in: News & Features

March 19, 2013

Critic Lloyd Schwartz’s Exit Interview

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With the Phoenix’s abrupt cessation of publication last week, Lloyd Schwartz’s 35-year run as the weekly’s Classical Music Editor ended. Other aspects of his life continue, including a book signing for his new volume, “Music in-and on-the Air,” a collection of most of the reviews the writer has done since becoming the classical music critic for “Fresh Air” 25 years ago. Everybody who wants to condole the veteran reviewer, editor, poet, essayist and Pulitzer Prize winner and talk with him about about classical music, poetry, or the state of the arts journalism world can get a chance at Porter Square Books, 25 White Street, in Cambridge, at 7 pm on March 26. Click here for an order form for the book. A lengthy discussion follows the break.

Lee Eiseman: Lloyd can you start our discussion by talking about the book?

Lloyd looking not too depressed (BMInt staff photo)

Lloyd looking not too depressed (BMInt staff photo)

Lloyd Schwartz: This book is a collection of my Fresh Air pieces. Mostly classical music but a lot of popular music and theater music and movies and comedy records. I selected the pieces and then did only the most minor editing such as taking out all the parts that said, “listen to this clip.” But it’s essentially exactly what I spoke on the air. The reviews are organized in three chronological sections; within each section the content goes in chronological order mainly.  And there’s a section of recent recordings, there’s a section of great historic recordings, which is a passion of mine, and there’s a section in the middle that’s called pop culture and it’s all this, not classical music, but Spike Jones and Jonathan and Darlene Edwards…

The beautifully printed volume starts with a very sweet, generous introduction by Jan Swafford, the Beethoven, Brahms, and Ives biographer. I understand an e-book is in the works, that may be actually ready for circulation in a few weeks.

Is the press run sufficient to cover the demand now that we’re doing this article?

I hope not. [laughter]

Do you think that you’re going to do the same sort of thing ultimately with your 35 years of Phoenix reviews? How many would there be

I have officially done 26 reviews a year, but most years I’ve done a lot more than that. I was contracted to write a review every other week. But during the height of the season I was writing every week around Christmas. Summer I was not writing as often.

So the minimum has got to be 26 times 35.

Right, how much is that?

I don’t know, I’ll figure it out.  [laughter] [910]

Right but it’s definitely more than that. The hard part about doing such a book, and there is some interest from my official publisher of having me do this, is that they want a 200-ish page book. I’ve been dragging my heels because there’s so much stuff to go over in making a selection.

As a reviewer have you every recanted? Do you offer retakes?

Oh sure, I’ve changed my opinion about things over the years. I’m not sure I could tell you, though, nothing particular comes to mind. I know there are things that I didn’t like at first that I’ve come round about and there are artists whom I admired, but  I think I won’t mention any names, when I first heard them, who ended up really disappointing me. I think one of the sad things of the story about the arts in this country that these incredibly talented and brilliant young people come along and they have success and then they get taken up by some big-time agency and then they travel around the world playing the same thing over and over again. And whatever real energy and insight and freshness there was to begin with it gets lost. And it’s a very common story. I mean thinking about the late Van Cliburn as a kind of prime example of someone who really just had it all.

But some artists insist on doing more interesting repertoire and not getting in a rut. And those tend to be the greater artists.

Absolutely. And those are the ones I hadn’t changed my mind about.

And then there’s always Seiji. When Seiji came, everybody was so excited.  After the ancient William Steinberg and the stodgy Erich Leinsdorf, suddenly we had this relative kid who was a genius. You were excited when he arrived, as were all of us.

I was excited. I thought this is really daring of the BSO to leap into a really new territory. You know one of my theories about Ozawa is that if he had been hired by the BSO say four or five years later, it might have been a completely different story. He had all this energy and technique and talent and he really needed to learn more about music and life. And then maybe in a few years he might have reached the level that his early celebrity didn’t allow him to reach.  And that I thought he just stopped growing. You know, that it was not the music, it was the love beads, the turtleneck, it was the long hair.

But the odd thing is though that he would say the St. Matthew Passion was the greatest work in the Western canon.  And then when he came to conduct it, he didn’t really seem to have any emotion.  I mean there wasn’t any feeling for it.  But he knew on some level that he should.  But anyway, we all certainly have our favorite Seiji performances too.

For me it was probably his first performance of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder which he gave a at Tanglewood. I think that’s the best thing he ever did and he did two absolutely wonderful performances of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges some years apart.

