembles, plus On stage Performing Presence including Concert Attire for Women Soloists both Twentieth & Twenty First Century . . .

Having read every Reply here to a very important Question/ Set of Questions which I chose to defer answering based on a lifetime of experience being reviewed in many locations Concert Touring, one

is convinced of the helpful continuation of the 'Review' or my own term, 'Impression', from a concert giving touring violin soloist & a member of one of 3 major orchestras termed 'Greatest', which has given perspective in reading countless critiques over the last 45 years with some by 'known' professional critics who in instances, tear down a major artist (if starting out to create a by-line for themselves) with some demeaning a Rostropovich, or Heifetz, or Milstein, etc., globally pedigreed/revered artists proven over

exceptionally lengthy and longevity performing recording careers, to 'make a name', not for the artist, but for themselves, aspiring to become a George Bernard Shaw or Harold Schonberg of The

New York Times, in nearly half of The Twentieth Century, but sadly instead of reviewing a Heifetz, receiving immense praises from well known musicians and concert going audiences, yet Damning Critiques of their oft 'phoned in' at last minute 'reviews'! Recalling an incident in London on Baker Street in posh Mayfair, invited to a Lotte Nichol's 'Party' for introducing young artists to the London Musical Critics Establishment, notorious S.S. of 'the Times of London', was holding 'court' in a large room with many 'guests' listening, yet his Review which had just appeared in the Times of London, was so outrageous and for the Memorial Concert in the RFH (Royal Festival Hall) offered by the London Philharmonic & noble Conductor, Jascha Horenstein, of the regal Beethoven Last Ninth Symphony with glorious London Chorus, to a sold out and in mourning London audience, 'In Memoriam' of famed British Conductor, Sir Malcolm Sargent, who slammed the entire 'performance', aka, truly 'holy' offering by all splendid musicians, upon being introduced to S. S., by the formal Head of the BBC, I took the liberty of asking S.S., Why his Review was so damning of "an English Evening Memorial of just passed Sir Malcolm Sargent, aka, 'Flash Harry'," famed in the global concert world, and affectionately given the nickname from his many admiring Pro Orchestral Musicians throughout the Concert World and on such a solemn occasion?? S.S., and rather puffed up with himself, finally deigned to speak with an original pupil of Jascha Heifetz, then private artist studying with Nathan Milstein, under Concert Artist Management & listed on Roster of Violinists with Nathan Milstein; Henryk Szeryng & Ruggiero Ricci, by erected standing up straight, and barely looking one in the eye saying, "I'd heard Horenstein conduct the LvB Ninth many times and had to leave after the opening of the Symphony, but phoned my review in to make the deadline.' Astounded by his lack of respect for the Lifetime Works of one of England's Greatest Conductor's, I took him on asking him why his review of Schneiderhan, a well known Viennese Violinist, had been so glowing when hearing Wolfgang Schneiderhan, Live, in Unaccompanied Bach Sonatas for Violin?, yet essentially dismissing a Last Musical Tribute to Sir Malcolm Sargent, from all musicians and loving London audiences in what was really a Musical Church Service in the Royal Festival Hall, then reading a Mud Slung Review by Dr. Stanley Sadie, who hadn't even stayed to listen to what became a very moving Memorial to the Memory of a Great and Beloved British Conductor, with tears of loss from All in the vast Concert Hall?

The above really happened and this is a first time speaking/writing of it in my life but in reading the Subject posed by Editor, Laurie Niles, and responses by colleagues Mary Ellen Gore, Joel Quivey, and Chin Kim, with one's courage to offer this very unattractive incident, having come forth from a long ago by now, deliberately suppressed memory ... The sad ending to this encounter was the utter kindness of Mrs. S. S., who seemed near tears, standing in a sort of small semi-circle of S.S., {who left}, Head of BBC, myself and a deeply concerned wife, who put her hand out to shake mine, then needed kleenex, as I asked kind Mrs. S.S. 'Why did your husband seem so insensitive to the marvellous to myself and entire LPO plus full London Chorus and outpouring of the packed London audience Beethoven Ninth 'In Memoriam' of the just passed Sir Malcolm Sargent 'holy' offering?' After gathering her composure, she whispered to me, & the Head of BBC, 'he does this sometimes and I am at a loss to know why?' In my young innocence, I asked, 'has your husband ever played a string instrument or specifically the violin?' She took a deep breath and answered: "No, he once studied Violin at Oxford, but after just 6 months, found it too difficult, so he gave it up never going on with further studies." This, dear Violinist.com Friends, was The Limit or

