Tuesday, September 4, 2012

New York Times demotes Allan Kozinn as music critic

Yesterday, Norman Lebrecht's blog Slipped Disc reported that the New York Times has demoted music critic Allan Kozinn to a new post called "general cultural reporter" in order to create a vacancy for the hiring of freelance music and opera critic Zachary Woolfe.

I'm only hearing one side of the story, of course, but still... the politics at the Times is disheartening. I've always enjoyed Kozinn's informative, engaging reviews, and always thought of him as a fair and insightful critic, so much better than some of the newer writers whose commentaries can seem so trite and obvious. Kozinn's articles have been an inspiration for my own blog posts even though I can never hope to achieve the depth of his knowledge and perspective.

The article was a bit cryptic about the inner machinations of the classical music department:
The reasons are purely internal. Culture Editor Jon Landman knows he has a problem in the classical department. The chief critic Anthony Tommasini is thought to have failed to win the confidence of New York’s opinion formers.
Most of the comments voiced support for Kozinn, including one from Paula (Kozinn's partner?) who described Kozinn's extensive preparation for reviews:
I’ve attended hundreds of performances with Allan, and he is always interested in what he’s hearing — no matter how many times he’s heard the piece or orchestra before, or what a weak rendition it is. He hears every note and all the variables. Rather than feeling bored, he’s fascinated by each nuance. That’s what makes him so good at what he’s been doing for so long.

And he doesn’t just go to the concerts and throw together a review. The day of the concert includes listening to various versions of the piece, revisiting the scores and the earlier (when they exist) and latest works by the performers, reading volumes of related information, researching links for the online version and sifting through old and erroneous info often put out by the groups themselves.

Our home is a library. He has built a priceless collection of music, scores and books. It is a very rare occasion that he needs to hear something and does not already have it ,here, in his collection (usually in many versions), no matter how new or obscure. Just taking photos of the walls of CDs and books would fill an album. To give you an idea of how extensive this is — just one part of his collection contains an estimated 180,180 CDs. We have an entire wall of scores, alone.

Not to take anything away from other writers, particularly Steve Smith and others who I have a great deal of respect for, no one can hold a candle to Allan in term of expertise. I see firsthand, that his entire day — every day — as well as vacations and days off are consumed by this passion of his.
One dissenter, Jane, said:
Get a GRIP!

For TOO LONG the NY Times contemporary classical reviews have completely lacked the diversity of opinion found in, for example, the book reviews. Reviews of every concert – as in literally ever concert – range from pretty good to amazing. Is there no bad music in New York? Really?

There is no objectivity in the writing. Kozinn (and even Smith) proudly “like” and back-slap the very people they’re writing about – on Facebook of all places – for all to see. The New York music scene has become a very chummy club between the reviewers and their subjects.

A contemporary composer can proudly post their Smith/Kozinn review to Facebook, tag the review onto the reviewers Wall, and get it “liked” back by the very same reviewer (or their partners). What message does that send out?

Just read all the posts on here and currently on Facebook. God forbid an independent critic is appointed.

Some professionalism and maybe training the NY Times reviewers on how to and how not to use social media might be a good idea. Alex Ross gets its right: there’s a “Chinese wall” attitude to his handling of his reviews and their subjects.

Indeed, I can't recall any negative classical music reviews (excluding opera) in the Times over the past few years so perhaps Jane has a point.  

At any rate, an online petition to reinstate Kozinn has gathered over 800 signatures here. We'll see how this  plays out.

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