Are you were going to use this hiatus as a period to collect your thoughts to give us another book, perhaps a Blair Tindall-esque “Critic in the Jungle?”

No.  [laughter]

But I’m sure you could.

Thank you.

Were there memorable critic catfights where you absolutely outraged readers or performers?

No, not really.

You are always a gentleman even when you don’t like something; you don’t seem to take any Schadenfreude when you have to give a negative review. Of course it’s easier to write a bad review.

It’s tempting to just make fun of the things you hate. I did that a little bit in my first years. But you know, I’m also a teacher. I know that my students have to have some kind of constructive criticism and they flourish under constructive criticism. And that to just say to a student, “this is no good, you have no talent: go away” is not going to help anybody. And that in some way, writing reviews is, for me, a very kind of teacherly experience. I mean I don’t want to be didactic, I don’t want to be pedantic.

But if you write a negative review, do you try to do it in such a way that you could help the performer.

I don’t know if it ever has. But my negative reviews are written with the performer as well as the audience in mind. And I would love it if performers who didn’t live up to my expectations read my review and thought, maybe I could do this better.

Vance Koven of BMInt just wrote a review in which he went to great lengths to praise a young trio’s chops and its players’ good qualities. Yet he had to add that a certain Schubert trio is one of the most poignant things ever written and you don’t need to rush; you need to smell the roses. That’s something that you would think 20-something-year-olds perhaps could benefit from and it was delivered in a way that was meant to be helpful.

Yeah, I think criticism should be like that, but there are times when things are just so bad that you either want to laugh or cry.

And sometimes you would just not publish a review for something if you really felt horrible about it.

I have done that, I have suppressed reviews.

Do you think there are any qualifications necessary for music reviewers? When readers don’t like a BMInt piece they invariably question the reviewer’s qualifications even though most of our reviewers are performers or have advanced degrees in music, or both.  Nobody’s ever mentioned the credentials of a reviewer who made a positive review of course, but to me as a publisher it is more important to present somebody who can write interestingly and vividly describe the event rather than somebody who can do merely a deep musicological analysis, although we have people who can do both. But do you think there are any credentials necessary?

Well, you’re looking at someone with no credentials whatsoever.

Besides a Pulitzer…

Well, you know the Pulitzer came 20 years after I started writing reviews. And it was, among other things, it was very confirming that what I had to say could be rewarded in some way.

Since you say you have no qualifications, what gave you the temerity to begin giving your opinions of performances?

Well, I was giving my opinions of performances long before I started writing reviews, and I do have a kind of critical attitude, in the sense of someone who spent his life evaluating his own experiences, I mean not everybody does that. I sometimes wish more people did  that, not about the arts necessarily but in looking at their own lives.

How did your career start?

I was never anyone who had an ambition to be a classical music critic but I loved classical music from my childhood.  I took music courses in college but I was not a musicologist, certainly not a music major. But I loved music, I appreciated it.  I mean from the time I was in 3rd grade or earlier. I made my mother buy me my first opera when I was 11.

And your memory is pretty acute for performances of the past?

Maybe more acute for performances of the past than for recent performances [laughter].

It’s a very Boston story, and it’s a Boston newspaper story. In 1975, I think, the Herald and the Globe were actually competing. The Herald was trying to compete with the Globe, on every side, from every angle, including the arts. The BSO was going on a European tour and of course the Globe was going to send Richard Dyer on the tour to cover the BSO. So, the Herald decided that they were also going to send Ellen Pfeifer, who was their classical music critic in those days, to cover the BSO tour. Richard had a bunch of second-string critics who could cover the important events in Boston while Richard was away. The Herald didn’t. Nobody but Ellen.

So Ellen needed to find someone. There were going to be two big celebrity series concerts while they were away—Arthur Rubinstein and Beverly Sills—which really needed to be covered. Richard Dyer is a graduate school classmate of mine. He’s one of my oldest friends. I would often spend intermissions at concerts talking to Richard and he would spend intermissions talking to Ellen because they had become very good friends and colleagues. So I got to know Ellen also just from intermission talk. And I’m very opinionated and we would argue or just chat about the concerts during the intermission. Probably not very appropriate for me to be pushing my opinion but I nevertheless had opinions.

So, as I understand it, Ellen, who was desperate to find someone to cover these two concerts, asked Richard if I could write. I guess I seemed smart in some way and thoughtful. So she asked Richard if he thought if I, being a classmate of his in the English Department at Harvard, in the PhD program, could handle a writing assignment.

