October 1, 2008 leonard slatkin

September is usually a very busy month. There are seasons to open and I usually have to be right in the thick of things. But this year it is a bit different.

After having spent the first week packing up and moving music and belongings up to Detroit, I started the concert calendar at Indiana University. There are five orchestras at the school. Each is very good, and one can sense that there is no problem regarding the future of orchestral performers. There might be, however, a question of how many jobs will be available, but filling them will not be difficult.

As this was the first concert of the year, there was a palpable air of festiveness to the occasion. Works by Beethoven and Hindemith occupied the first half. But clearly the audience, and maybe even the orchestra, were eagerly anticipating the remainder. Joshua Bell, who is a native son of Bloomington, served as soloist. He is yet another artist who has chosen to spend time at this university: teaching and coaching.

We played the Violin Concerto (The Red Violin) by John Corigliano, a piece written for Josh. In some respects, it is easier to do this type of work with younger performers, as the techniques required pose little problems for ears with few preconceptions. All went very well, despite my misreading the schedule and assuming that there was a dress rehearsal the day of the concert. [Note to self: always check first.]

Next it was off to London, but with no concerts in that city. The Royal Philharmonic and I will embark on a two-week tour to China and other ports of call at the beginning of this month. Our performances in the U.K. were at Windsor Palace—no, the queen was not there— and Northampton, where the orchestra plays a regular series. Just as we were about to begin rehearsal at Windsor, we got word that one of the Chinese presenters had to withdraw from our concert in Taichung. Seems he was involved with Lehman Brothers and was wiped out in the economic tide. Well, that gives me an extra free day in Taiwan.

So not a lot to report. Instead, I thought I should weigh in on a very troubling matter that has recently surfaced. The Cleveland Plain Dealer has pulled its music critic from covering concerts by the Cleveland Orchestra. He was not a fan of the music director and the newspaper has decided he should not review them any longer.

Now I have certainly had my share of antagonistic press: In one case I wrote a letter to a paper, chiding the critic. But my objections always have to do with either getting facts wrong or misstating them. It is never about the actual criticism. Opinion is subjective, and it is implicit in the job for the critic to observe and comment. What is surprising in this case is that the journalist was simply asked to step down from writing about this one organization. I seem to remember that a critic in Boston was barred from attending concerts by a specific conductor, but not excluded from the remainder of the season.

Between this unpleasant situation and the recent dismissals of writers on classical music from other publications, we seem to be going through a very unfortunate time. It is not the job of the critic to be a booster for everything that happens in the cultural life of a city. If that were the case, most sportswriters would be out of jobs. And in the already fragile world of classical music, the last thing we need is this type of censorship.

When I am asked what I do regarding hostile press, I cite a phrase that goes like this: “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It is a waste of your time and it annoys the pig.” No lipstick here or intent to impune the good names of either pigs or critics.

See you next month.