Why the reviews are always nice (especially toward famous violinists)?

January 23, 2018, 1:36 PM · The V.com editor has done a lot of "The Week in Reviews" blog posts and I enjoyed them a lot. However, I could not help but notice that most of the reviews were heaps of praises. Seldom did I see any slight dissatisfaction, let alone criticism. I really wonder if the reviewers were truly writing what they felt.

A while ago I attended a local concert featuring a world-famous violinist (in the caliber of Perlman and Zukerman). This violinist did the Bach Double Concerto with the maestro of the city orchestra, who is a violinist as well. I must said I was disappointed, and felt our maestro sounded better than the world-famous violinist. However I don't think I read any bad review for that concert.

Any thoughts?

Replies (18)

January 23, 2018, 1:40 PM · I think that some people listen to music for the positives, and not because they're trying to listen for the problems. Critics who find issues are quite common, so maybe this is an attempt at something different?

Also, this is Violinist.com, so making enemies with violinists probably isn't the best idea.

Edited: January 23, 2018, 3:07 PM · I go to concerts all the time and hear some pretty junky performances (and many good ones), but when I look online for reviews of the players' other performances, all I can ever find is effusive praise.

I think it's a combination of artists and their managers employing pretty effective SEO to promote good reviews, that artist interviews are generally pretty fluffy and that people are getting savvier with social media, that criticism in general is not so supported by media companies (Because who cares about classical music) which results in less discernment from the critics. Without getting too conspiratorial, I think critics are discouraged from posting negative reviews, maybe more through social pressure than through any official mandates, but I think art criticism in general is infected with an attitude of relentless positivity, and commercial aspects affect people's views of the merits of art quite a bit. There also seems to be a fair amount of "let's all be pals" backslapping.

I'm not involved in the musical world in any meaningful financial way, so I feel free to happily hate on all the bad performances I've witnessed - Steven Isserlis and Connie Shih, Leila Josefowicz, Natasha Paremski, Jeffrey Kahane, Kevin Cole, David Shifrin, Michael Stern, Jonathan Biss, Stefan Jackiw, Stephen Hough. That's all I can remember for now for really bad performances I've heard.

Edited: January 23, 2018, 6:35 PM · The reason the reviews are always good is because, generally speaking, so are the violinists. You don't get the opportunity to perform like that without being a blithering genius of the violin. A few sour notes and they flush you out of the conservatory so fast you don't even get wet. Still it would be fun to start a "newspaper" whose sole function is negative musical reviews. For the sake of consistency the front end of the paper could be yesterday's Breitbart.
Edited: January 23, 2018, 7:41 PM · I agree with the point expressed in the OP.
Without the option of criticism, there cannot be a sincere praise.
When I started to buy and read The Strad, I was very surprised to see hard criticism about some performances. That actually made me read them from then on because there were things to learn and I know that when the column praises, there's a lot to praise.
Either in one direction or the opposite, unidirectional editorials become dull and repetitive and not worth reading.
Edited: January 23, 2018, 9:35 PM · Regarding the OP, the Bach Double is considered something a violinist of Perlman's caliber can play in his sleep. Honestly think your local concertmaster challenged himself to hit it out of the park. The visiting superstar probably thought he was doing someone a huge favor. I hope it wasn't Vengerov because I've seen videos of him playing the Bach Double with different people (amateurs, students, etc.) and he takes it seriously.
January 23, 2018, 10:47 PM · Let's face it, the violin as an instrument leaves a lot to be desired, and anyone who goes up on stage to play one probably deserves thunderous applause just for the temerity.

But, not all reviews are glowing. The following is an excerpt from a review which was linked on this site:

"The result was a mix, in the end. Much of [her] playing on Thursday night seemed like an enormous struggle—wayward intonation, blurry fingerwork, and pressed sound were only the beginning. Nearly all of the moto perpetuo movements felt as though she was barely hanging on, and a few, most notably the Double of the B-minor Partita’s Corrente, became a total mess. [She] at least seemed aware that her technique was lacking, shaking her head or smiling wryly when she hit a rough patch."

But, if you read the entirety of the review, you might still think that it's 'nice'. Well written, respectful, and observant of many details and aspects to like despite the noted flaws. What's wrong with that? No, never mind -- one can find flaws in everything if you look hard enough, but where's the pleasure in that?

January 23, 2018, 10:54 PM · It's either because no one does anything truly provocative, or because the critics are open to hearing a wide range of interpretations.
January 24, 2018, 2:24 AM · I think many critics these days are afraid of being proven wrong and looking stupid. It's their job to issue an instant verdict on a concert, without the luxury of hearing it a few times in recordings. More than once I've come out of a concert muttering imprecations, only to wonder what I had to complain about when I heard the same concert on the radio a few days later. A wise listener understands that their reaction to a performance has as much to do with their own state of mind as the quality of playing. Maybe we need critics who are less wise?
January 25, 2018, 2:58 AM · *I hope it wasn’t Vengerov because I’ve seen videos of him*

Another anxious Vengerov fan right there. I don’t think even an abysmal performance of himself could do even the slightest thing to tarnish his image, so you can calm down and relax, Martina :))

January 25, 2018, 3:39 AM · Every performer that ever was (with one possible exception) has had their off day but nevertheless had to get on with the performance. The exception, I'm given to understand, was the Great H; but even so, when some lesser light apologised to him for not being on form on a particular occasion the reply was, "It's alright for you but I've got to be Heifetz every day".
January 25, 2018, 5:45 AM · I know that happens, in a daily basis. Not only in music, but in every field, critics rarely explain the reality.