Richard had never seen anything I had written. But he probably thought that I was OK and responsible. And Ellen took a chance. The first thing I did was go to a concert and write a review of it just to get the hang of it. In those days, the daily papers were printing overnight reviews so you were on an 11:30 or midnight deadline.

So I did a kind of practice review and I showed it to Richard. I don’t remember what it was, a vocal recital I think. And Richard said I forgot to mention the accompanist. I got some very good tips from Richard and then I went to the events and I had a blast. It was great, I had free tickets and my byline in the paper.

Did you have a helpul editor at the Herald?

Are you kidding? The editing at the Herald, certainly in those days, and especially on weekends, was appalling. My first two pieces pretty much came out as I had written them. I had a very good time playing reporter, having my name in the paper, having an opinion about these two great artists which was a complicated opinion that I managed to get into a very short space in a very small amount of time to meet the deadline. And I got, I can’t remember if it was $30 or $35 for writing the review. I loved it. And when Ellen came back from the tour and read my reviews, she liked them and said, Would you be interested in doing more of this, because I can’t cover everything. And the Herald was really trying to compete with the Globe.

So, I was covering the things that Ellen Pfeiffer didn’t want to do or couldn’t do—everything from the international contemporary music festivals to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. And I learned a lot about writing reviews in that time. All on overnight deadlines. Writing fast, thinking fast, taking notes. And I thought that I was adding something to the conversation, that my take on music was not like Ellen’s and it was not like Richard’s. I mean Richard and I had been arguing about music since we knew each other in graduate school. But I thought that I was a fresh voice, that I was not the voice of the professional music critic, I was not a musicologist, I was not a musician. God knows, not a musician. But I thought I had a good ear and I thought I had a way with metaphor that compensated for my being unqualified to talk about what I heard from a technical point of view. Because I didn’t understand music theory, which didn’t really interest me. But I was interested in the history of music and had a background in theater and performance. So I thought I added something.

One example of incompetent editing at the Herald came when I was reviewing a concert by Leonard Shure. In my first sentence I said “Leonard Shure, who had been a student of the great, legendary pianist Artur Schnabel, gave a great…” The headline of that review came out “Memorable Evening with Schnabel.” [laughter]  Another of the Herald’s editorial blunders had interesting ramifications. Russell Sherman had started to resume his concertizing career and while he was in the process putting down his first recordings of Beethoven sonatas, he gave a Beethoven recital which I was covering. I remember this very well. He played the “Waldstein” sonata and I wrote that the last movement seemed very tense and too fast. I wish it had been more “spacious.” The paper printed, “I wish it had been more pious.” It was humiliating to have someone make that change. I did notice that many of the same letters were in both words.

Russell’s recording came out with a wonderful performance of the “Waldstein.” He always wrote his own liner notes and program notes. And he referred to a really strange review that wanted the last movement of the “Waldstein” to be more pious. He didn’t mention my name, thank goodness. I really loved him and admired his playing. And when I finally met him, I introduced myself: “I’m  the critic you were quoting in your liner notes but it wasn’t what I wrote.” And I explained the story and he said something like, “You were right.”  He was still very nervous about playing Beethoven in public in those days and agreed he could have opened up more. The recording, of course, was wonderful. And we’ve been friends ever since. But he thought there was some nutcase writing that review.

Then the Herald collapsed, again, and every freelancer was simply let go without any notification. It was Ellen who had to tell me, “I don’t have a budget for you anymore.”

But there was an opening at the Phoenix. And I applied for it and for various reasons, not all good ones especially but for various reasons I was the only one left in the pool. I was supposed to fill in for Richard Buell, who had been the Phoenix classical music critic for a decade and also writing for the Globe. At the time he was away because he got a fellowship to University of Michigan for a yearlong conference in critical writing. When he came back, the Globe wouldn’t allow him to write for both papers, though he had already been doing it for a decade.

So suddenly I have this job at the Phoenix, with almost unlimited space to write. There were no page restrictions in those days. Stephen Schiff, who was the movie critic at the time, was notorious for writing very long movie reviews. From time to time I would have long reviews. I really was writing essays.

