Monday, October 27, 2014

Rubin Institute for Music Criticism

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music is hosting the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism November 5-10, with a host of events at various places. I have some thoughts, which I'll try to get into a separate posting, but there's a press release below the cut. I also received a press release about the Rubin Fellows, a talented group of most-double-majors from four colleges and universities. (That in itself is interesting: does this mean it's tough luck if you go to Brandeis or Reed?)

The Stephen and Cynthia Rubin Institute for Music Criticism
San Francisco Conservatory of Music
November 5-10, 2014

Innovative Program Includes 10 Renowned National Journalists/Writers:

Guest Faculty and Writers Panel:
Anne Midgette, Tim Page, John Rockwell, Alex Ross, Stephen Rubin, Heidi Waleson

Keynote Speaker: Anthony Tommasini

Critic-in-Residence and Audience Prize Chair: Joshua Kosman

Everyone's A Critic Audience Prize Panel:
Robert Commanday, Wynne Delacoma, Steven Winn

Performance Partners:
San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera,
Cal Performances, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

Conservatory/University Partners:
University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University,
Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Yale School of Music

$10,000 Rubin Prize in Music Criticism to be Awarded to 1 of 20 Rubin Fellows
for Showing Outstanding Promise in Music Criticism Career

$1,000 Everyone's A Critic Public Audience Prize
to be Awarded for Best Review by a Member of Public

San Francisco, CA - San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) today revealed the names of the journalists participating in the second Stephen and Cynthia Rubin Institutefor Music Criticism, taking place November 5-10, 2014 in its new home on the West Coast. A biennial, week-long event solely devoted to the art of classical music criticism, theRubin Institute brings together distinguished journalists, aspiring young writers and renowned musicians for a keynote address, lectures by critics, public performances, discussion panels, and critical reviews, culminating in the awarding of both the $10,000Rubin Prize in Music Criticism to one of the participating writers for demonstrating outstanding promise in musical criticism, and the $1,000 Everyone's A Critic Public Audience Prize for the best review by an audience member of a concert performed during the Institute.

Joining the 2014 Rubin Institute as members of the Writers Panel will be Anne Midgette,Washington Post critic and author; Tim Page, professor, journalism and music, University of Southern California; John Rockwell, writer and arts critic; Alex RossThe New Yorkermagazine critic and author; Heidi WalesonWall Street Journal critic and author; andRubin Institute benefactor Stephen Rubin, President and Publisher of Henry Holt & Co., whose writing credits include having written features for The New York Times for over a decade. In addition, Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times chief music critic, will give the keynote address and Joshua KosmanSan Francisco Chronicle music critic, will be the Critic-In-Residence and chair the Everyone's a Critic Public Audience Prize judging panel. 

Performance and Conservatory/University Partners:
The Rubin Institute will include four public concerts offered November 6 through 9 in the San Francisco area presented by the 2014 Performance Partners: the San Francisco SymphonySan Francisco OperaCal Performances and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. These performances will be reviewed by a select group of 20 young writers, allRubin Institute Fellows, pursuing degrees at the University of CaliforniaBerkeley, Stanford University, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the Yale School of Music andSFCM. Their work will be critiqued in private workshops and public sessions by the Writers Panel. (Names of participating Rubin Institute Fellows will be announced in early fall. Full event details may be found in the attached schedule of public events.)

(Note: journalists participating in The Rubin Institute are not reviewing the concerts in TheRubin Institute for their respective publications, with the exceptions of local journalists Joshua Kosman and Steven Winn.)

Rubin Prize in Music Criticism:
The $10,000 Prize is awarded to one of the Rubin Institute Fellows to support the Fellow's further study or internships in the field of music criticism. Awarded by the Writers Panel, the award is disbursed over a two-year period.

