Critics Cringe: It’s Good If You Say So

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/bethwareham

Spoiler Alert: I am married to the man that wrote this book. I published the book; The New York Times did the editing. (Big shoutout! Less work for me.) None of that is interesting. What is of note is that I was sitting next to him as he listened to so many of the performances in this book.  I also watched as the world of classical music reacted to his reviews. Most days, they wanted to kill him. And that, folks, is a critic doing a job well. He or she is not there to make a bunch of friends.

Despite the ill will in the business, audience members often came up to him after a performance and wanted to know what he thought. He’d grunt a bit and say “what did YOU think?” When they responded, I never heard him put them down. He always said the same thing, “it’s good if you think it is.”

That is the point. Nothing matters but the individual having a reaction to the material and performer on stage. A “review” can tell you what happened, connect that moment to a longer continuum and give you a vague idea if it’s something you might like. Beyond that, critics really can’t do much for you because it’s about you.Your experience, in the end, is the only one that matters.

Because of him, I often traded in the soul-shattering work on Hendrix for the soul-shattering work of Wagner. My husband’s reaction? Made perfect sense to him because, as he said, “they are both great.” I got him to deconstruct the opening  chords of Baba O’Reilly. He taught the mean beauty of the opera Wozzeck, Lulu and Otello. I still remember Rusalka singing to the moon.  He wrote a piece comparing a Schubert song cycle to Bob Dylan’s 2001 masterpiece, “Ain’t Talkin.” I like to think I had a hand in that.

Like Alex Ross, the New Yorker critic who worked under Holland, these critics jump around, writing about classical as well as all the other music forms, though I’d say Holland is a boob when it comes to rap. These critics attach classical music to a larger world and that matters, that keeps it alive and moving. Holland, in particular, is always searching and reading about history, context, source material. It’s not a commitment to anything, it’s just his curious mind at work.

With Something I Heard, he put a long career of listening to music in one place so that an arc would appear. You’ll have to read it to see. (The ebook is in a promotion and available on amazon for coffee change.)

Is there a future for classical music? What a stupid question. If it’s good, there is. Even this aging rocker feels that Marta Argerich is as good as Tina Turner. Yeah, this is a divided house that stands.

To order: Something I Heard, click on the title.

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#somethingIheard makes twitter debut

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On Thursday, November 19 at 9:00 pm est, tune into the twitter account @shadowteams for a provocative discussion about capturing music in words, what we’re listening to and why. While we are not Bernard Holland and this isn’t as poetic and penetrating as Something I Heard, we can talk about the genius of writing short, using one art to describe another, and celebrate the sheer joy of shutting one’s mouth and listening to the music of those that came before us.

Thursday, November 19 9:00 pm  Use this hashtag #somethingIheard

See you then!  @shadowteams

 

 

 

THE ART OF WRITING SHORT

TIPS FROM A MASTER

Former New York Times Chief Critic Bernard Holland, author of

SOMETHING I HEARD, is much celebrated for his ability to capture a composer or performer in, what the San Francisco Chronicle called, “a few deftly chosen words.”

In an almost 30-year career at the New York Times, Holland had to make 400-word reviews sing nightly.

Few can do it.

(Another great practitioner was the late architecture critic at The New Yorker, Brendan Gill.)

In age of twitter and wordpress, you best be able to write short too.

Here are a few tips from a Master, or Maestro, whichever:

1.  Never state the obvious. For example, don’t start your piece with “I went to an important concert last night” We know it’s important or why would you be there?

2.  Write it, Read it. Cut it. Mercilessly (Awk! An adverb.) Take out every extra word that does not forward the action or thought.

3.  Use words, of course, but use the right word. Don’t use an obscure or big word to impress. Don’t use long phrases and write around the point. Choose the word that gets right on top of what you want to say – provocative or not – and press the button.

(Or in this case click on the book)Bernard Holland New York Times, Something I Heard, Bach, Mahler, music critic, music appreciation, classical music critic, Linda Ronstadt, American Orchestras, Yo-Yo Ma, The crowd shouted more Holland
We respond.

http://www.shadowteams.com/#!bernardholland/c17zu

http://shoutout.wix.com/so/cL38kuqT