Alan Rich, music critic

April 29, 2007

alan-rich.jpgI read an entertaining and insightful interview (“Critical Condition” 1 Apr.2007) with LA Weekly critic Alan Rich in the local Arts blog Alan is a brilliant and witty writer and has covered and listened to more music than probably anyone else on the planet. He has faithfully reported musical life in New York and Los Angeles as he has seen it. When he like something we cheer, and when he doesn’t we are entertained by his lashings. For those of us who have been whipped by him, we still smart.

Holding on to old pain causes cancer as far as I’m concerned. I, and many others, blow up his scathing reviews way beyond their importance, and I/we need to get over it.

Bourland, get over it.

I write this, not because anyone complained, or asked me to, but in updating an old opinion, I have to keep reminding myself that there is no reason to hold on to ancient pain, especially when the pain derives only for someone else’s opinion.

Many blogs and their readers thrive on invective. I have never imagined this blog being one. I am not negative as a person, so to be so here is not being honest to myself, my friends, or my readers. I apologize to Alan and my readers for any biochemical hot-flashes of invective. Public exorcisms can be cathartic for a while for a young blogger, but they begin to smell bad after a while. Wise critics and young bloggers all must learn this lesson.

Alan Rich has been a vital part of Los Angeles culture and deserves some kind of Living Legend (or Living Curmudgeon) for his service. He has hauled his butt out of his house to attend thousands of concerts he likely may have not really wanted to attend, but he did. And reported on it to his thousands of readers. Alan deserves a great deal of credit as a faithful chronicler of music and I blush at my blindness.

And after all is said and done,

I read Alan Rich.


Here is the first part of the interview:

FALA: What are your strengths as a critic?

AR: I know how to evaluate performance values. I’ve always been able to. The most important influence on my own musical education was Joseph Kerman at UC Berkeley. In addition to being one of the most respected musicologists in the world, he was a performer. He created awareness of performance values at Berkeley by performing — putting on operas and concerts of music all the way from Monteverdi operas to lieder recitals and contemporary music — and he made people aware of the fact that they had not only minds to memorize the dates of composers, but they also had ears to listen.

FALA: What are you listening for when you go to a concert?

AR: When I go to a concert I have a pretty good idea of the music I’m about to hear.

FALA: From recordings?

AR: I listen to recordings, I read scores, I think about what I know of the composer from a long lifetime of hearing his music, and I measure what I hear against what I think I should hear, or what I’d like to hear.

FALA: And the actual qualities of the music you’re listening for? The dynamics of fortissimo and piano? How well the musicians are working together?

AR: Yes, how well they’re working together. I listen for musical shape, both in a piece I know and in one I don’t know. After 82 years I know where a piece of 18th-century or 21st-century music should go based on what it tells me at the beginning. And I watch for how smoothly, successfully and cleverly it goes there. I think I know when a piece of music has reached a satisfactory time of ending. I’m really good at that.

A couple of nights ago I was hearing a whole program of piano music that I didn’t know, and every good piece of music on that program followed a curve and came to an end where it was supposed to. That was good; it kept me awake.

FALA: What is the current state of music criticism in Los Angeles?

AR: Well there are just two of us, really, and there are just two outlets: The LA Times and LA Weekly. There’s also Timothy Mangan at the Orange County Register. But the Times‘ Mark Swed and I both have a passion for new music, and realize that the future of music in Los Angeles depends to a large extent on our support of forward motion. Together we can take a lot of credit for the fact that this is the liveliest music center in the country, both in terms of a very progressive attitude toward performances and toward new music. In terms of quantity we can’t match New York or even Boston, but in terms of quality and state of mind I think we’re right up there, and this is becoming more and more recognized by our colleagues on the East Coast.

There was a story in the New York Times not too long ago called “Continental Shift.” It has to do with Esa-Pekka and concerts of new music, the management of the Philharmonic and at CalArts and other schools, and it has a little bit to do with Mark and me.


Read the entire article.

For my readers who do not know Alan’s work, start by reading his columns “A Little Night Music” for the LA Weekly. His latest book is “So I’ve Heard: Notes of a Migratory Music Critic.”

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