Sunday, May 02, 2010

Wild Weekend: Interlude

While I was away, word went out that critic Alan Rich had died at 85. I have read very little of his work, an omission I plan to correct. Remembrances and obits around the web:
What I find interesting: Bob Commanday's obit seems to ascribe Rich's changes of venue to his personality, while at least one of the other writers notes that his trajectory had more to do with the trajectory of print media over the last 25 years.


Henry Holland said...

Alan Rich was a useful barometer for me: if he was big on something, avoid it like the plague; if he hated something, check it out immediately.

Those of us of a certain age who were living in Los Angeles in the 70's-90's might also remember Alan Rich for his psychotic --there's no other word that will do-- jealousy of Martin Bernheimer. Rich was bitter that Bernheimer had one of the most visible jobs in classical journalism in the US while he toiled for a rag that people only picked up to find an apartment or a sex date.

Lisa Hirsch said...

No comment on Rich & Bernheimer (I don't know a thing about this...).

Let's get the dates of Rich's work at different publications right, though. From the Times obit:

NY Times, 1961-63
Herald Tribune, 1963-68
New York Magazine, 1968-81
New West/California, 1981-83
Newsweek, 1983-"late 80s"
LA Herald Examiner, "late 80s" - 1992
LA Weekly, 1992 - 2008

Joe Barron said...

Wow, John Rockwell is still working. Who knew?

Tim said...

Rich left Newsweek about the time of the "Nixon in China" premiere. He had gone to Houston to review, but Newsweek didn't print it. I think they published something about Bruce Springsteen instead. Alan decided to leave then, or at least that's what he told me.

Also, I think the Los Angeles Herald Examiner folded before 1992. I would say 1990, or maybe 91. Wait, Wikipedia says 1989.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thanks, Tim!

opera said...

Henry Holland,

I feel the same way about Mr. Rich.

He has persisted too long as one of the nastiest and most uninformed critics of all time. How sad a spectacle it was that a major publications gave platform to the rantings of this mediocrity, among who's obsessions is trying to convince the world that Brahms was a second-rate composer.

Brahms ??!

His books and articles were often full of platitudes posing as insights, faulty listening parading as analysis, and page after page of unadulterated musical stupidity. How sad that after wasting so much periodical stock on his bile, that more trees should be wasted memorializing his inanities in book form.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Opera, can you point me to a couple of representative reviews, given how you characterize Rich? Your views are quite a bit more extreme than what his peers said about him.

As far as the Brahms business goes, almost everyone has their blind spots and composers they can't stand, critics included. I won't review "Carmen," "Barber of Seville," or anything by Palestrina. It's best if a critic is willing to be open about their prejudices. (See Josh Kosman on Saint-Saens!)

I own that thinking Brahms a second-rater is pretty weird. I dislike Palestrina's music, but he had great technical abilities. And Brahms was undeniably one of the great technicians.

CK Dexter Haven said...

Alan Rich was awesome, and I, for one, will miss his writing very much. Really: how many other critics would actually 'fess up to strongly disliking Brahms, and how many others would subsequently turn around and admit to liking a performance of the oh-so-hated composer's violin concerto? Very, very few.

I happened to agree with Mr. Rich with great frequency. But that's just my opinion. Clearly there are some that share my view, and others above do not share my view. I strongly dislike Brahms just like he did, but don't think Sibelius is so bad.

I think what I liked best about Mr. Rich's writing is not so much that I agreed with his opinions, but rather he wrote in such a way to evoke a real sense of the music and all the extra-musical things at concert, easily making you understand how it might make someone feel even if you weren't there. From that, you could easily judge for yourself whether or not you agree with him.

Could he be pointed? Without a doubt. One of my favorite articles he wrote in the past few years was one where he compared the Zubin Mehta of the 1960's in LA vs. a visit he made to LA in 2009 w/ the Vienna Philharmonic. That article, along with comments I made at the time, are here:


Agree with him or not, feel free to quibble about whether or not that was "too harsh," but you've gotta admit that that is some evokative writing. Having seen Mehta conduct a number of times over the years, I think his description is dead accurate -- and I wouldn't consider myself a Mehta-hater.

As much as he disliked Mehta, he loved Giulini, and the articles in his book about Giulini's attention to detail on Beethoven's Fifth are worth the read for anyone.

He also wasn't shy about his dislike for Bernheimer and their eventual complete falling out. Again -- he was open about the fact and about he felt that way.

In the end, he was consistent in his attitudes. It didn't matter if you were a composer (old or new), a conductor, a musician, or a critic -- if he liked you, he was very clear why. If he didn't, you also knew why. Can't ask for much more than that.

I could go on and on, but I encourage you to just go to www.soiveheard.com, read his stuff, and draw your own conclusions -- I guarantee that in the end, you won't be ambivalent.

Rest in peace, Mr. Rich. Thanks for your sharing your words and thoughts.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thanks, CKDH.

He's not the only critic to have savaged Mehta, though perhaps that's more savage than some other reviews and reviewers I've seen. I'm surprised he had nothing good to say about Mehta, given that his Turandot and Trovatore recordings are first class.