For example, if your grandma cooks the plate she thinks is the best she does, you think "meh, I mean it's good, but not something amazing" and she asks you "isn't it amazing?", you will probably say "YEAH, wow, definitely one of your best ones".

In important web pages (at least in the violin world) such as this one it's not quite welcome if you start to type all you think about a "star" level performer. If someone didn't like A LOT of things of a given concerto played by this performer, he probably won't say them at all, just some that don't hurt too much.

I sometimes ask for opinions about things I do/fix/cook, and I always try as hard as I can to make them as comfortable as possible to truly say whatever they think. In these cases, when I seek criticism, I am mostly seeking NEGATIVE aspects. I want to know what other people don't like about this plate or this device I repaired for them, etc...

Finally, I guess all these violinists, as someone said before, are very, very good, so basic problems as intonation, bad rhythm, etc... won't happen. At the end, it's a very subjective critic, it's MUSIC!

Oh yeah, and when you comment something in public you normally try to be nice (nice meaning you don't want them to feel bad and you don't want to be perceived as a rude person), so forget about heavy negative comments, even if the person reviewing thinks that.

January 25, 2018, 7:33 AM · If it's about non-amateur reviewers, one reason why most if not all reviews are positive is the perilous situation arts reporting is in.

Editors have their finger on the delete-the-arts-page button all the time, and one way to keep the editor happy is by filing upbeat, positive reviews (preferably mentioning "standing ovations").

A negative review prompts the query, "why write about this, anyway?" folks who review concerts usually don't make tons of money, but by writing positive reviews they try to hold on to their complimentary tix.

January 25, 2018, 8:40 AM · I'd like to know why the audiences stand up and roar every time they hear a name brand soloist even if he/she had an off night amd earned only standard level appreciation.

To the original question, there's rarely any good reason to say harsh things about someone in print, especially when you have the ability to hurt someone's livelihood. People can forget (I sometimes do) that there are real people reading about themselves or their family members. Of course you are signing on for some criticism when you put yourself out there as a soloist (and seek all the rewards that can come with it) but there's a difference beteeen describing and panning.

January 25, 2018, 10:15 AM · First, because it is not science, which mistake will be intolerable and ruled out, within the standard of so-called violinists, some flaw will not irritate the audiences.
Second, in this circle, negating comment is not preferred, thus critics of those artists will be rare, if someone dare to be a pioneer and set a precedent, what will the consequence be? Absolutely, this person will be thrown out of.
Third, this phenomenon does not only exist merely among violinists, but also some other sorts of art, for example pianists, sopranos...
Fourth, many reviews are provided by general management of violinists, what you have chance to see mainly dominated by positive reviews, negative ones only count as small portion.
January 25, 2018, 3:59 PM · Criticism of classical violin performances tend to be very positive. This is why IMO:
- Everyone knows how hard it is to become a soloist, or even orchestral members with the violin: intense practice, toddler-age start, endless auditions, fierce competition.
- Positive reviews attract potential audiences.
- Positive reviews encourage young learners.
- People in this profession don’t make huge amounts of money.
- People in this profession seldom suffer from egomania. Most would treat performances seriously.

I disagree with the idea that criticism is as nice in other industries. A soccer player missing an important shoot is likely to be devoured by media and fans alike. A bad movie could receive words like ‘funny’, ‘silly’, ‘bloopers’ even from top critics, on websites like rottentomatoes (hey look at the name), or even get a raspberry prize for the worst movies (there is such a prize). The amount of ridicule is unbelievable if you are in industries where money and fame can be easily earned, and where egomaniacs are in surplus quantities.
I disagree that criticism isn’t hard.

January 26, 2018, 10:38 AM · This isn't about a violinist, but about the famous composer/pianist Ferruccio Busoni (early 1900's). Apparently he gave a recital/concert in which one reviewer was particularly negative.
Busoni sent the reviewer a brief note, which read (if I remember correctly): "I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your review in front of me. Soon it will be behind me."
January 27, 2018, 12:12 AM · I thought it was Max Reger who wrote that?

A great critic like Alex Ross would illuminate what he or she finds extraordinary and share it with us. Why waste everyone's time by nitpicking on someone's off-day. Not helpful to us nor to the artist. Of course it's also the critics job to point out what is extraordinary bad that deserves our attention, and that generally doesn't happen too often.

January 28, 2018, 8:19 AM · In an abrasive world of negativity, crassness, vulgarity and snide remarks, I like the fact that I've found a place where civility is almost -- unfortunately not always -- embraced as the norm. Damning with faint praise seems more appropriate for me.

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