selecting concert reviews…

So now I’m confronted with the task of finding concert reviews in my archives for my homepage/blog. Back in the glorious times of self-denial, I claimed that I didn’t bother about reviews – this cannot have been true, of course. There is in fact a collection somewhere, or rather, heaps of snippets spread over the house’s dark corners. I’ll have to look…

One thing about reviews is that an artist always has a second opinion, even if they are entirely complimentary: I sat there, making the music, so who is the expert? This becomes, of course, most clear in cases where the reviewer just isn’t up to the task: during 14 years of chamber music concerts in West Sweden, one learns to know the people who need help. After the concert, a member from our ensemble would sit down together with the reviewer to help her or him interpret the programme notes appropriately and to correct the spelling of the composer’s and artist’s names. Such help is no guarantee, of course: for example, none of the reviews of a series of some ten concerts with Bach’s triple concerto on the programme mentioned the harpsichord more than in passing – the point being that none of the reviewers had noticed the fact that there were three solo instruments in this piece with a hard-working harpsichordist among them, as opposed to just one solo violin. I console myself with the thought that had I played badly, they would have noticed.

It is harder to accept those cases where a reviewer does not really understand what (s)he is writing about, especially, when said reviewer otherwise is a well-informed person. A journalist with a broad musical background, especially known for his engagement for contemporary music, once described the e-major Prelude and Fugue of J.S. Bach’s WTC II as a perfect example of “white music” (perhaps he meant something like intellectual and pure with this term). But why would the same person in the same review dismiss the “French Ouverture” as a series of uninteresting casual small pieces? A mere look at the part-writing in these pieces would have put him on a better track, of course. Yet, I can’t quite figure how an experienced music reviewer could not actually hear how intricately and artfully Bach put together these “short” pieces. Do I really read on to find out what this person has to say about my playing? (yes, I do…but still).

The most careful review of my playing I ever saw was written by a colleague (see Jonathan Rhodes Lee’s review on my reviews page). He knew the pieces and he knew how a good harpsichord can sound in a hall, so he could write directly about the things that mattered: could he hear what my intentions were, did I do these intentions justice, did they appeal to him? And yet even here, his remarks about “warming up to the instrument/music/situation”) can be read in various ways: was it only the performer who warmed up, was it the reviewer who needed to settle into listening mode, or was the order of repertoire responsible for the warming-up – and if so, responsible in which way: for the performer who maybe got ever more comfortable or for the reviewer whose favorite repertoire perhaps came toward the end of the recital?

So why do we persist in believing that the homepage-posting of review snippets is important for our presentation? Simple answer: because ‘no reviews’ looks like we never played anywhere.

3 Responses to “selecting concert reviews…”

  1. Jon-o’s Land of Nefarious Delights » Blog Archive » Concert reviews Says:

    […] wrote an article about choosing concert reviews to post publicly on a website, which bears […]

  2. Thomas D Says:

    You could also post your review of the review … or, to be perhaps more diplomatic, your opinion of how the concert went, if this is relevant to understanding the reviewer.

    The review should not be the last word – but neither should the performer always give it to himself.

  3. skowroneck Says:

    [@ Thomas] I might indeed. Or post some more on the subject: I found the folder with reviews and programme notes at last, am reading through them right now. More stories ahead, I fear.
    [@ Jon-o] The problem with no reviewers showing up – we’ve got that even over here. I actually just noticed that I am having trouble finding reviews fresher than 2003. That’s silly because in 2004/2005 my ensemble has been playing tons of concerts, including wacky places like Stockholm and Cadiz (Spain). Seems, also, that the reviewers who still come haven’t been eating their porridge recently or something, their stuff gets ever thinner.

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