And a diminuendo to you too

Complain about the conductor once too often, you’re off the orchestra beat:

For years the classical music critic at The Plain Dealer of Cleveland has taken shots at the conductor of his hometown orchestra, saying he lacks musical ideas and brings little life to many of the works he conducts. Supporters of the orchestra, one of the world’s best, and even some players have long complained about his opinions regarding the maestro, Franz Welser-Möst.

Now some people fear those opinions have been heard. The critic, Donald Rosenberg, has been removed from the symphony beat. A brief announcement in Sunday’s [9/21] Plain Dealer said that he had been reassigned to be an “arts and entertainment reporter.” Zachary Lewis, a former intern who worked with Mr. Rosenberg and recently joined the paper as an arts writer, was named to succeed him.

A sampling of the critic’s complaints:

[R]eferring to a “repressed” performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7, Mr. Rosenberg wrote, “Welser-Möst never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, neutralizing most of Mahler’s dramatic and poetic intentions.” Of a performance of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra in 2005, he wrote, “The performance wasn’t a matter of disagreeing with a conductor’s ideas but wondering if he had any view of the piece at all.”

This is fairly harsh stuff, I think, and while I haven’t gone back through the Plain Dealer archives, I suspect we’d have heard about it had the Plain Dealer‘s man at Severance Hall made so many complaints about Welser-Möst’s immediate predecessor, Christoph von Dohnányi.

Baltimore Sun critic Tim Smith blames orchestra boosters:

I imagine they dismiss as irrelevant the fact that the orchestra, while on tour, has been known to generate reviews by other critics expressing reservations about Welser-Möst. Of course, there’s nothing that can be done about out-of-town naysayers, but there’s always good old-fashioned lobbying that can be tried at home. That, it seems, has now been successful. The Plain Dealer has clearly caved into pressure from a faction representing the orchestra and the man on its podium. By silencing Don, those myopic folks must think they’ve achieved a great victory. They haven’t. They’ve made a venerable newspaper look cheap and act cowardly. They’ve made a sterling orchestra look a little less so.

And apparently there were naysayers even before Welser-Möst accepted the position in Cleveland:

[T]he London press loathed him.

It was the critics, not the orchestra, that wrecked his career at the time in the British capital; he kept talking about this nightmare era in interviews for years. It is not entirely clear how it happened, but seems to go back to his first-ever press conference for the LPO, which most of the critics left with the impression that FWM was arrogant, abrupt, inexperienced and so forth. All of which may have mean that he was just bloody nervous. But what’s certain is that the resident vipers developed a serious grudge which only got worse. The difference was, they didn’t lose their jobs — whereas eventually the unfortunate youth, after enduring five and a half years of printed hell, packed his bags earlier than intended.

Then again, there are a dozen newspapers in London covering the Philharmonic; only the Plain Dealer covers the Cleveland.


  1. McGehee »

    6 October 2008 · 9:10 am

    Cleveland has a symphony orchestra?

  2. CGHill »

    6 October 2008 · 9:20 am

    In fact, one of the Big Five American orchestras.

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