Was the critic at the same concert as the rest of us?

Consensus is that although Gustavo Dudamel's Mahler Prom with the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra had its high spots it also had its low spots. Which raises the questions as to whether the critic who penned the five star review seen above was listening to the same concert as the rest of us. But then, with their chief arts writer Charlotte Higgins supplying sleeve notes for Dudamel's Simón Bolívar Orchestra Mahler recordings and contributor Tom Service also presenting Proms for the BBC I wonder whether comment really is free at the Guardian these days?

* 'Comment is free but facts are sacred' are the words of celebrated Guardian editor C.P. Scott. Now follow the path from Dudamel to Barbirolli.

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telemann said…
You complained about the favorable review in the Guardian (it can't be objective because the critic apparently wrote the liner notes to a Dudamel CD), so consequently the other reviewers must be free of any bias, despite Geoff Brown's review is rather full of bitchy, snarky one-liners such as "El Sistema has done something similar, if more domestic, by taking these players and many others from living on crime and drug-spattered streets to living with dignity and hope. And frequent flyer miles." Or how about this one: "More thinking about the symphony’s long-term structural needs might be in order – if Dudamel of course has the time in his whirlwind career."

Talk about critics with agendas....
Pliable said…
I am always suspicious of made for single comment profiles but I have let the one above through anyway.

As spelt out in my post it was not Guy Dammann who wrote the notes for Dudamel's Mahler 5, it was Charlotte Higgins.

I am not interested in deconstructing Geoff Brown's review. As I said in the post the Prom "had its high spots it also had its low spots". That is what I heard and what is also reflected in virtually every review including Gavin Plumley's otherwise positive coverage which highlights the excessively slow speeds in the second movement.

The Guardian review failed to acknowledge anything other than the high spots and that is why I wrote the post against the background of the paper's longstanding Dudamel boosterism.

Andrew Morris said…
There is another possibility - an explaination I’ve been tending towards for some time: our man Dammann just isn’t very good.
Pliable said…
Andrew, thank you for that. And thank you for, unlike some commenters, putting yor money where your mouth is

John Babb said…
Pliable , I think the conclusions of your post are wrong. I have no time for the hype round Dudamel and think that the effects of being in the Hall will have led to the 5 star rating the Guardian critic gave the concert. Many things affect the reception/ perception of a concert apart from the quality of the playing per se.
Do you want everyone to have the same views ? The Daily Telegraph critic gave the concert 5 stars as well. Where I think you are wrong is to suggest that there is a 'party line' operating at the Guardian to overhype Dudamel. The critics on the paper are very diverse. Tom Service is almost never interesting , Clements is very predictable but the others, including Guy Dammann are usually worth reading. At least we have been spared (so far ) a review from Jessica Duchen.
Pliable said…
John, I am afraid I simply cannot agree with your view that there is not a 'party-line' operating at the Guardian to overhype Dudamel.

Following my links from the post back to 2006 uncovers an unbroken sequence of Dudamel hype, the first of which forms my post's end link.

Can any readers supply a link to a Guardian article about Dudamel that reflects a truly balanced viewpoint?
Pliable said…
Guy Dammann has added a comment. For some reason the software is revealing Guy's email address so I have removed it and copied the comment over:

Hello. I'm a great admirer of this blog which is why I'm bothering to respond to this post.

You ask if I was "listening" to the same concert. I was in the hall, door H stalls. Where were you?

To answer your other question, no, of course there isn't a party line at the Guardian concerning Dudamel. Charlotte is not a critic for the Guardian and has no say in what gets reviewed, who reviews it, or how it is reviewed. Tom does not review for the Guardian any more either, partly because of the possible conflict of interest with his BBC duties. As for me, I could have given this concert 1 star and it would have been printed thus in the next morning's paper. The Guardian trusts its critics to express their own opinion - indeed, that's precisely what they are paid to provide.

I'm all for your scrutinising hidden agendas, but there's nothing to scrutinise here. There's a spread of opinion between the newspaper critics between 4 and 5 stars (I haven't seen Richard Morrison's though, and I gather it's not very favourable), which is hardly unusual for an exceptional concert. I happen to like my Mahler 2 on the theatrical side, and having heard a performance which gave very accurate and overwhemingly passionate expression to a thoughtful, coherent and rather theatrical interpretation (well suited to the RAH, by the way), I found myself moved to write what I did. Filing the same evening for the news pages rather than the reviews, I kept the piece light on technical observations, but my judgement would have been the same either way.

Of course, you're entitled to ask whether there's a party-line to toe, and whether I was simply reflecting the hype. But the only influence of hype which I can see in the general commentary surrounding this performance (under my review and elsewhere) is that which lies behind a general determination not to enjoy this concert. Classical listeners are so keen to show they're above things like hype that they can forget that hype is sometimes justified, especially in the present, inspirational, context.

Finally, you ask in your last comment for balanced Guardian articles about Dudamel. I would argue that my article is balanced, but I think what you mean is an article expressing only moderate enthusiasm. Here's one


Here's another


and here's another


In any case, keep up the good work with the blog. The classical music world is much the richer for it.
Pliable said…
Guy, many thanks for that response and we now know that we were both listening to the same concert. As per my preview post, I listened on BBC Radio 3 and also saw the BBC 4 deferred relay. The fact that you were in the hall and I was listening via a very high quality audio system may explain some our divergence of views. Clearly the atmosphere in the hall was part of the concert experience.

But I still believe there is a deeper problem. The three "balanced" articles about Dudamel that you identify are all concert reviews and they are spread over a six year period. There are many useful lessons to learn from this debate and one is, I believe, that the Guardian has to be more careful about using editorial space to promote an artist, as it has transparently done with Dudamel.

Here is an example of partisan editorial writing:


The word count of that gushing profile is 969, which is only slightly less than the combined word count of the three "balanced" articles that you cite.

I can only speak for myself. But as a Guardian reader I no longer fully trust anything the paper publishes about Dudamel because it takes such a partisan editorial position. I am sorry if that coloured my judgement of your review, but I suggest the fault lies as much with the Guardian editorial team as with me.

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