Everyone's A Critic Public Audience Prize:
Audience members attending the Performance Partners' concerts are invited to submit criticism and compete for the $1,000 Everyone's A Critic Public Audience Prize, awarded for the best review by an audience member of one of the concerts. The Audience Prizejudging panel for the 2014 Institute comprises panel chair Joshua KosmanSteven Winn, freelance writer and critic; Wynne Delacoma, freelance arts writer, lecturer and music critic; and Robert Commanday, founding editor of San Francisco Classical Voice, lecturer and music critic. 

In making the announcement, San Francisco Conservatory of Music President David H. Stull thanked Mr. Rubin for his support, stating, "We are tremendously excited to host theStephen and Cynthia Rubin Institute for Music Criticism at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. This program dramatically enhances the discourse and awareness of classical music and will provide an extraordinary opportunity to aspiring music critics to engage with the great musical artists and writers of our time. I am deeply grateful to Stephen Rubinfor his vision and continued support of this program."

Stephen Rubin stated, "There are no better music critics in America than the powerhouse group we have at the Institute, and I am pleased all of our faculty are returning for a second time. I am deeply grateful to them, and to David Stull, the dynamo head of the Conservatory, who took an unformed idea and gave it substance and value."

Birgit Hottenrott, Executive Director of the Rubin Institute, commented on the unique opportunities presented to Bay Area audiences, "The Rubin Institute will bring to Bay Area audiences a rare chance both to learn about and to participate in the craft of classical music journalism by submitting their personal concert reviews. Throughout the week we look forward to lively public discussions and debate by our audience critics, the professional critics and the Rubin Institute Fellows."

Rubin Institute Fellows will attend and write pieces on each of the four consecutive public concerts. Their written work will be critiqued both privately and publicly by the members of the Writers Panel. Members of the public will enjoy access to the Writers Panel throughlectures and panels detailed in the attached schedule.

Select Institute Fellows' and Everyone's A Critic reviews will be posted on The RubinInstitute website at:

2014 Rubin Institute Public Events Schedule Overview 
(Full-details Schedule of Public Events is attached.)
5PM Keynote Address - Anthony TommasiniThe New York Times
Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, SFCM

2 PM Public Panel, Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, SFCM
7 PM Lecture - Alex RossThe New Yorker, Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco
8 PM San Francisco Symphony, Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco

7 PM Lecture - Heidi Waleson, The Wall Street Journal
Calvary Presbyterian Church, San Francisco
8 PM Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Calvary Presbyterian Church, San Francisco

2 PM Public Panel, Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, SFCM
6:30 PM Lecture - Anne MidgetteThe Washington Post
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
7:30 PM San Francisco Opera, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

11 AM Public Panel, Hertz Hall, University of Cal. Berkeley
2 PM Lecture - John Rockwell, Zellerbach Hall, University of Cal. Berkeley
3 PM Cal Performances presents Czech Philharmonic and Prague
Philharmonic Choir,  Zellerbach Hall, University of Cal. Berkeley

10 AM Closing Remarks and Awards Ceremony
Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, SFCM

About The Rubin Institute for Music Criticism:
The first program of its kind focusing on music and music criticism, the Rubin Institutebrings together before the public national music journalists, renowned musicians, and aspiring young writers, combining the wisdom and insight of today's highly esteemed critics, the artistry and daring of acclaimed musicians, and the energy and promise of tomorrow's music journalists. The biennial institute comprises a week-long series of public events including a keynote address, performances, lectures by critics, critical reviews, and discussion panels.

Featuring public concerts by acclaimed musicians from the opera, chamber, and orchestral stages, the performances are reviewed by a select group of student writers (Rubin InstituteFellows). Their work is critiqued in private workshops and public sessions by a panel of highly esteemed national music critics and journalists. Leading up to the Institute, the twenty student writers will work with a preparatory team at each of their nominating universities.

The Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, the Rubin Prize in Music Criticism and theEveryone's A Critic Public Audience Prize are made possible by the generosity of StephenRubin, President and Publisher of Henry Holt & Co.

Founded in 2011 by Stephen Rubin, President and Publisher, Henry Holt & Co., the inaugural edition of The Rubin Institute was held at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 2012 and featured performances by The Cleveland Orchestra, pianist Jeremy Denk, Apollo's Fire, and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE).

