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Oct 31, 6:55 PM EDT
Critics bellow over orchestra reviewer losing beat
By THOMAS J. SHEERAN
Associated Press Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) -- The reassignment of a newspaper reviewer critical of Cleveland Orchestra conductor Franz Welser-Moest left a dissonant trail of questions about censorship and the risk of panning a hometown arts icon.
The move of Donald Rosenberg off The Plain Dealer's orchestra beat doesn't trump talk about the Browns football team or basketball superstar LeBron James at the watercooler in Cleveland, but reviewers across the country noticed and yelled, "Foul!"
Rosenberg was summoned into a conference room at Ohio's biggest newspaper in September and was told by Editor Susan Goldberg that he was off the beat that he had for 16 years.
Rosenberg, who has written a book about the orchestra and covered 15 of its foreign tours, was reassigned to other arts and entertainment coverage.
Britain's Guardian newspaper said the move amounted to censorship, and The New York Times said the reassignment "is sure to send shivers down the opinionated spines of critics everywhere."
The Music Critics Association of North America appealed to Goldberg last week to reinstate Rosenberg.
"The silencing of a critic not only challenges the foundation of our particular profession, but weakens the foundation of journalism itself," according to the association, which represents about 110 critics. About half, representing newspapers and music publications coast to coast, signed the letter.
The association's president, Tim Smith of The (Baltimore) Sun, said Thursday there had been no response from Goldberg.
Rosenberg regularly praised the orchestra but sometimes questioned Welser-Moest's work, comparing him to a traffic cop who failed to delve into the music's essence. Welser-Moest has been music director of the orchestra since 2002.
Welser-Moest "was conveying very little of the flavor of the music and essentially just duplicating the notes in the score without much character or color or real personality," Rosenberg said in an interview with The Associated Press.
In a review on the orchestra's trip last year to Vienna, Rosenberg said Welser-Moest "lapsed into uninflected routine in the second and third movements" of Mahler's Symphony No. 2. Two days later The Financial Times of London similarly called the movements "uneventful" and said the conductor "can seem aloof."
Goldberg didn't address the reason for Rosenberg's reassignment in comments reported by The Plain Dealer. The orchestra beat went to another writer at the newspaper, Zachary Lewis.
She told the newspaper's reader representative, Ted Diadiun, that the paper never allows complaints against a writer to dictate personnel decisions.
"Our work is regularly, and sometimes harshly, scrutinized by the people and institutions we cover," she told Diadiun. "That's just part of the process of what we do and I work hard to make myself available to people who have issues with our stories. Criticism of our work can provide valuable feedback that helps us do a better, and fairer, job."
Goldberg declined an interview request from the AP. "I've said all I am going to say about this situation, which we consider an internal personnel matter," she said in an e-mail.
Rosenberg, 56, thinks orchestra bigwigs got to Goldberg, who left the San Jose Mercury News for The Plain Dealer in May 2007.
"I told her I thought she was caving in to outside sources including orchestra management and board officials and she would not address it," said Rosenberg, who joined The Plain Dealer in 1992.
Rosenberg said a reviewer needs to have a free hand to responsibly report on the arts, whether negative or positive, and must hold a performing arts company to a high standard when dealing with a world-class organization such as the Cleveland Orchestra.
"There's no way that standards can be upheld if you're acting as a cheerleader all the time - it doesn't work in politics, it doesn't work in sports and it certainly doesn't work in the arts," he said.
The paper, owned by Advance Publications Inc., has a daily circulation of about 345,000.
The Plain Dealer's publisher, Terrance C.Z. Egger, serves on the orchestra board, as does his predecessor, but Egger said he was unaware of any orchestra pressure to reassign Rosenberg.
"At no time do I recall ever being asked by a member of the orchestra or the board to have Mr.. Rosenberg be reassigned, it just never happened," he told The AP in an e-mail. "Secondly, I never approached Susan on this matter or any subject related to the orchestra. She came to inform me after her decision had been made just to be sure I was aware. And finally, Susan did not even know that I was on the board until I informed her after she had announced her decision."
Welser-Moest and the orchestra executive director, Gary Hanson, were traveling out of the country and won't comment on the matter, according to spokeswoman Ana Papakhian
She referred questions to a statement posted earlier by Hanson on blogs that took up Rosenberg's case.
Hanson said it was false to suggest the orchestra had lobbied for the reassignment. He said he has complimented and complained to the paper about its coverage over the years but said the orchestra understood a paper's right to publish a critic's comments, whether supportive or not.
The reassignment came amid a period of uncertainty at The Plain Dealer, which announced Oct. 7 that it plans to cut 16 percent of its unionized newsroom jobs by the end of the year, further trimming a staff reduced by buyouts. Egger blamed the cuts on worse than expected advertising revenue and a struggling newspaper industry.
The music critics group said the number of critic jobs has dwindled with declining newspaper staffs and Rosenberg's reassignment could make critics worry about the reaction to unwelcome reviews.
