You Have a Question? I Have an Answer.

After a pretty innocuous, but informative, review of a disc of new-ish brass ensemble pieces, the Editor in Chief of ClassicsToday.com asks a stupefying question. No, it’s not David Hurwitz; he’s the Executive Editor and Advertising Manager, silly. I’m talking about the “Editor in Chief,” David Vernier. After informing us that he “knows” what composing is all about—admitting a stop by the New England Conservatory in the late 60’s (I bet that was a raucous time)—he has the audacity (as Editor in Chief) to ask this mind-boggling, foot-in-mouth question. The Editor IN Chief (Editor-in-Chief ["E.D.I.T.O.R." I.N. "C.H.I.E.F"]) asks:

Why have I avoided describing the actual music?

Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! (emphaticly raises hand) I know! Pick me!

Okay. Um...on one hand, I think I know the answer. On the other hand...well, this is ClassicsToday. But, here’s my best guess why you avoided describing the music (this is for you AnthonyS):

Rating System and Review Philosophy

Recordings are rated on a simple scale of 1 (unacceptable, no redeeming qualities) to 10 (superior, qualities of unusual merit) for both performance and recording. However, it's our belief that the performance rating far outweighs the significance of the sound rating. The best recordings are those in which the listener's attention is primarily drawn to the music itself. Great sound adds to your enjoyment of the music, bad sound interferes with it. In addition, most recordings from the early stereo era on can be remastered to sound acceptable, if not outstanding, on compact disc, and some of the best-sounding recordings ever made date from the late 1950s and early 1960s. So we see no point in withholding a 10/10 recommendation from a great recording of the past simply because it was made before modern digital recording techniques existed, provided that its sound has been carefully restored. Nor do we believe that a superb modern performance should be penalized unduly because it is not self-evidently an "audiophile" product. If the performance under review is truly exceptional and is supported by sound that neither artificially enhances, detracts from, nor draws attention away from the music, the critic may award a 10/10 rating.

The problem with any rating system, however cleverly devised, is that it tends to place undue emphasis on differences that ultimately may be trivial at best, and misleading or inconsistent at worst. The standard of classical music performance today is relatively high, and the difference between say, a 9 and a 10 may be self-evident to the critic, but either inaudible or irrelevant to another reviewer or to individual listeners. For this reason, whenever possible and appropriate, we include with each review a "reference recording" of the music in question. Wherever possible, critics will indicate their personal recording of choice in the repertoire under consideration. This recording may be old or new, still available or out of print. Our goal is to give you, the reader, the opportunity to make the same comparisons that our critics make when listening to the music. You should feel no compulsion to agree with our critics; in fact, disagreeing is equally important, because the ultimate purpose of ClassicsToday.com is to enable you to find the music and recordings that suit your personal taste. You do this by taking the advice of the critics you find sympathetic, and by ignoring the advice of the ones whose perspective leaves you cold. Either way, you learn how to pick and choose your way through the immense musical legacy that is our classical music culture.

In other words, there's nothing in the review philosophy that indicates you're supposed to review, i.e., judge, the music. So this is why you didn't describe the music. Right?


I knew it was too easy. Here’s the actual answer:

Because the words "ferocious fun" and "infectious" and even "impossible" [which were cited from the liner notes in the preceding parts of the review] are better than if I used the words "cacophony", "rhythmic riot", "harmonic black hole", or other imperfect terms, which may mislead some listeners to think that there's nothing here for them.



Did I get this right? You didn’t want to give me the wrong impression by using certain descriptive words. So you made it a point to use them when explaining this to me, thereby negating your original intent, meanwhile stomping all over the review philosophy. Or were you just softening your dislike of the music?

I don’t get it. And I don't care.

Editors, Davids, let’s make things easy, why don’t we? One, don’t use Hypophora; it wasn't an effective device. Two, just stick to the review philosophy so we won’t run into any more problems. Or, on the other hand, throw it in the trash (literally, not figuratively)—same result.


Empiricus said...

I think it's really unfortunate that the boys over at ClassicsToday don't respond to our scathing reviews of their work. I remember Felsenfeld nicely retorted, but where's Hurwitz?

Do they think that they're above response? Do they refuse to acknowledge us? Our criticisms? Do they think they're in the right?

I don't know, but I'd like to have some dialog with them. At the very least, they would be able to defend their positions or qualify their review philosophy, which is really the only thing I call 'em on.

Anyway, if you're out there ClassicsT guys, please stop by and let 'er rip. We can take it.

Anonymous said...

I read this review and I would have to say it is well written and accurate. Maybe Vernier is not responding because he is right. Impressive faculty list while he was studying composition at the conservatory: Gunther Schuller, Robert Cogan, Charles Wuorinen, Donald Martino, John Heiss, and, one summer, Milton Babbitt.

Empiricus said...

Mr./Ms./Mrs. Cereal,

I know I often take apart these guys rather harshly, but I almost never doubt their writing and the accuracy of their opinions. Heck, everyone has an opinion, and I'm fine with that.

What I hoped to make clear, which perhaps I wasn't (I don't think so, since I copied and pasted the entire review philosophy), was that their mandate, therefore their job, is to take apart the recordings and the interpretation of the music, NOT, NOT the music.

While I might agree with Vernier's assessment, I don't agree with how it happened, because I think the review philosophy is good, and perhaps not improvable.

Besides, I've studied with two of those guys, and met all the others, so I don't see Vernier's advantage.

Besides besides, saying that someone is right is...

Thanks for the comment.