A detailed schedule of public events, including biographies of the panel members and others involved in The Rubin Institute, and details about the Everyone's A Critic prize, are attached. A copy of this release is also available. All of these details, as well as biographies of the Performance Partners are available on the Institute's website.


About The San Francisco Conservatory of Music:
Founded in 1917, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music is the oldest conservatory in the American West and has earned an international reputation for producing musicians of the highest caliber. Notable alumni include Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, Jeffrey Kahane, Aaron Jay Kernis and Robin Sutherland, among others. The Conservatory offers its approximately 400 collegiate students fully accredited bachelor's and master's degree programs in composition and instrumental and vocal performance. Its Pre-College Division provides exceptionally high standards of musical excellence and personal attention to more than 580 younger students. The Conservatory's faculty and students give nearly 500 public performances each year, most of which are offered to the public at no charge. Its community outreach programs serve over 1,600 school children and over 11,000 members of the wider community who are otherwise unable to hear live performances. The Conservatory's Civic Center facility is an architectural and acoustical masterwork, and the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall was lauded by The New York Times as the "most enticing classical-music setting" in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information, visit

Download the media release in PDF format.
Download the Rubin Institute 2014 Public Events Schedule here.
Download information about the Everyone's a Critic prize here.
Learn more about the 2014 journalists, critics, and experts in the field here.  

© 2014 San Francisco Conservatory of Music. All Rights Reserved.


Dan Sowern said...

Do you realise how insignificant music critics are in the general scheme? They just aren't important to cultural history.

Vladimir Jankélévitch, a French philosopher argued that talking adds nothing to the music. (In other words, music is meant to be experienced)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Shrug. Music criticism and reviewing have a great deal of historical importance and are closely related to musicology and music history, and are certainly important to cultural history. I'll never hear Giuditta Pasta, or the first performance of Nozze di Figaro, but I can read about them.

I don't actually care what Jankélévitch argued; I personally find that reading about music (history, theory, criticism, reviews) enhances my experience of the music.

Your experience may vary, and of course no one is forcing anyone else to read music criticism.

Anonymous said...

Dan: Why don't you go to the conference and speak up to tell us how insignificant we all are? Then you would be ... a troll.

Music criticism is cheerfully an ancillary to the music business, passing information and evaluations along. It helps lubricate the dissemination of the music. That's not an unworthy task, whether it adds anything or not.

And it does! Jankelevitch is flatly wrong. Often I've read a wise review of a concert I've attended, and realized new things about what I'd heard, thoughts I'd had inchoately and which are now crystallized with the help of a good reviewer. First you experience, then you read; alternately, first you read, then you experience, because the reading can prime you on what to listen for in an unfamiliar work.

Lastly, it is important to music history. You can't read a history of 19C Viennese music without coming across Eduard Hanslick - and I believe there's a statue of him there, negating the claim that nobody ever erected a statue to a critic.

Besides, critics aren't in the business of getting statues made to themselves. They're in the business of deciding who does get the statues.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Well, trying, anyway. A Lexicon of Musical Invective demonstrates the variable quality of criticism and of critics' discernment.

Dan Sowern said...


All forms of musical performance would exist very nicely if we had no public criticism at all. Music critics simply are not essential to the aesthetic experience.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Well, first you say criticism is culturally unnecessary, now you're saying it's esthetically unnecessary. It is amazing, then, how many people read and feel they gain something from reading criticism, including kalimac (who specifically makes this point) and myself.

Performance reviews, criticism (not always the same thing), program notes, scholarly articles about music, books about music, musical analysis, theoretical treatises, all exist on a continuum of writings about music. People have been writing about music since at least the 9th century, and they are not going to stop. There's an audience for this stuff, because it does, for a huge number of people, enhance the aesthetic experience to know more about what they are hearing.

Dan Sowern said...


"I don't actually care what Jankélévitch argued; I personally find that reading about music (history, theory, criticism, reviews) enhances my experience of the music."

