Friday, August 9, 2013

A Few Thoughts on the Relevance of Music Reviews et cetera

(I could be speaking about any review of any type of art: music, visual art, dance, whatever, but since I specialize in music reviews, in the body of this posting, I'll refer to music reviews specifically.)

I'll cut to the quick. I think music reviews are relevant to the people who read them.

For whom are they intended? Well, I can't speak for any other music critics, but I write my reviews for two different people:

  1. The performer. As a pianist, I know that despite my presence and participation in the process, I am still not in a position to give anything resembling an accurate appraisal of how the performance went; I'm too busy and self critical while I'm playing to focus on that. Plus, I want you to buy tickets, so despite whatever I might be feeling, I'd probably still tell you that the concert was excellent and you should see me at my next performance.
  2. A prospective concertgoer. I am a child of the late 20th century, and, like most people like me, I want things to be easy. I don't like surprises. I like to know what I'm getting before I buy it. Shy of watching a video recording of a performance, reading a detailed, fair review by someone I trust is the best thing I can do to decide if I want to see X performer.
I try to include information in my reviews that would help the performer ascertain the quality of a performance in absence of a recording. In this case, I argue that a review is relevant because most recordings still fail to capture and re-communicate the sense of the mood in the hall, or the effect of a performer on the audience.1 Some moment of spontaneity that intrigued or excited the audience or performer, though still captured by the recording, might not adequately render the impact, or the context the way an intelligent reviewer could using descriptive language. I try to include that same information–the attempt to convey part of a sense of the overall effect of a performance–for the sake of the prospective viewer as well.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has a famous "summer home" in Ravinia Park, Illinois, and they play a lot of summer concerts there, they have a guest conductor, and there are many solo concerts performed as well, often on the same night as the orchestral concerts in a different on-site venue. This year there were many young new performers I wanted to see in those smaller concerts. I haven't gone to a single one so far. I really wanted to, but the motivation to get out and try something new and unfamiliar wasn't strong enough to make me pack up my stuff, fight traffic all the way out to Ravinia, and fork over $10-20 to sit and watch a performance that might not be rewarding to me. Like I said, I'm a child of the late 20th century–I, and everyone like me is "busy". There's "hardly any time for my own stuff," let alone time to be trying anything new. 

Granted, the way I found out about these performers was from looking at music competition sites, or YouTube, or Spotify. I've seen recordings of some of them play, and that's helpful, but if I'd had access to informative reviews, from trusted sources, which captivated my imagination or excited me, I might have had the motivation to fight the uphill battle and go and see some of these people, but they weren't always available.

1For a recording that does convey the effect of a performance, you're really talking documentary material. For example, the 1986 Horowitz in Moscow recording.

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