Ross W. Duffin, a Case Western Reserve University music professor who says both Rosenberg and Hanson are his friends, said the issue became more important recently when the orchestra gave Welser-Moest a 10-year contract, meaning the conductor could be looking at another decade of unfavorable reviews if Rosenberg kept his job.
The original posting was back in 2005. bloke's addition was about a music critic that was being replaced at the local newspaper.
Marzan BBb - 4 rotor, Blokepiece Trio
Unidentified 4 valve Chinese Euphonium, Conn Remington
King 607F, Conn Remington
Posting and You
Well, thanx, Ryan!! Maybe one of these days I'll learn to look at the date of the ORIGINAL post...
Actually, this is BLOKE'S fault for dredging up a three-year-old thread. I was a victim of BLOKE'S actions. I am in no way to blame for this.
Oddly enough, the critic in question and I played in the same All-State Band (NJ, 1969). That I know for sure!!
I agree with Snorlax. Don and I go back to our high school days and also played together at Mannes - what a monster horn player he was! I haven't seen him in years and have only talked to him on a couple of occasions since then, but I feel he has been stabbed in the back by his newspaper.
This stinks of censorship and the newspaper should be taken to task for its behavior. Don has always called them as he see's them and he has a great ear and very strong observational skills. He is also extremely familiar with recordings of other ensembles and the scores. He would not do this for spite, but to help the orchestra grow. Apparently, they're too good to get better.
Hang tough Don - I'm in your corner on this.
"The music business is a cruel and shallow trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." Hunter S Thompson
As usual, Roger speaks the truth...
I chatted with Don for the last time a couple of years ago, trying to locate a mutual acquaintance (Roger--remember Steve Carmody?).
Don is a consummate musician and eminently qualified to review any performance anywhere, especially an orchestral performance.
The "Plain Dealer" isn't dealing very plainly with this situation.
I found the article interesting and (without knowing any specifics) the actions to be quite heavy-handed and back-room-ish.
I play in an ensemble with an amazing artist (top shelf of the top drawer) who was hired by a major "northern Ohio" orchestra into one of the high-profile solo chairs and then not offered tenure. This person left another fine (full-time) orchestra to take that job and now (to the best of my knowledge, anyway) is now "free-lance".
I also seem to recall hearing that (and someone please correct it if this word-of-mouth info is incorrect) for many years the non-valved low brass players were very strongly encouraged to play a local make of instruments.
I strongly suggest that we get up a large group to subscribe for one week and then wholesale cancel for the reason of making this point. This fellow was shafted. I may subscribe tomorrow.
TubeNet, where expressing strong aversion to a political system gets you called a racist...
Strongly encouraged? Well, they got the non-valved instruments gratis, so I'd sure as heck play 'em too. They all had additional instruments as well, not necessarily of that particular make, but...well, I specifically know of one who had a VERY similar model from an Asian manufacturer. If there was a requirement, it was from the manufacturer, not the orchestra.
Nothing wrong with those instruments, after all.
A formerly local friend/customer won the principal job in Montreal with (of all things) a Benge .
To discourage "instrument discrimination" in that years-ago audition, he filed, sanded, and buffed the name off the bell, and changed the tell-tale routing of the F-attachment tubing.
While I certainly understand the sentiments towards Mr. Rosenberg, I think there might be more at play than simply orchestral politics here. To be blunt, he is damned lucky he still has a job. As noted in the article, it isn't a fun time to be in the newpaper biz. In the last several months, the list of newspapers that have either completely gone under or have trimmed SIGNIFICANT numbers of staff from their newsrooms is long and distinguished. The LA Times recently laid off 150 people from their news division. That's roughly 1/2 of their editorial staff. The New York Sun is now defunct. My hometown newspaper just laid off 13 people in the newsroom. That's significant for a 169K circ paper. In just 5 years, Scripps newspapers went from $240 million in revenue to less than $70 million. That's for all of their properties across the country. Print journalists are becoming an endangered species.
I know that in the case of the local paper here, the cuts coincided with a re-vamping of the newpaper; combining of sections, elimination of some features, etc. The local movie critic was let go after 30 years. Why pay a movie critic when people are going to Roper's web site?
There is every possibility that his reassignment might actually save his job in the long run.
If Mr. Rosenberg is still gainfully employed by the paper, he is fortunate. There are literally thousands of reporters, designers, copy editors, and critics across the country that would envy having his problem.
I am convinced that 90% of the problems with rhythm, tone, intonation, articulation, technique, and overall prowess on the horn are related to air issues.
I'm confused (as usual). Is there an audition for music critic being held?
It is my understanding that the Cleveland horns were required to play Conn 8D's or even King Eroica's at one time or another. I had not heard about the trombones. Can you imagine that Ed Anderson ever played a King Duo Gravis in the orchestra during the Szell era? Not me.
City Intonation Inspector - Dallas Texas
"Holding the Bordognian Fabric of the Universe together through better pitch, one note at a time."
Practicing results in increased atmospheric CO2 thus causing global warming.
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