A Provocative Conductor's Provocative Book

Among the many interesting points of view in Erich Leinsdorf on Music (pub. posthumously in 1997 after Leinsdorf’s death in 1993) are these:

1.  The art of the daily music critic is undermined, and finally destroyed, by the “media machine”, hype and boosterism replacing authority.  This leads to…

2.  Poor and irrelevant music criticism because nobody likes to feel that their job is irrelevant, so the most potentially able critics find something else to do with their lives, and…

3.  There is a continually shrinking repertory of symphonic and operatic works because nobody can read a score without a recording anymore, and you can’t promote what you don’t know.

An interjection and partial objection:  New works are played all the time, in all sorts of places.  But wait a minute! Each work is played only once, or in one sequence, because a premiere has cache, not a second performance. So we have Brahms Symphony Nr. 1 with commissioned concerto or overture x, Brahms Symphony Nr. 1 with commissioned overture y; or by way of contrast, Brahms Symphony Nr. 1 with commissioned concerto or overture z.  (Caveat: a few ordained “stars” such as John Adams get the sort of exposure otherwise only enjoyed by the canonic masters.)  In fact, I suspect that some of the imprimaturred stars of today have a wider appeal among the general public than, say, the Viennese masters who wrote so much of their repertory for the elite.   Maybe the only person who loses is is that lonely individual who is tired of bing inundated with the core repertory, but whose taste in new works are precisely for elitist sorts of styles which seek a non-general audience.  But then, there are always CDs.  The sudden relative inexpensiveness of cd production coupled with the proliferation of small recording companies, and the  enduring commitment of fine musicians to the really tough works is some solace to that “lonely individual”.

As for the critics: we need better daily critics, more generally cultured, who write in a literary manner, not a journalistic manner, who are primarily musicians and therefore know what they are talking about, and who don’t try to promote the hand that feeds them.  Of course it is a case of “go along to get along”, and telling the truth ruffles many feathers.  I’ve been  to many Chicago Symphony performances that were routine or even sub-par, and which were rewarded with standing ovations.  I’ve also been to magnificent performances (last year’s Shosty 4 from CSO, or the Lyric Opera’s Dialogues of the Carmelites come to mind) which were similarly rewarded.  This equivalent response isn’t good manners, it’s lack of proper discrimination, and one of the roles of a critic is to help inculcate the proper discrimination, a role that can only be acquitted by a critic who knows the scores.  The scores! Not just the recordings of and commentaries on the scores.  There Leinsdorf has it right.