It’s best not to speak ill of other people, but…
On Sunday morning, Claude Gingras, Montreal’s last full-time classical music crtitic, on staff at French-language daily La Presse practically since the days of the Quiet Revolution, published a chronicle of his concert adventures during a one-day musical marathon organised by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra the day before.
La Virée classique (which translates as “a classical turn,” but officially rendered as “A Cool Classical Journey“) presented 20 45-minute concerts in the various halls and spaces that make up Montreal’s downtown Place des Arts, including the orchestra’s new Maison symphonique home. The fun began at 11 a.m.
Tickets were priced from $10 to $30 for serious programming that featured the MSO, its new Chamber Choir and guests, including the New Orford Quartet, the Canadian Brass, violinist Christian Tetzlaff, cellists Tanja Tetzlaff and Stéphane Tétrault, pianists Lars Vogt, Olga Gross and Marc-André Hamelin, and sopranos Aline Kutan and Marianne Fiset.
Gingras’ account started with a positive flourish: 15,000 people had attended, snapping up 95 per cent of the tickets. The critic noted that audiences at the 10 concerts he popped in on were made up mostly of older people, but populated with younger faces as well. More importantly, listeners were notable for their silent attention.
At this point, a critic faces some choices. Print space is always limited, so the practical solution is to produce an overall picture, focusing on one or two particularly fine (or awful) musical moments, providing some context for what made them so. Alternatively, the critic can write out a list that, by its nature, is not very descriptive.
Gingras chose the latter, turning his day’s musical promenade into the critic’s equivalent of a series of drive-by shootings. When my head stopped spinning, I was furious.
Fans of traditional print journalism accuse bloggers of impudence and lack of depth, but the bloggers I know and follow would be ashamed to cast out smears camouflaged as criticism. Yes, Gingras liked some performances, but didn’t explain those occasions any better than the ones he hated.
Here are some examples:
The Tetzlaffs and Vogt in Dvorák’s Op. 65 Trio played “with the best intentions, but without convincing me, as do musicians from the Slavic tradition.”
Le Bal masqé by Poulenc was “a nullity,” its text “absurd” and the singer “a sub-Souzay” (what’s that supposed to mean?).
Hamelin’s transcription of a Bach G-minor Prelude and Fugue for organ was “heavy and useless.”
Later, he returns to the Tetzlaffs in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto (with Vogt), dismissing their playing with a word that can translate either as gnashings or creakings.
If you can read French, help yourself to the full review here.
If this is what print reviews have come to, then bring on the bloggers.
I know that M. Gingras is not representative of the vast majority of professional critics and reviewers. So I have a few questions for you, gentle reader:
Do you secretly love to read scathing reviews?
Would it have been preferable for Gingras to focus on one or two things and, perhaps, just accentuate the positive? Or is a quill dipped in a tincture of vitriol part of what keeps criticism vital?
Please let me know what you think, either by leaving a comment or sending an email to suchacritic at gmail.