I am almost finished reading Alex Ross’s new book, Listen to This. It is great to have his larger New Yorker pieces between hard covers, as well as the new material. He is our most important public intellectual for music, and because of his importance everyone who reads his work is dismayed that Alex’s interests do not precisely correspond with his or her own. After all, my interests are smack in the middle of the mainstream, right? “Too USA-centric!” “Why would he spend a whole chapter on Dylan?” (Well, yes, why would he?) “Not enough about _____ (fill in country/style/composer of choice).”
My own complaint is that Alex seems insufficiently interested in that broad range of musics that I suppose one could call “midtown” – John Harbison and Steven Stucky, Stephen Hartke and Melinda Wagner; Augusta Read Thomas and Eric Chasalow; Steve Mackey and Chris Rouse… (one could cite many more names – check “composers” under “links” above as just a start.) It’s the composers I have elsewhere called the “merely excellent” – there is nothing newsworthy about them, no catchy journalistic label (“midtown” is nearly meaningless) – just compelling music.
Nevertheless, you have to be grateful for the remarkable breadth that Alex’s writing does encompass.
Don’t forget to check out the supplemental material for the book here.