06. May 2010 · 4 comments · Categories: News

The cold fluorescent light shining down on Franz Welser-Möst stands in stark contrast to the exalted glow in which Clevelanders usually see him: leading the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall in the great symphonies that define European musical history. But in a deposition from July 2009, the conductor looks straight ahead, his face expressionless as he responds to a lawyer’s drill of questions.

After a series of basic queries about Welser-Möst’s life and career, the proceedings veer sharply toward the matter at hand: the steady criticism of Welser-Möst’s performances by Plain Dealer music critic Donald Rosenberg.


So if I reviewer really doesn’t care for a conductor, should he be pulled from reviewing the orchestra? Can he review with unbiased ears? Should a newspaper be allowed to pull him off the job? Should an orchestra have the right to ask? (Am I coming close to asking the right questions?)



  1. The great fallacy of modern criticism is that it should be done in an unbiased manner. When someone pays me to write a review, they are paying for my opinion. What I thought of the concert is not fact as much as an impression that is open to debate.

    I should think that most critics wish their work to be the first parry in a lively discussion, not the final word.

    My music knowledge and writing skill mean I may express my thoughts in words more clearly than others (ideally) but I never would say my reviews are in any way objective.

    Some of the great criticism from the late 19th and early 20th century is hilariously biased….but then, the newspapers were much more in general as well.

    The rest of the questions I’m not keen on answering in public because Don is a colleague and I don’t have all the facts.

    I’m curious to know what others think of the bias question, though [if I may hijack the blog for a moment]

  2. Thanks so much for commenting! It’s good to get a reviewer’s opinion, even while I understand that you have to be somewhat careful. (Shouldn’t we all, not knowing the “all of it”?)

    So if I’m understanding you correctly, would you then say that if a reviewer absolutely despises Debussy she can still review a work of his? I’m always curious about things like this … how you deal with things you simply can’t stand!

    Of course it can go the other way, too. There was a reviewer back in the 80s who really thought I could do no wrong. There was only *one* review that came close to saying something negative, and it was “Even Patricia Emerson Mitchell wasn’t up to her usual standard,” or some such thing. (I got the feeling he really didn’t want to hurt my feelings, but, truth be told, my performance was absolutely horrible that night!)

    Ah, reviewers! We love you. We hate you. And boy can you make some of us cry! 🙂

    Funny Fact: The only review I have by memory is this, “The overture was marred only by the bland English horn playing.”

    (There’s a story behind the blandness … and it WAS bland … but that’s beside the point. It’s doubtful that a reviewer would know the issue, and we can’t whine about stuff like that. Oh … and no, it wasn’t my reed!)

    I’m gonna guess others won’t jump in here, but I sure wish they would!

  3. This is a very sad story. The arts in general are struggling, and this level of infighting only makes things worse. It may not always look like it, but critics are artists are on the same team (if you’ll forgive the sports metaphor) – if interest in classical music dwindles, they both suffer. If they’re spending this much time and effort bickering with each other, they’ve clearly lost track of the big picture.

    Honestly: artists and critics involved with lawyers and depositions? It would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic.

    Here’s my take (as someone who is a performer and used to be a critic).

    To the orchestra management: critics have opinions and they write them down for people to read. It hurts sometimes, but it happens. Ultimately, it’s one person’s opinion, and you can’t get too attached to it, including (and even especially) when the opinion is favorable. In any event, trying to shut out a critic who is writing unfavorable reviews doesn’t reflect particularly well.

    To the editors of the paper: if your critic has become a one-note-johnny for a particular organization (whether that note be positive or negative), you might consider if your readers are best served by hearing the same opinion over and over again. It might be worth it to hear a different voice and a different perspective from time to time.

    To the critic: if you find yourself saying the same thing over and over again, you might consider changing up your assignment. It’s probably not doing you readers, or your career, any good.

    To answer your question, Patty: I think there’s a *huge* difference between having a bias against the composer and having a bias against the performers. Even if you despise Debussy, you can at least evaluate whether or not the performers are doing a good job bringing the work to life. If you despise the performers, it really doesn’t matter what they’re playing – the review is almost guaranteed to be negative.

    I don’t think a critic should necessarily be kept away in those cases, but to keep sending the same critic back to the same performers when there’s a clear negative bias seems like an exercise in futility, for all the parties involved.

  4. Thanks for joining in, Darin! I really appreciate hearing from you about this!

    I’m hoping even more folks will jump in … mostly people don’t comment at my blog. (I start to wonder if I should be keeping this up! It’s all so darn narcissistic. Hmmm. SIgh & double sigh.)

    Anyhooo .. enough of my rambling … I want other voices to jump in. 🙂