In Cleveland, a critical clash

September 30, 2008
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Classical music fans, musicians, critics and administrators around the country are taking sides in a battle that's been raging in Cleveland.

The situtation: After years of blasting Cleveland Orchestra music director Franz Welser-Most, Cleveland Plain Dealer music critic Donald Rosenberg has been taken off the music beat and reassigned to other arts and entertainment matters at the paper.

Two factors worth noting: 1. Rosenberg had been covering music there and elsewhere for 28 years. He is not a top-of-the-head writer reassigned from the suburban beat. 2. The Cleveland Orchestra is one of the anchoring cultural institutions in the city and perhaps its only arts organization well known and well respected beyond the Ohio borders.

The conflict between critic and conductor has been known in the arts community and beyond for years. In June, Welser-Most told the New York Times “...if the same person writes after six years that the orchestra plays beautifully and what I do is bad, somehow it misses logic.”

The Plain Dealer folks are calling it an internal matter and not sharing much info. The newspaper's ombudsperson did a solid job of recognizing the issues on both sides, concluding: "Like many of you, I am sad to lose Donald Rosenberg's voice as orchestra critic of this newspaper. But it doesn't follow that the decision to remove him was based on anything other than [editor] Susan Goldberg's honest belief that the change would be in the best interests of the newspaper and its readers - a decision that is her right and responsibility to make."

So what should happen when a city's newspaper of record features a critic who consistantly and clearer disagrees with the esthetic of one of its highest profile arts creators?

What should happen in Indy if any of the small pool of critics consistantly wrote negatively about the work of the IRT, the ISO, the Indianapolis Opera, or the IMA?

Your thoughts?
  • Not knowing anything about what's going on, other than what you wrote, it sounds like there's something much larger going on here, something personal. To last that long as a music critic, one has to assume that he's not just a curmudgeon. If he was, he would have been removed from that beat a long time ago. Likewise, one has to assume that if the Cleveland Orchestra has that good of a reputation, their music director is, at least in part, responsible for that success. To draw vehemence like what you're describing, it just sounds personal and for Rosenberg to use his position in the press to wage a personal war is unacceptible.

    If it were to happen here, I'd assume the same. In some ways, this is a big city but in many others, it's a small town. It wouldn't surprise me if the lines between press and subject are blurred.
  • Was Rosenberg replaced or did the newspaper simply stop covering the symphony? Lately several newspapers have stopped assigning full-time reporters to professional sports team's beats. This could just be a money-saving step.
  • Another writer at the paper, Zachary Lewis, will be taking over coverage the of orchestra. I can't imagine any paper stopping coverage of a world renowned Big Five Orchestra.
  • I think the Plain Dealer has made a terrible mistake. I say this as one who lived in Cleveland for many years. I also attended many performances of the CSO. Music critics
    and performers/condutors have been doing battle for many years. As much as
    performers, actors, rock musicians, directors, composers, and yes conductors
    deny it, there is a very real place for a person who can skillfully critique an artistic
    Is Mr.Rosenberg biased or unfair? Let the readers of the Plain Dealer decide. Or
    those who attend the orchestra. I note that fellow American critics generally
    share his views.
    But that's not the fundamental point. We are all better off when critics can speak
    freely and without fear. Even if it means they are foolish.
  • There's an interesting piece in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about this. I hope you don't mind me posting the link Lou:

    Mr. Troll,

    Yes, we all want critics to speak their mind, but foolishly? Some of the definitions of foolish (thanks to the American Heritage Dictionary) include:

    Lacking or exhibiting a lack of good sense or judgment; silly
    Resulting from stupidity or misinformation; unwise
    Immoderate or stubborn; unreasonable
    Insignificant; trivial

    Something to think about....
  • The article that Chantal linked to says that the former orchestra critic's contract with the Plain Dealer extends to 2018.


    What I want to know is how I can get that kind of job security doing writing that I love.

    So he doesn't get to write about the orchestra any more. He still gets to write about other arts and entertainment and get paid for it, right? He gets to stretch himself professionally, creatively, and intellectually...and get paid for it.

    Maybe the paper caved, maybe there was inappropriately personal bad blood between the conductor and the critic...

    But maybe the critic was simply ready for a change.

    Hope Baugh
  • It was stated that it's the Cleveland Orchestra's conductor, Franz Welser-Most, whose contract extends to 2018, not the critic's contract.

    Also, it should be noted that the Cleveland Orchestra is one of the few best, if not THE best, orchestra in the US - and one of the 2 or 3 best in the world according to many critics... so being known beyond the Ohio borders is perhaps an understatement...

    The inside scoop in Cleveland is that the rich/powerful Orchestra patrons were tired of his criticism of Welser-Most (while praising the Orchestra) and wanted Rosenberg out. The Orchestra is a big deal in Cleveland - a great source of pride - and, well, the patrons won out I guess.
  • Don Rosenberg was not happy about his reassignment. He did not want a change, at all. He had been writing about the Orchestra for quite some time, and was well known for it---who wouldn't be, covering a Big Five orchestra?

    And I'd be hesitant about believing any inside scoop. Inside scoop generally means rumors, gossip, made up fantastical stories, and other things that cause discord and hostility, and without real reason. We all would just LOVE a scandal because it makes our lives oh so interesting, and this one is ripe for it. However, I think inside scoop should always be looked at warily. (in this case, I've heard a few different inside scoops. It's almost amusing.)
  • Yikes! (laughing at myself) Thanks, dwirth. That's what I get for skimming too quickly.

    Well, now that my job fantasy has been dashed, I'll go back to feeling sympathy for the critic.

    I agree with Chantal that it's always best to take inside scoops with a grain of salt.

    I really don't know anything about this situation (obviously) but I hope the critic is able, no matter what happened, to find a silver lining in this thundercloud. At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, It sounds as if he has a strong fan base and, more importantly, that he has made important contributions to the ongoing conversation about classical music. No one can take either of these two things away from him. And maybe this really is an opportunity as well as a disappointment.

    But my heart goes out to him.

    Hope Baugh
  • I find it ironic that Lou got this level of response to his post on the Cleveland orchestra when our own orchestra and most fine music events and just about every important performance in the city of Indianapolis gets no coverage from the Indianapolis Star. Why worry about a badly treated critic in Cleveland when ours treats us so badly by ignoring us.

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