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Shifting Ears: The Present State and Future of Classical Music Criticism, Oct. 15-17

The Music Critics Association of North America and the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University in partnership with The Columbia University Department of Music present Shifting Ears: A Symposium on the Present State and Future of Classical Music Criticism.

The Oct. 15-17 event is f ree to those with a valid Columbia University ID. Please pre-register by contacting Aileen Torres at 212.854.1912 or aev13@columbia.edu.


Friday, October 15

5 p.m. -- Opening reception at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Kaplan Penthouse.
Guest speaker: Ned Rorem, composer, who will begin with a reading of an article he wrote in 1982, "13 Ways of Looking at a Critic," and continue with his updated views of criticism, followed by questions and general discussion. (Mr. Rorem's presentation is generously underwritten by the Star-Ledger of New Jersey )

Saturday, October 16
(all events at the School of Journalism Lecture Hall, 3rd floor, Columbia University )

9 a.m. -- Welcome: Andras Szanto, director, National Arts Journalism Program

9:15 a.m. -- Keynote speaker: James Conlon, music director designate of the Ravinia Festival and the Los Angeles Opera.

A conductor reflects on criticism from the receiving end -- and from both sides of the Atlantic .

10:15 a.m. -- The Right Words: Adapting Language to Describe an Ever-Changing Art
Moderator: Ara Guzelimian, artistic adviser, Carnegie Hall
Participants: Osvaldo Golijov, Meredith Monk, Mark Swed (L.A. Times)

As the vocabulary of music changes, so must the vocabulary we use to write about it. The early 20 th-century critic Louis Elson was evidently thinking of 19 th-century definitions of "melody" when he accused Debussy of lacking any. Do we run the risk of repeating that mistake when we sling around terms like "development," "harmony," and "climax?" And how do we convey the
novelty of sounds?

11:30 a.m. -- Speaker: John Rockwell, Cultural Critic, The New York Times
In his essay, "Serious Music Today," Rockwell argues that "classical" and "serious" are no longer synonymous, and that music critics need to open themselves up to that fact. The dominance of pop music today and the emergence of journalism online have created a new environment for the critic.

1:30 p.m. -- Speaker: Joseph Horowitz, author and consultant, who has just finished his latest book, "Classical Music in America ."
Horowitz's essay "Criticism at the Crossroads," describes the historic shift in assumptions underlying classical music criticism. He argues that American classical music has degenerated into a culture venerating the act of performance over the act of creation. The critic, according to Horowitz, should become a “doer and an organizer” on behalf of classical music.

2:15 p.m.: Looking Back to Look Ahead: How Music Criticism Has Changed in 100 Years
Moderator: Alan Rich, Los Angeles Weekly
Participants: Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times; Tim Page, The Washington Post; Greg Sandow, NewMusicBox.com; Barbara Zuck, The Columbus Dispatch

Do music critics serve the same function that they did in earlier times? Have the increasing constraints of journalism forced us to become less detailed and more general? We ask a panel of experienced critics what role music criticism can play in today's fragmented and competitive society.


3:45 p.m. -- Who Are We, Anyway? Presentation of early results from the First Survey of Classical Music Critics in North America .
Willa Conrad, music critic, New Jersey Star-Ledger; Lawrence McGill, director of Research and Planning, Cultural Policy and the Arts National Data Archive, Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies.

4:30 p.m. -- The Gatekeepers' View: Editors Discuss Changing Paradigms in the Arts Beat
Moderator, Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times
Participants to include John Habich, fine arts editor, Newsday; Chris Lavin, senior editor for special sections, San Diego Union-Tribune; James Oestreich, classical music & dance editor, The New York Times; Susan Elliott, editor, Musical America online.

Each newspaper has a unique vision of arts coverage, yet there is also a national standard. This panel explores five views of arts coverage: what factors determine how much coverage is accorded to classical music vs. the other arts and why, and what new areas of knowledge and journalistic skills an effective classical music critic must possess today.

Sunday, October 17

9 a.m. -- The Limits of Style: Do Non-American Critics Write More Freely?
Moderator: William Littler, Toronto Star
Participants: Shirley Apthorp, Financial Times (Berlin); Charles Michener, New York Observer; Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times (New York); John Allison, Opera and The Times of London; Renaud Machart, Le Monde (Paris)
"Where is style?" Stephen Sondheim asks in "A Little Night Music." He might have been addressing today’s North American music critics, whose writing leans toward the careful and the mild, rather than the colorful and even provocative means of expression European critics enjoy using. How can our writing appeal more directly and powerfully to the reader? We explore the topic with some of the finest stylists in our profession.

10:30 a.m. -- Writing New Music: Composers and Presenters Take the Floor
Moderator: George Steel, executive director, Miller Theatre, Columbia University
Participants: Michael Gordon, founder of Bang on a Can; Welz Kauffman, executive director, Ravinia Festival, Chicago; Jane Moss, vice president for programming, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York

How must the protocol of how music is presented change in order to survive? This panel explores new ways of thinking and experiencing classical music.

1:15 p.m. -- Teaching Critics: The Place of Journalistic Criticism in Undergraduate and Graduate Studies
Moderator: Scott Burnham, Princeton University
Participants: Walter Frisch, Columbia University; Jan Swafford, Tufts University and author of "Charles Ives: A Life in Music"; Johanna Keller, Syracuse University

What can critics teach musicologists, and vice versa? Where does the interface between the two professions need to be made more porous, and how might critical thinking be better injected into higher level music education?

2:45 p.m. The Pulitzer Budges
Moderator: Frank J. Oteri, editor, NewMusicBox.org
Participants: Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle; Sig Gissler, Pulitzer Prize administrator; Gunther Schuller, composer; Patrick Smith, critic and author
The Pulitzer Prizes have adjusted their rules in order to elicit a broader range of submissions, and actively encouraged the entry of musical theater works, film scores and improvised or non-notated pieces. Does this represent a rush of enlightenment or a dumbing down? And are a few changes in wording enough to make a difference in what sorts of music are deserving of prestige?

4 p.m. -- Now What? A Speculative Conversation on the Critic of the Future
Justin Davidson, Newsday, and Alex Ross, The New Yorker

Summarizing three days of trend-spotting and debates, two critics try to glean some lessons, both for themselves and their successors.

This conference is made possible through the generous support of a New York-based charitable foundation; Columbia University Music Department; National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University; the Fritz Reiner Center for Contemporary Music at Columbia University; Baltimore Sun, Cleveland Plain Dealer, New Jersey Star-Ledger, St. Petersburg Times, Newsday, Toronto Star; and an anonymous donor.

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Published: Oct 13, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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