Gregory Sullivan Isaacs. Photo by Robert Hart.
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Critic’s Critics Win

Blog: What does the case of Don Rosenberg mean for other arts reviewers?

published Sunday, August 15, 2010

If you have not been following the recent news of Don Rosenberg, here's a brief overview: He was the classical music critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and didn’t much care for the work of Cleveland Orchestra conductor Franz Welser-Möst. So his reviews turned (reportedly) mostly negative after the new Maestro took the podium.

Rosenberg was removed as a reviewer for the orchestra, which is one of the country's major orchestras, and was offered other groups to review—which he rightfully considered a demotion. He sued both the Cleveland Orchestra, who he felt pressured the newspaper to get rid of him, and his newspaper for caving in to that pressure.

He lost the case last week. Here is how the local media covered it in Ohio.

This whole affair is reminiscent of Claudia "Acidy" Cassidy, a caustic music, dance and drama reviewer at the Chicago Tribune (among other publications). In 1953, she ran Rafael Kubelik, Music Director of the Chicago Symphony, out of town. It caused quite a stir at the time. Still, Cassidy retained her job while Kubelik didn’t. Nobody sued anybody.

Fuming at bad reviews is part of the life of a performer. Nicolas Slonimsky’s laugh-riot of a book, Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven's Time, is a highly entertaining romp through the misjudgments of music critics.

Many artists have, at one time or another, received evil rants from dyspeptic critics with a personal ax to grind. The composer Gian Carlo Menotti famously quipped that critics had frequently ruined his breakfast, but never his lunch.

The Rosenberg situation, however, was not an occasional bad review or a grumpy personality. He had reviewed the symphony for decades and even wrote a book about its history. Apparently, he just did not like much of what Franz Welser-Möst did on the podium. Period.

This affair raises a quandary for critics. What do you do when a new conductor takes over who you think makes a mess of everything? As Rosenberg’s attorney, Steven Sindell, said to WCPN News in the above referenced story: "We believe, irrespective of what the jury may have thought, that Don Rosenberg’s ability to give honest and thoughtful reviews based on years of experience, was compromised because his views weren’t popular with some quarters."

For more discussion of the Rosenberg affair and what it means for critics, read this terrific essay by Washington Post classical music critic Anne Midgette.

Meanwhile, those of us critics whose views don't always fall in line with popular opinion will keep doing what we're doing. Who else will say it? Thanks For Reading

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Critic’s Critics Win
Blog: What does the case of Don Rosenberg mean for other arts reviewers?
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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