Tom Deacon writes…

A recent dispute over the tenor of commentary provoked by, of all things, a set of Beethoven sonatas by the Israeli pianist Daniel Barenboim has nudged me to try to make sense of how I, myself, feel about music critics and music criticism.

It seems to me that the field of music criticism breaks down into two parts and those parts have largely to do with attitude. Some critics start out by seeking to find fault and to point out what they see as faults with a kind of ruthless perseverance. I find this type of critic totally worthless. Other critics start out by looking for what is good, illuminating or worthy of praise and are determined to reveal that in their writing. It is not that they avoid the perceived faults, but that they don’t highlight them. Not their goal.

Personally I find this second group much more to my liking. I have known and still know several. The late Kenneth Winters was one of those. He always tried to find out what was good about a musical performance. Ateş Orga, similarly, remains focused on what the musician is telling him, and us, about the music and about himself. Another more recent acquaintance is the French critic Jean-Charles Hoeffelé, who in addition to writing CD reviews and articles for the French magazine Classica, also manages to write very erudite and illuminating articles on a daily basis for his own blog. Finally, there is the Pulitzer prize winning writer Tim Page, who used to write for the Washington Post, but then moved into a teaching stint at USC, while also writing many books, including one on Glenn Gould.

An interesting feature unites these four writers. They have all achieved something else in addition of music criticism. Ken Winters edited the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada and also entertained the audience of the CBC with his programme Mostly Music for well over a decade. Ateş Orga is a distinguished freelance music producer. Jean-Charles Hoeffelé was for many years the artistic driving force behind the French label Dante. The product emanating from that much lamented label never ceased to dazzle me. And Tim Page is a noted author of books as well as a teacher beloved of his students in Los Angeles.

Just four examples, of course. There are others I could mention. But they make my point. A good music critic has a broad horizon as well as a multiplicity of activities, all of which serve to enhance his criticism. I continue to read such criticism with pleasure. As would you. They are well worth looking out as you, like all of us, wallow in a sea of opinion on the world wide web.

Republished with the author’s permission