Print Media Dämmerung

Three recent events involving newspaper writing about classical music:

  • November 12, 2017: New York Times devotes its Sunday classical page to an upcoming album of pop songs sung by a former opera singer.
  • November 12, 2017: Philadelphia Inquirer devotes its classical page to a preview of upcoming new music events in Philadelphia.
  • November 16, 2017: David Patrick Stearns announced on his blog that he is accepting a buyout from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I’m not saying there is an causal relationship among these events. But the juxtaposition of the two Nov. 12 articles was striking – by wasting the limited space available for classical music that day, the Times seemed parochial compared with the Philadelphia paper.

I am sad to see David Patrick Stearns go. His writing annoyed me, it pleased me, it offered me fresh insights – sometimes all in the same article. But it was always solid and thoughtful writing and never boring. He will be greatly missed.

“Nobody is Meant to Clap”

“Nobody is meant to clap, and the music is not presented to an audience for approval; rather, it is meant to guide the mind out of the building into unseen heights and depths”

– from Nico Muhly’s piece in the NY Times on choral music.

This is a big part of why I so love the Emmanuel Music performances of my motets in the context of the liturgy at Emmanuel Church.

There’s a second performance of the St. Matthew Passion at Emmanuel tomorrow, 4/2 at 3 pm. (Probably OK to clap.) Check out this preview video:

Snow Day Miscellany

I have finished my Oboe Quintet for La Fenice (premiere June 9 at the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival), so I have a moment to post about a few things on this snowy, icy day in Philadelphia.

– The performance of my Three Folk Hymns at UC San Diego by Susan Narucki and Donald Berman is coming up on March 15. More info here.

Peggy Pearson and members of the Daedalus Quartet will give the Philadelphia premiere of my Oboe Quartet in a concert at Penn on Friday, March 24th at 8. This happens in Rose Recital Hall in Fisher-Bennett Hall at 34th and Walnut. There will be a new piece by my Penn colleague Anna Weesner on the program as well. Preview the piece with the score here and audio here.

– In less happy news, the evaporation of classical music coverage at the New York Times continues.  The decline of the Times – what used to be called “the newspaper of record” –  is particularly distressing. The “moments” – highlights of the week’s events – that have been appearing in the Saturday edition are better than nothing, I guess, but “moments” are exactly what classical music is not about. The Times seems to aspire to be a guide to date night instead of reporting cultural news – the recent spring preview was pathetically sparse. Readers look to the Times for depth and breadth, but neither of those seems to be a priority now. I don’t subscribe to the Times for more white space around the articles and bigger pictures – more words, please! While coverage of major organization continues – so far, new productions at the Met are still covered, and the Philharmonic gets reviewed every week – smaller events, often the ones that involve new music, the kinds of thing that give New York’s musical life its rich texture, no longer have a presence in the paper. And let’s not get started on jazz coverage. The thinning out of content is happening in other parts of the paper – the editorial pages and pages 2 and 3 are now affected. Alex Ross is typically eloquent on the broader picture.

Cutback in Arts Coverage at the NY Times

Here’s a letter to the New York Times I wrote concerning the awful cutbacks in arts coverage in the Weekend Arts section:

To the editor:

I am appalled by the horrific cuts in coverage of the arts instituted by the Times. What I want as a subscriber is broad coverage of a wide range of arts events, including classical music and jazz, not a section that is overwhelmingly dominated by movies. I don’t care if a concert does not have additional performances, I want to read about it because I rely on the paper not as a guide to date night, but for thoughtful contributions to a critical conversation about the performing arts. By failing to cover a broad range of performances – including more than just the major institutions like the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic (although you seem to not even be covering them now) – you deny your readers a comprehensive picture of the performing arts in New York in all its variety and vitality. You are not doing your readers any favors by cutting back the Listings to “the most timely and important performances”. Are readers of the New York Times really so naive as to need “Critic’s Picks” labels and an easily digestible “Listings” section that offers only a small fraction of New York’s huge array of “timely and important performances”?

The New York Times is doing its readers and the performing arts a tremendous disservice with these cutbacks, and I hope you will reconsider your plans.

If you feel similarly, please write to .

[UPDATE: The Saturday Times now has a page devoted to classical music reviews. I wonder if this bundling scheme lets classical music reviews have more of an impact, rather than having them dispersed here and there throughout the week – or if it means classical is being yet again ghettoized rather than being integrated into regular life? It remains to be seen if classical reviews will only be printed on Saturdays…]

[UPDATE #2: I received a quick and gracious reply from the Times, reprinted here with permission.]

Thank you for the note. Please know that we take your comments seriously.

Did you have a chance to see the Arts section today? We had a cover story and full page of classical music coverage inside. We’ll be dedicating a page like that to classical music every Saturday going forward. And of course we’ll continue to run important reviews and news over the course of the week. We believe this will provide serious concertgoers a reliable destination while also giving more casual readers and easier point of entry into this part of our report.
My best,
Blake Wilson
Senior Editor, Culture

And here is my reply:

Thank you for your speedy and gracious reply. Yes, I was relieved to see the classical music reviews and Critic’s Notebook piece in the Saturday paper. I’m not certain if aggregating events by field on a particular day gives that field more impact (by occupying more page real estate, albeit only once a week) or less impact because events are not integrated into the daily conversation of the paper.

