The critic’s dilemma:♦
Is it the music or the performers?
Corbin Abernathy, of Voces Novae et Antiquae, complains in a letter that my recent review of For So The Children Come focused solely on the poet and the composer, to the neglect of the performers. He’s right, and he deserves a response.
For most of the 20th Century, musical criticism was essentially performance criticism. The repertoire was limited to music everyone had heard many times, so critics focused on the skills of the performers and the validity of their interpretations. That situation has changed. Composers are once again turning out music that audiences can relate to, and most music organizations are giving us the opportunity to hear their efforts.
We are also being exposed to much more unfamiliar music. Early music groups explore the huge treasure trove created during the Renaissance and Baroque periods; other cultural entrepreneurs champion music created by composers who’ve been neglected because they belonged to the wrong minority group or the wrong gender.
The center of attention has shifted, to some extent, from the performer to the composer and the music. That means there will be times when performers will feel neglected.
In any case, I write about something when I think I have insights other people will find interesting. For So the Children Come is an unfamiliar piece that led me to some reflections on Christmas and Christmas music that felt like they might be of general interest.
If Mr. Abernathy will look at some of my other pieces for Broad Street Review, he’ll note that I frequently concentrate on the music rather than the performance. My review of the Necronomicon Quartet, for example, is half a discussion of H.P. Lovecraft and half a review of the quartet. In that piece, too, I made no comments on the quality of the performance.
Nor did I discuss the quality of the performance when I reviewed the Dolce Suono program devoted to new music for flute, cello and piano, even though I regard Mimi Stillman, Yumi Kendall and Charles Abramovic as three of our city’s major assets.
But I can give Mr. Abernathy one guarantee— if I praise a new or unfamiliar piece without mentioning the quality of the performance, he can rest assured I had no significant complaints.
To read a response, click here.
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