Monday, March 10, 2008


It appears that yet another critic has either skipped a concert, or dashed out in the middle of a concert, or, and let's be charitable, although the chances be slim, simply made a mess of a review. The paper has not responded with an explanation or formal correction, but has instead allowed the online copy to "correct itself", albeit over several stumbling revisions which have been duly noted by readers. While the substance of the matter is trivial, or at least trivial to all of us outside of opera culture, the Parterre Box blog gets the journalism right:

True, Holland’s gaffe is not so grave as to bamboozle a nation into a bloody and futile war, but, on the other hand, Judith Miller never mistook Saddam Hussein for Valerie Plame.

I believe that the standard for critics is well-established: you can't write a review of a concert you haven't physically attended for the complete duration. It's possible to get around this -- by previewing a concert, or by being upfront if you chose to duck out early or for an emergency at some point -- but the standard is so well-known and prior examples of critics getting fired for this are equally well-known that it is a bit of a shock to encounter it once again. The biggest problem here with the uncommented online corrections is that, for everyone aware of the corrections, the credibility of the entire review, and with it, the reviewer, must be called into question until an explanation comes.

On the lighter side, I'm sure that we'll soon be treated to an entertaining new item by A.C. Douglas in praise of Mr. Holland, which should be further evidence that Douglas's blog is, in fact, parody.

Update: the most recent Times correction reads: "Correction: March 11, 2008
A music review on Saturday about the Opera Orchestra of New York, at Carnegie Hall, misidentified the singer who performed a duet with Aprile Millo. The singer was Stephen Gaertner, not Dolora Zajick. The review also misidentified the work they performed. It was “Mira, di acerbe lagrime” from Verdi’s “Trovatore,” not a duet from Bellini’s “Norma.” (The errors resulted from the reviewer’s confusion over his notes.)" This reads as if a very tolerant editor is at work -- can you really imagine that after having heard a male-female duet, one would not question notes which change the gender of one of the singers?


Civic Center said...

I love everything about this story, and la cieca's Judith Miller/Saddam Hussein/Valerie Plame analogy vis a vis the Bernard Holland/Deborah Voigt/Aprile Millo mixup was a classic piece of humor.

I've started getting free tickets for concerts from local organizations like the San Francisco Symphony and the Other Minds Music Festival, but after a few incidents where I was bored silly at a concert, and didn't have a single damned interesting thing to say about it afterwards, I've been careful not to ask for press tickets unless I'm pretty sure I'm going to want to stick around for the whole concert, and even more importantly, get pleasure writing about it for others. This is one of the reasons I tend to prefer intelligent, unpaid bloggers' accounts more than paid journalists/reviewers.

Daniel Wolf said...

sfmike --

I agree with you entirely. If we value music making as an activity, then the default setting for public discourse about music making ought to be one of trust.

aaron hynds said...

I completely agree with your notion that A.C. Douglas's blog must be some cruel kind of satire. My theory: it "A.C. Douglas is the code name for Bernard Holland, who's trying to conquer all forms of written press with his garbage.