Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Cabrillo Audience

Over at San Francisco Classical Voice, David Bratman reviewed a recent Cabrillo Festival program and someone gave him a hard time about the review itself. (This is not the review where he called Magnus Lindberg a modernist, a term under discussion elsewhere on this blog.) It is likely I would respond to the program somewhat differently from David, but I found "GG12"'s objections incomprehensible, though my response didn't exactly say that.

Joshua Kosman reviewed Cabrillo programs that included Rouse, Friar, Newman, and Puts, with the big pieces being the West Coast premier of Chrisopher Rouse's Symphony No. 3 and the world premier of Kevin Puts's Flute Concerto. He loved the Rouse, but found the Puts disappointing.

Yesterday, the Chron published a long letter from the commissioners of the Puts concerto, Joseph and Bette Hirsch (NO RELATION, I repeat, no relation). Their main point is "everybody loved it but you, and you should have told readers about the standing ovation."

Look, almost every concert at Cabrillo gets a standing ovation. That is a meaningless metric. I have sat through standing o's for plenty of pieces I didn't much care for myself, like, uh, Philip Glass's Tenth. And of course people told the commissioners what a wonderful piece it was! What else are they going to say?? "Too bad it's crap" is not what a reasonably civilized person will say to folks who have just dropped thousands on a commission.

As for the other point, sure, Joshua could have noted that lots of people loved the concerto. It would make for more complete reportage on the program, which is one of a reviewer's charges. But based on what I've heard of Kevin Puts's music, I suspect I would have been with Joshua on the merits.

NB: SFCV's Jeff Dunn had some doubts but mostly sided with the audience on the Puts.


Henry Holland said...

Look, almost every concert at Cabrillo gets a standing ovation. That is a meaningless metric

See also: the Los Angeles Philharmonic for at least the last 10 years.

David Bratman said...

And of course Jeff is entitled to his opinion as much as Joshua is. But to be assured that a favorable opinion is honest, you have to leave room for honest unfavorable ones as well. This is why it's best that concerts be covered by multiple reviewers: no single opinion should be the final word.

It's probably best, when panning a work or performance, for a reviewer to note a strongly favorable audience reaction, if only to head off indignant letters saying "The audience loved it" as if that was some kind of a rebuttal; but, as you observe, at Cabrillo, strongly favorable audience reactions are not news.

I've noted before that Cabrillo, far more than other new music venues, seems to breed defenses of every work as a masterpiece. My frequently more jaundiced view has engendered indignation not just this time, but on a previous occasion when I was told, preposterously, that it was no part of a reviewer's job to judge the music.

What? A review is not a set of program notes. This staggering opinion would, if adopted, cause the entire reviewing profession to (in Douglas Adams' words) vanish in a puff of logic.

Michael said...

Just noting that Kosman did not review a "program of Rouse, Friar, Newman, and Puts," as no such program existed at Cabrillo this year.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Yeah, my bad: he reviewed Friday & Saturday concerts in one review.

Lisa Hirsch said...

And David, yeah. The reactions to your previous review were preposterous.

Bob Thomas said...

It's not just new music. I wrote a negative review for a performance of "Rhapsody in Blue" recently and received a trio of angry responses that also noted the standing ovation. One of my responses was that virtually every performance I attend gets a standing ovation; as you said, perhaps I should have noted the SO if only to emphasize that a review is one person's opinion. And yes, David, it's ideal to have more than one reviewer present but, of course, the reviewer has no control over that.

Jeff Dunn said...

I've attended almost every weekend concert at Cabrillo for the last 20 years. I'd say about 75% of the pieces get standing ovations. If they're excessively Modernist or short and early in the program, they have less of a chance of a SO.

But I've become adept at distinguishing a "ordinary" SO from a more exceptional SO. The top three SO getters this summer were #1 Lindberg's Clarinet Concerto (virtuosi always goose the SOs up a few notches), #2 Puts' Flute Concerto, #3 Glass' 10th symphony. For the evening performance of the Lindberg, a higher order of SO occurred: rhythmic clapping, which I can't remember ever happening before at Cabrillo. Walker's more Modernist Sinfonia No. 4 got the worst reception, weak applause and no SO. This is nearly the equivalent of booing.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I attended the American premier of the Lindberg clarinet concerto (February, 2010, Carnegie Hall, Gilbert/NYPO/Kriikku) and it got the biggest ovation I have ever heard for a piece of new music - deservedly so, it's a fantastic piece and Kriikku an amazing player.

I ran into Lindberg on the street last year in Santa Fe and told him how much I like his music and especially that piece. I was a little tongue-tied, but I figure any composer is happy to hear that someone likes his music.