It hasn't been done
in 50 years. But now, classical music critics are gathering for
a rare symposium exploring the past history, present issues, and
future hope for our profession.
The Music Critics Association of North
America and The National Arts Journalism Program in partnership
with The Columbia University Department of Music, Miller Theater,
Columbia University and the American Music Center are pleased to
A Symposium on the Present State and Future of Classical Music Criticism
October 15-17, 2004
Columbia University School of Journalism
We like to think that in the century
since Louis Elson misapprehended Debussy, we have become less tradition-bound,
more attuned to the new. But there is always the chance that one
day our words will prove us, too, spectacularly wrong. Any music
critic with a conscience must be haunted by the fear of missing
a revolution. We now have an opportunity for self-scrutiny in the
midst of several simultaneous revolutions. Within our lifetimes,
the concert world has expanded enormously.
New genres have been created.Technology
has made radical new tools available to every composer with a laptop.
The authentic performance practice movement has merged into the
symphonic world. The mainstream has widened to include music from
nations as far apart as Finland, Mongolia and Azerbaijan. The contemporary
critic working in a major market could easily review a plainchant
performance one night, a video opera the next and a Brahms symphony
the following evening. At the same time, the other world we share
- journalism - has been similarly transformed. 'Zines, blogs, boards
and the global distribution of instant opinion have created a parallel
universe of amateur and professional criticism. Meanwhile, the cost
of newsprint, the diversification of entertainment and the nationwide
drive to recruit young newspaper readers all exert new pressures
on us, affecting what, when, how often and how long we write.
So the fundamental question is: Are
we adequately prepared for the world we work in? Are we adapting
quickly enough to these changes? In what ways are we helping to
bring them about? This is a conference about issues few of us ever
have time to think about on deadline: mission, style and expertise.
Friday evening, October 15
5p.m.: Opening reception at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.Guest
speaker: Ned Rorem, who will begin with a reading of an article
he wrote in 1982, "13 Ways of Looking at a Critic," and
continue with his updated views of criticism, followed by questions
and general discussion.
9:00: Welcome: Andras Szanto, director, National
Arts Journalism Program, Columbia University
9:15: Keynote speaker: James Conlon, music director
designate of the Ravinia Festival.A conductor reflects on criticism
from the receiving end - and from both sides of the Atlantic
10:15: The Right Words: Adapting Language to Describe
an Ever-Changing Art.Moderator: Ara Guzelimian, artistic adviser,
Carnegie Hall Participants: Osvaldo Golijov, Meredith Monk, Mark
Swed (Los Angeles Times)
As the vocabulary of music changes, so must the vocabulary we use
to write about it. The early 20th century critic Louis Elson (quoted
in the symposium introduction) was evidently thinking of 19th century
definitions of "melody" when he accused Debussy of lacking
any. Do we run the risk of repeating that mistake when we sling
around terms like "development," "harmony,"
and "climax?" And how do we convey the novelty of sounds?
11:30: Serious Music Today: Speaker: John Rockwell,
Cultural Critic, New York Times. In his essay, "Serious Music
Today," Rockwell argues that "classical" and "serious"
are no longer synonymous, and that music critics need to open themselves
up to that fact. The dominance of pop music today and the emergence
of journalism online has created a new environment for the critic.
1:30: Speaker: Joseph Horowitz, who is writing
a book on Classical Music in America. Horowitz presents his essay
"Criticism at the Crossroads," on the historical shift
in the assumptions underlying the profession of classical music
critic. Horowitz argues that American classical music degenerated
into a culture venerating the act of performance more than the act
of creation, and that the time has returned when the critic should
be a "doer and an organizer" on behalf of the music they
2:15: Looking Back to Look Ahead: How Music Criticism
Has Changed in 100 Years Moderator: Alan Rich, Los Angeles Weekly.
Participants: Anthony Tommasini, New York Times; Tim Page, The Washington
Post; Greg Sandow, NewMusicBox.org; Barbara Zuck, Columbus Dispatch.
Do music critics serve the same function that they did in earlier
times? Have the increasing constraints of journalism forced us to
become less detailed and more general? We ask a panel of experienced
critics what role music criticism can play in today's fragmented
and competitive society.
3:45: Who Are We, Anyway? Presentation of Early
Results from the First-Ever Survey of Classical Music Critics in
North America. Willa Conrad, Music Critic, New Jersey Star-Ledger;
Lawrence McGill, director of research and planning, Cultural Policy
and the Arts National Data Archive, Princeton University Center
for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies.
4:30: The Gatekeepers' View: Editors Discuss Changing
Paradigms in the Arts Beat Moderator, Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times
Participants to include John Habich, Fine Arts Editor, Newsday;
Chris Lavin, senior editor for special sections, San Diego Union-Tribune;
Jim Oestreich, Classical Music & Dance Editor, New York Times;
Manuela Hoelterhoff, editor, Bloomberg Muse Each newspaper has an
unique vision of arts coverage, yet there is also an understood
national standard. This panel explores five views of arts coverage,
what factors determine how much coverage is accorded to classical
music vs. the other arts and why, and what new areas of knowledge
and journalistic skills an effective classical music critic must
9.00: The Limits of Style: Do Non-American Critics
Write More Freely? Moderator: William Littler, Toronto Star.
Participants: Shirley Apthorp, Financial Times (Berlin); Charles
Michener, New York Observer; Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times
(New York); John Allison, Opera and New York Times; Renaud Machart,
Le Monde (Paris)
"Where is style?" Stephen Sondheim asks in "A Little
Night Music." He might have been addressing today's North American
music critics,whose writing leans toward the careful and the mild,
rather than the colorful and even provocative means of expression
European critics enjoy using. How can our writing appeal more directly
and powerfully to the reader? We explore the topic with some of
the finest stylists in our profession.
10:30: Writing New Music: Composers and Presenters
Take the Floor. Moderator: George Steel, executive director, Miller
Theatre at Columbia University
Participants: Michael Gordon, founder of Bang on a Can; Welz Kauffman,
executive director, Ravinia Festival, Chicago; Jane Moss, vice president
for programming, Lincoln Center, New York How must the protocol
of how music is presented change in order to survive? This panel
explores new ways of thinking and experiencing classical music.
1:15: Teaching Critics: The Place of Journalistic
Criticism in Undergraduate and Graduate Studies. Moderator: Scott
Burnham, Princeton University Participants: Walter Frisch, Columbia
University; Jan Swafford, Tufts University and author of Charles
Ives: A Life in Music; Johanna Keller, Syracuse University What
can critics teach musicologists, and vice versa? Where does the
interface between the two professions need to be made more porous,
and how might critical thinking be better injected into higher level
2:45: The Pulitzer Budges. Frank J. Oter, moderator.
Participants: Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle; Frank J. Oteri,
NewMusicBox.org; Gunther Schuller, composer.The Pulitzer Prizes
have adjusted the rules in order to elicit a broader range of submissions,
and actively encouraged the entry of musical theater works, film
scores and improvised or non-notated pieces. Does this represent
a rush of enlightenment or a dumbing
down? And are a few changes in wording enough to make a difference
in what sorts of music are deserving of prestige?
4.00: Now What? A Speculative Conversation on the
Critic of the Future Alex Ross, (The New Yorker) and Justin Davidson,
(Newsday) Summarizing three days of trend-spotting and debates,
two critics try to glean some lessons, both for themselves and their
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