But how? We are talking about music which is the most abstract of the arts. Listening attentively, patiently, intelligently, lovingly, diligently is all this is required.

Another problem is the assumption that “the ability to read music improves one’s listening abilities.” This is the idea that analytical knowledge makes you a better listener. There are several problems with this very common claim:

(1) It has a Western (classical) bias. I’m sure you’ve had incredible experiences listening to music of another culture that differs drastically from Western conventions, and is the product of an oral tradition — that is, it is not (and perhaps cannot be) notated.

(2) Knowing music theory can turn one into a harsh critic, e.g., you used to like a piece of music until your theoretical knowledge taught you how 'simple or unoriginal it is'.

(3) Virtually every human being appreciates virtuosity, which has an EVOLUTIONARY basis (we admire the fitness of the player/composer).

(4) Fixation on notation can leave the impression that music is a fixed object, rather than an unfolding process with room for spontaneity.

(5) Thinking too much about the technical aspect of a performance can distract one from the moment of perception.

Lisa Hirsch said...

It's fine for you to speak for yourself, but you're assuming that everything you say is universal. It's not. Yep, my ability to read music (and scores) does, in fact, make me a better listener, by associating technical aspects of how music is put together with what I'm hearing.

Of course it is possible to analyze music that isn't notated, and it's possible to write down music that doesn't have a native notational system.

And what's the problem with changing your opinions of a piece based on your knowledge of it? Exactly nothing.

Lisa Hirsch said...

P. S. I'm detecting a bit of familiarity in your arguments. Perhaps you're another instantiation of the Pelleastrian / Genevieve Castle Room / lastharp / etc etc

Lisa Hirsch said...

P. S. Notated music is both a fixed object (the score) and a fluid performance object. That's not very hard to understand.

bgn said...

All forms of musical performance would exist very nicely if we had no public criticism at all.

And how does this differ from criticism in the other arts?

Lisa Hirsch said...

bgn - I am sorry, I saw two comments from you and inadvertently deleted the other, about jobs. Can you repost? My error.

Anonymous said...


Your response to me is answered ... by the comment it responded to. I can't think of anything to say that wouldn't just repeat myself.

I can begin to see why you don't think that commentary adds anything to the musical experience.

Or are you trying to prove that by example?

bgn said...

I was just wondering--with the American press in the state it's in these days, what would the job possibilities be for those in the Rubin program or similar programs?

John Marcher said...

I'm wondering how Dan ended up here in the first place.

To follow Jankélévitch's line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, life is meant to experienced, not scrutinized by philosophers, and the acolytes of the philosophers are even more insignificant for having nothing original to bring to a discussion, be it about music or anthing else.

Dan Sowern said...


"Yep, my ability to read music (and scores) does, in fact, make me a better listener, by associating technical aspects of how music is put together with what I'm hearing."

Here is the problem:

The difficulty with music is that it does not essentially exist in an intellectual construct. True, music has form and that can be analysed with logic and music has harmony and that, also, can be analysed within a logic construct but the intellectual analysis of music is most unimportant when compared to the effect music has on our deep emotions. Analysis of emotional content is not unusual but it, ultimately, is little more than the water running off the leaves of trees during a rain; it has little effect on the leaves and it is not a primary source of nourishment for the tree.

Music affects us much as the sense of smell influences us. It speaks directly to the emotional content of our lives. It is the art that does not require any understanding, explanation, nor analysis. All of these things can add to the art of music but, ultimately, they are little more than rain on the leaves.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Sorry, there's no problem.

Dan Sowern said...

Ok, but do you believe that the ability to read music or being conversant in theory really enhances your aesthetic pleasure?

Of course the more you learn, the more you are able to TALK about music, but does it really enhance the pleasure -- (the 'affective' part)?

Lisa Hirsch said...


Dan Sowern said...


Isn't listening with intensity for pleasure the one critical activity that can never be dispensed with or superseded?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Eric/lastharp/GCR/Pelleastrean/Dan, take this discussion elsewhere. I'm not writing a dissertation to answer your question, because nothing will convince you.