"Only a Website" - reflections on prejudice and discrimination *
"I still think that websites are far more relevant than press at the moment - I don't know ANY musicians my age that read concert reviews in the national press" Aleks Szram 2008
Oliver Knussen and Magnus Lindberg were featured guests of honour there, both of them accessible and easy to talk with. But when after the opening event we introduced ourselves to Salonen, as visitors from London representing Seen & Heard, he responded with three words, "only a website", as he turned away to talk to more interesting people.
* Meeting Esa-Pekka Salonen again, October 2010, and reminding him of his disinterest in 2000, he conceded that internet reviewing had become important in the last decade...
The words "only a website" have imprinted themselves on our consciousness, and their implications continue to dog internet reviewers, with not infrequent reminders that we are considered second class critical citizens.
Responses received to "Only a Website":
Excellent article. "Only a Website" will remain as a classic for our times. The arrogance, the petty pedantry of EPS is characteristic of so many contemporary 'performers' and, some composers. I don't know whether it is venality or bumbling mediocrity.
This needed saying and I'm so glad you said it with such elegance. As a fellow reviewer I can endorse the experience of prejudice and the fact that 'European' and American organizations are more welcoming. - - Richard Morrison (The Times 20 April) quoted Tony Hall enthusing about the ROH £10 Mondays scheme as a huge success even though out of the 24,000 who wanted them, only 1,000 actually got tickets ""What's essential is that we then know the online whereabouts of 20,000 new people. That transforms marketing."
As one of the busiest concert promoters around the country, I regard your type of site to be the future of concert reviewing, and to be taken very seriously - - I was surprised to discover the high proportion of internet bookings that are made by audience members at the South Bank. The SBC website is the primary source of information and bookings for over 80% of their audience....the "silver surfer" phenomenon. (Indeed, the Philharmonia orchestra sells 90% of its tickets for sbc concerts themselves, through their website.)
Thus, I would suggest that online reviewing is just as
important as the national newspapers. After all, an audience member is
unlikely to buy more than one newspaper, but may be interested to read many
reviews online. Very best of luck, and congratulations.
"Only a website" is such a cutting, nasty putdown, yet probably said with little thought at all for what those three words mean.
Newspapers are an established source of criticism, review, and commentary. They thus enjoy considerable symbolic power that confers legitimacy on those employed and reviewed by them. It is this that Salonen and others of his ilk seek to purchase by submitting their activities to the authority of the established press.
What Salonen should do is to examine critically the intellectual and discursive substance of this criticism. If this were done, it would be quickly apparent that established journalism and criticism frequently lacks those tools of analysis and critical penetration that are presumed to be theirs. This requires from readers a more critical engagement in processes of criticism, in order to properly evaluate the credentials of the critical community. Indeed, surveying critically the product of many reviewers raises serious questions concerning their qualifications to make critical judgement. It is thus the quality of the journalism and the quality of the criticism that should interest us, not its source.
The extent of snobbery and condescension that exists in the classical music world never ceases to amaze me, to the extent that I wonder if the primary appeal of such an aesthetic sphere is, for many protagonists, intrinsically linked to such qualities of aloofness and superiority? The internet, for all its problems, has so far proved something of a democratising force in many fields of life, enabling the widest range of information and opinion to be made available to a wide range of people all over the world. Reviews on websites have a durability that generally exceeds that of those in national newspapers, and as websites gain reputations many interested parties regularly click onto them to read with interest about recent concerts and recordings, some of which don't receive coverage elsewhere.
Some might suggest that there does not exist such a level of 'quality control' in the field of website criticism as is the case in the commercial press. I am by no means convinced that the press evinces such a consistently high level of quality either. Websites allow many possibilities that are not available to newspapers and periodicals; the pressure for snappy sentences and trite metaphors is much reduced, a practically unlimited amount of space which allows for reproduction of score excerpts, programme notes, any number of photographs, and potentially audio (or even video) excerpts as well, not to mention links to other related websites.
I obviously have to declare an interest here, as a great many of my own concerts and CDs have been reviewed Musical Pointers. Nonetheless, I continue to find immensely impressive the extent to which you will take the trouble to seek out concerts that aren't just put on at the most prestigious venues, and take an interest in younger or less-established performers and composers, not to mention unusual and innovative programming. Many arts editors and critics turn their noses up at these things, drawn as they are as much to the aura of the 'star' performers and the rarefied atmosphere of the most plush established venues where they can hob-nob with those 'in the know'.
I think there is another agenda involved with respect to Salonen's comments, or the refusal of one pianist to grant complementary tickets as you were reviewing for a website. These people think of themselves as part of some privileged elite of specialists, including a few hallowed critics who have been bestowed with prestige by virtue of their position. To them, the views and opinions of those outside this elite sphere don't count. This point of view is arrogant in the extreme, and only contributes to the increasing marginalisation of classical music in the wider world.
I don't think these people have or should have a monopoly on musical opinion, nor do I find a lot of their self-serving and navel-gazing style of writing (often consciously designed to exclude non-specialists) does much to help convey classical music to a wider public. The alternative does not have to be some sort of dumbed-down 'with it' style of discourse that concentrates mostly on the ephemeral aspects of music-making (image, hype, etc.). It is possible, I believe, to convey the very impact of compositions and performances, their emotional import, meaning and relevance in terms of people's lives and broader cultural concerns, in a manner which will resonate with non-specialists but goes beyond flowery description. It would be rash to make exalted claims for the role of websites in being able to achieve such an end, but they can certainly play a part in this respect. Those who choose to ignore this will inevitably find themselves left behind.
I'm moving away from the view that websites are necessarily seen as 'second class' - - read many of the online music groups and you will often find that web journalists are more highly regarded than their paper equivalents - - In some ways, what you say about overseas organizations being more responsive is true - - (more responsive to requests than UK/US organizations because they want English language reviews). It is also a fallacy to suggest that web reviews have limited exposure: they don't - - at ENO the person behind me was quoting to his neighbour at some length a review on S&H - - it is, of course, difficult to persuade some arts organizations that this is true.
- - Mine appeared in print today, cut, alas, with the result that the section on Francesca da Rimini reads differently from my intensions - such, I'm afraid, is the nature of print journalism as opposed to websites. (TA re The Guardian 12/06)
See also re The Observer's coverage of Prom 5, 2007:
The Observer's review of this concert is interesting in the context of the ongoing debate about paper v. web reviewing.
Jiri Belohlavek - Photograph: BBC
Mahler's Eighth - 1959 & 2010
Occupied elsewhere that First Night, we listened to the Mahler 8 on Radio 3 Listen Again and will continue to do so from time to time through the season.
Many hearings of the 8th since then (on CD and live) have been disappointing to the extent that I had come to rate it lower than most of Mahler's other symphonies.**
This Jiri Belohlavek/BBC performance renewed my faith in it.
I have sampled the performance also on the BBC's TV recording but, after having taken in the scene and seen how the massed musicians and soloists look (not all of them photogenic in close-up), I found the experience better on sound only, taken in three parts, and outdoors in the summer sunshine...
Heresy? Well, times change, and the BBC imposes its own decisions on the media. Fewer live concerts for Musical Pointers to attend in the summer will spare more time for the proliferation of discs to be considered for review...