Preconceptions and prejudice have no place in music criticism
That photo shows Herbert von Karajan with the composer Carl Orff. In 1973 Karajan recorded Orff's musical play De temporum fine comoedia (A Play on the End of Time). If that recording was reissued today it would be difficult to imagine any critic appraising it objectively, due to the preconceptions and prejudices associated with not only the composer but also the conductor. Which raises the important question of what exactly should critics judge?
Recently one of our bright young critical things dismissed the late compositions of a number of prominent 20th century British composers in less than 280 characters. The same critic is equally dismissive of J S Bach; but let's leave aside the question as to why, with such superior knowledge, he is not composing the great 21st century symphony instead of posting selfies on Twitter*. Our time is better spent drilling down into how, in recent years, classical reviews have moved away from their raison d'être of analysing the merits of one particular interpretation.
Instead of telling readers whether the conductor and musicians were on top form for that one performance, classical reviews have become platforms for airing personal prejudices and preconception, Let me give an example to illustrate this point. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla is undoubtedly a very talented conductor. But how many bad reviews have you seen of her concerts or recordings? The remarkable absence of anything other than superlatives must mean one of two things. Either Ms Gražinytė-Tyla is superhuman. Or critics are no longer in the business of criticism, but instead see their role as simply extending the narrative du jour.
Social media must take much of the blame for this preeminence of the narrative du jour. Because as a Guardian article pointed out back in 2011, thanks to social media everyone's a critic now. The problem is that everyone is trying, with a singular lack of success, to follow in the footsteps of giants such as Ernest Newman and William Mann. Social media is an instant gratification environment where humility is in desperately short supply. This means that the new generation of critics who have cut their teeth online are filling their reviews with prejudices and preconceptions, because they lack the breadth of experience and knowledge to deconstruct one specific interpretation.
The fashion for reviewing concerts and recordings on how well they fit with the all-important virtue signalling agenda is particularly damaging. Because artistic merit and virtue signalling power are totally unrelated. As a result a lot of music which simply fails to tick the right boxes is being neglected, while music of no lesser - or greater - merit is being given a lot of air time simply because it resonates with the zeitgeist. Preconceptions and prejudice are a very bad thing; but it is conveniently forgotten today that they are bad in more than one way.
* Let's end this nonsense about 'stalking' on social media. If you put your views in the public domain on Twitter don't complain if those views are discussed publicly. If you don't want them discussed then change your privacy settings or kick your social media habit. Reading social media posts that are not privacy protected is not 'trolling': it is trying to understand the zeitgeist. (Note how agreeing with a social media opinion makes you a 'friend', while disagreeing makes you a 'troll' or 'stalker'.) Twitter is not a parallel universe where the rules and professional integrity of the real world no longer apply. Whether we like it or not, and I certainly don't, social media is now the real world. So if you express an opinion on Twitter, don't bitch when it is taken seriously. Does anyone take Trump's rants less seriously because they are expressed on Twitter? Was Rebecca Long-Bailey's endorsement any less 'anti-Semitic' because it was tweeted?
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