at the Core of a famed musicologist/First Reviewer of 'the Times of London', S. S., who had either 'made' careers of young soloists making London Wigmore Hall debut's, or relegating many to undeserved lives of some obscurity as aspiring soloists and/or chamber & orchestral musicians sadly based on unresolved issues within himself ...

I do think it points out the issue of power and complete power becoming corrupt and creating egotistic attitudes of those having gained such position, which eventually to quote from a scriptural passage of Beatitude's, 'will be known to the entire congregation.' The very sad eventual 'Fall' of S. S. from favour & Top Music Critic Job occurred over a period of time, with S.S. writing many Musicology Books published by posh Music Publishers in London and here in the US, but I've always wondered What Happened to Dr. Stanley Sadie's Soul upon hearing of his passing not too long ago?

This sharing of a real Life Occurrence, is not to hurt nor shame the late Dr. Stanley Sadie, but to illustrate & point out what influence one person writing about Music and those musicians performing great Masterworks known and beloved, can do to either applaud that which is Great and Good or to tear down an Edifice of Lifetime Offerings of Great Music to then have one's Legacy pounced on when no longer breathing on this Earth . . . In conclusion, it seems too much erudite knowledge by some having 'learnt' too much at either an Oxford or Cambridge, or been mentored by an S. S., can harm & create a divisive environment between the hearts/souls of loving audiences of given fabled artists, or praise possibly those who do not inspire love and reverence from good willed audiences, but turn the tide to chopping blocks for those specific critic's with reputation, & obvious psychological issues unresolved, into very inaccurate assessments of given public performance by innocent artists putting forth their very best efforts at given times with sometimes hopes dashed by the pen of an upset person unable to tolerate the requirements of learning to play the violin or another musical instrument, giving it up because 'it was too hard', which actually seques into Laurie's Subject for next Violinist.com Weekly Journal, and its Centerpiece, 'Teaching the Young Violinist' or very closely akin to this!

In my view, the Subject posed by Laurie Niles in her latest issue of V.com, is a Most Important which needs much discourse from all those having brought 'success' to the young pupil's conversation and so needed now in the US with our Country, as displayed this week, of half and half, divided re the candidates and their many oft opposing views of major issues to be hopefully fairly resolved with patience and humility by all step by step minus fear of those expressing common sense solutions ...

Thanking All for such honourable responses and the opportunity to contribute one's own experience which may or may not add some 'light' to this very important subject of Reviews needed or not for the future of Music and Musicians with Audiences moving forward into deeper life in the Twenty First Century and far beyond horizon's some of us shall never live to see due to our own slated expiration dates ...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Elisabeth Matesky ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

References ~

https://www.facebook.com/elisabeth.anne.775?fref=nf

https://www.violinist.com/directory/bio.cfm?member=Milstein

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November 12, 2022 at 11:15 AM · There are, of course, classic critiques and writings about music that would be a pity for people to forget. Schumann's for instance, the odd observation by George Bernard Shaw (but the only thing from Athalie that I have ever heard is still the War March of the Priests, in spite of Shaw's adulation of the entire incidental music. I have seen orchestral parts for the Overture, so I would recognise it if I heard the beginning).

And it would be a pity if the classic critique of a violin recital by a pupil of Enescu with the latter accompanying on the piano (As a pianist, he was, for technique, right in the top rank) and Alfred Cortot turning the pages for him, were forgotten!

And, of course, there's the old adage (that I endorse heartily): Everyone has a right to my opinion.

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