I remain concerned that fewer events are receiving coverage, either in the form of a review or a listing of events, and that what does get covered will inevitably be the big organizations – the Met, the Philharmonic – rather than a fuller view of New York’s musical life in all its splendid variety. Is there a possibility of a truly comprehensive listing of events being posted online? The direction of the print edition seems to be tilting toward the “casual reader” as you put it, rather than the “serious concertgoer”. Perhaps online material can help strike a healthier balance.

I also wonder what will be happening with coverage of jazz.

Here’s hoping the Times finds ways to offer broad and deep coverage of music, welcoming to the casual reader, but comprehensive in its vision of the city’s musical life.

Excellent and Not So Much

The New York Times ran a piece about women composers – excellent idea. But why is there only one living composer mentioned? By structuring the piece as a “history”, the article perpetuates the misunderstanding of classical music as something that happened rather than a living presence, and it is supporting the work of women active today that is the best hope for changing the culture.

Here are links to a just a few of the female American composers in whose work I am interested that might help supplement the article a bit; of course you could add myriads more to the list, let alone those working overseas. (I beg pardon of those colleagues I am forgetting to mention. Please list other names in the comments.) Wikipedia has a list of 20th century American women composers here.

Eve Beglarian
Yu-Hui Chang
Shi-Hui Chen
Marti Epstein
Stacy Garrop
Tania Leon
Missy Mazzoli
Shulamit Ran
Laura Schwendinger
Augusta Read Thomas
Melinda Wagner
Anna Weesner
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

Yes, program the excellent Clara Schuman piano trio (just as an example), but the first priority should be to program music by living women.

Friday Afternoon Miscellany

  • through November 30, listen to the Minnesota Opera’s production of Paul Moravec‘s latest opera, The Shining, here.
  • Hear the U. S. premiere of Richard Wernick‘s … and a time for peace, with Katherine Kracht, mezzo-soprano, and the American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein on November 18 at Carnegie Hall.
  • The NY Times is planning to cut its writing on the arts, according to a piece linked to by ArtsJournal. This is terrible news for classical music in general and new music in particular. The latter will be especially hard hit by the paper’s apparent preference to avoid covering one-night alone performances. The point of music criticism is not so much to provide information about date night options, but to contribute to a conversation around the art and the artists. Perhaps sites like this can help, but even such sites tend to cover the big institutions, which are not always where the greatest – or at least not the only – musical interest may be found.

Ways of Listening

You may have noticed the link at the end of the recent NY Times review of the Tanglewood performance of my Dark the Star – it takes you to a YouTube posting of a track from the Bridge recording of the piece. The recording is by William Sharp, baritone, the 21st Century Consort, and Christopher Kendall, conductor. You really should pick up a copy of the disc (there are links to do that at the Bridge website), but if you disdain physical media (and paying artists for their work!) and want to hear the piece from the beginning, go here. Dark the Star consists of nine movements played without pause, which means the separate videos for each track of the piece interrupt the flow in disconcerting ways, sometimes in mid-phrase – another reason to spring for the physical disc. The pieces from the Sacred Songs cd featuring soprano Susan Narucki are also on YouTube – here’s the first track from the cycle Holy the Firm.

Another way of listening to my work is to visit the audio excerpts link above. I’ve just posted two items:

– under solo voice, you can find the recent premiere of Shadow Memory, with soprano Lisa Williamson and pianist Rami Sarieddine, recorded at SongFest this past June. The piece is on a text by Susan Orlean.

– under instrumental, you’ll find the Oboe Quartet I wrote for Peggy Pearson and the Apple Hill Quartet, this taken from their performance at St. Paul’s in Brookline, MA this past spring.

And, yes, I was thinking of this title when I titled this post, though not of the book’s content.

George Walker at Mannes

George Walker’s music was heard at the Mannes Beethoven Institute recently, and you can read reviews of the performances at The New Criterion and the NY Times.

I will be teaching a graduate seminar on piano music since 1945 this fall at Penn, and I plan to include one of Walker’s sonatas on the syllabus. He is a virtuoso pianist as well as an excellent composer, so his piano music is of special interest. I was intrigued to read in the New Criterion piece an explanation for the remarkable second movement of Walker’s Sonata No. 3, which is built on a single chord played played 17 times, with various dynamics and durations: it was inspired by a bell Walker heard when in residence at the Rockefeller Foundation in Bellagio, on Lake Como.

City Opera and American Culture

For all of the dearly departed New York City Opera’s contributions to American culture, the 30 or so new operas it presented were never really among them. Seen Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Most Important Man” or Thea Musgrave’s “The Voice of Ariadne” lately? Neither have I.

– Zachary Woolfe, New York Times, June 16, 2014

Does it not seem odd to dismiss 30 operas not just without having seen them – but because you haven’t seen them?

Given the problem of the second performance that I have written about more than once on this blog, the number of performances of a piece should not be taken as the measure of that piece’s worth – it’s not that there is no relationship, it’s just not a reliable yardstick.