Saturday, September 27, 2008

Meanwhile in Cleveland...

...there's a case of Critic v Conductor.

The New York Times has carried a story explaining that a music critic in Cleveland has lost his job for being, allegedly, excessively critical of the Cleveland Orchestra's conductor, Frankly Worse Than Most, oops, I mean Franz Welser-Most (FYI, the former is what certain musicians in London used to nickname him).

A lot of grey areas surrounded the appointing of FWM as principal conductor of the LPO, where he started back in 1990. Tennstedt departed in 1987 due to ill health, a replacement had not yet been named and it was then that the Tory government got a Lord to investigate things and recommend which of the London orchestras should be murdered. To qualify for a chance of survival, an appointment was needed and FWM was named PDQ. Not very many conductors would have been available at that kind of notice. Happily, the Hoffmann Report eventually told the government to get off and leave all our orchestras right where they were. Meanwhile FWM was in place, and if I remember rightly some of his performances were good and others weren't. Fairly normal, then.

BUT: the London press loathed him.

It was the critics, not the orchestra, that wrecked his career at the time in the British capital; he kept talking about this nightmare era in interviews for years. It is not entirely clear how it happened, but seems to go back to his first-ever press conference for the LPO, which most of the critics left with the impression that FWM was arrogant, abrupt, inexperienced and so forth. All of which may have mean that he was just bloody nervous. But what's certain is that the resident vipers developed a serious grudge which only got worse. The difference was, they didn't lose their jobs - whereas eventually the unfortunate youth, after enduring five and a half years of printed hell, packed his bags earlier than intended.

Perhaps what's happened to the critic Donald Rosenberg is a hazard of smaller-city-America cultural life; here in London, just one critic could never have been held responsible for the savaging of FWM. They were all at it like a pack of hyenas. It is easier to target one person operating in a cultural desert, like a gazelle that's been separated from its herd...

All of which does not necessarily mean that FWM is the world's greatest conductor.