Monday, December 21, 2009

criticism year in review

I don't have anything to add to the multitude of best-of lists made by any number of excellent critics. But while all those print critics have compiled lists of the best recordings, musical events, performance venues, etc. it is it up to the members of the classical blogosphere to note the best examples of music criticism from 2009. I was going to do a top 10 list but would rather just point out a few (mostly classical) articles that stood out on the past year:

Alex Ross
's two outstanding feature articles, on the Marlboro Festival and fictional composers (I should note that I work for Alex and did some brief editing/formatting of the Marlboro article). I also enjoyed his Mahler piece. Truly great criticism allows one to re-evaluate his beliefs about a piece of music and come to a new understanding about a work. My first reading of The Rest is Noise had any number of those epiphanies, and one particular description in the Mahler article stands out to me: a moment in the first movement of the Ninth Symphony, "where a flute and a horn meander along fitfully intersecting paths, enacting the musical equivalent of a Beckett dialogue." This brief duet in the Ninth has always perplexed me, and this description essentially taught me how to listen to it.

I love all of Justin Davidson's articles in New York Magazine. Three pieces really stood out for me: a loving tribute to principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic, Stanley Drucker; a brilliant journey through In C; and one of the only recent non-academic articles I've read on the Ring which deals with it in a mature and thoughtful way, summing up a number of critical arguments, dispelling with myths, and engaging with the work in a personal but critical manner ("I adore the 'Ring,' but immersing myself in it involves a battle between reason and impulse, and I’m never sure which side I’m rooting for.")

Sidebar: I'm a bit annoyed that in their end-of-the-year summaries, not one Times critic--actually, no print critic I've read so far--mentioned Stanley Drucker's retirement. I'm all for getting final digs into Maazel, as Allan Kozinn did, but it's always nice to honor a living legend as well.

Third in my holy trinity of classical critics is Jeremy Eichler of the Boston Globe. He is the only critic whose weekly reviews of a local orchestra are consistently written with grace and wit (Alex and Justin are more "big picture" guys who don't review each New York Philharmonic concert). His criticism of the BSO Beethoven cycle minus Levine is commendable, and recently he wrote a wistful article on saying farewell to his CD collection. I highly recommend his chronicle of Schoenberg's stay in Boston and a beautiful remembrance of the late composer Leon Kirchner.

Favorite moments in online classical music:
-In which Richard Nixon calls Leonard Bernstein a "son of a bitch"
-Anne Midgette (honorary fourth member of my trinity) starting a blog
-Nico's and Amanda Ameer's battle with the new Alice Tully
-Pretty much anything Opera Chic and La Cieca write

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