Because I was not on a daily deadline, I had time actually to think and put a review together and maybe review more than one concert that had similar issues. All I had known about editing was from the Herald. But at the Phoenix, this was editing on the absolute highest level. And it involved some disagreements and some arguments. But the music editor at the Phoenix, who later became the arts editor and later the editor of the LA Weekly and the LA Times  magazine, was Kit Rachlis. He was one of those very serious exploratory rock critics, but he really liked working with me. He knew a little about classical music and he knew everything about writing for a newspaper. And we would meet. I would go into the Phoenix (this was before the internet and before email), and I was actually sitting there with an editor who was going over every sentence saying, “Do you really mean this? Could you find a more interesting way of making this sentence, let alone making this point?” And sometimes I would disagree with him and we would have shouting matches, but I never learned so much about journalism and writing for a newspaper, writing to be read, as I did from Kit. He got that I was very consciously trying to write reviews that sounded like my half of a conversation with the reader. I was not lecturing the reader, I was not showing off how much I knew (because I didn’t know all that much), but I knew I was smart and I knew I could write.

I was also writing poems. My first book of poems came out in 1981 and I was working on poems, largely monologues, dramatic monologues in the voices of a lot of different characters. I was an actor and a storyteller. I had something in my head that I wanted to get across to someone who could read me and then say, Oh but what about this? Of course they couldn’t, though they could write a letter. But people didn’t write many letters.

Can you tell us why you think it’s important that concerts get reviewed? I started the Intelligencer because I felt a lot of concerts weren’t receiving notices. And I also thought it was important that there be more than one reviewer’s voice. Is it the historic record that’s important? Is it helping the artist and entertaining the readers?

Yes to both of those. But art, which means music and painting and literature and poetry, is what makes us human. And part of what humanizes us is that we can talk about it—and we have to talk about it. If it’s just, I go to a concert and I think there’s a beautiful piano performance and I come home and I think how beautiful, and there’s nothing further,  no further discussion either with someone who was there (or not) and either didn’t agree with me or did. Or maybe I could tell someone who is reading me: you may have never have heard of this pianist but go to his or her next concert because something is really going on here and you’ll hear something in the music that you haven’t heard before. So there’s a kind of evangelism…I want people to love the things I love.

I think of concertgoers as votaries and the performers and the critics as proselytizers in a way.

That’s my religion. And I do think art has the power—or at least the possibility—to humanize those who love it and care about it.

But not every performance rises to that level. And some performers seem to be performing machines. And  some never find a way to make such connections with their audiences.

Some hot young performers get ground into rote and become performing machines. How many times is a young violinist going to play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto? Some of this limitation of repertoire is driven by marketing, and I agree with you that part of it is the irrational fear of giving an imperfect performance in an era of records, where we don’t hear or expect any mistakes. I’d rather have mistakes…and something alive.

But a performer who’s competing with his own recordings is going to play it safe all the time.

Well, that’s the sad thing about the commercial aspect of the performing world. One of the other problems is something that only some part of the public knows about. They’re going to go to a recital and think “Oh, here’s this famous star” and some people are going to think “Oh no, he’s back, he’s going to do exactly the same thing he did the last three times he was here.” What even the more sophisticated members of the audience don’t know is the relationship between the management agencies and the orchestra or the concert series that hire the celebrities, and that there are a lot of really not very good, not even particularly talented so-called “artists” who were performing because a management firm really insisted that their clients be used.

And do you think Seiji was aware of that pressure?

Deep down I have to say yes. He seemed such an innocent in so many ways that I couldn’t say for sure. You know I made a point of never meeting Seiji because I didn’t want to get caught up in a kind of personal affection. He’s charismatic and it’s hard to avoid that. I would argue with people who loved some performance and said, “Oh look at him on the podium.” I’d say, promise me that the next time you go to a Seiji Ozawa concert you will close your eyes and tell me what you’re hearing. But it was hard to do that.

Also, in terms of repertoire it’s not clear that the orchestras want interesting repertoire from artists who want to give it. I mean Mark Andre Hamelin, for instance, could ask for all sorts of unusual concerti but the orchestras wouldn’t agree.

I couldn’t agree with you more.

But anyway, here’s my parting question. Do you think we’re doing a good job at the Intelligencer at developing a useful conversation among performer, presenter, critic and audience? One recent post that I was particularly proud was our interview with Paul Lewis wherein we talked at length about whether Schubert’s three last sonatas were the works of a man who knew he was dying and if so, did he write something different than he would have as a twenty-eight year old in good health. The ensuing comments from musicologists, music historians and listener made me feel really good as a publisher.

Yeah, thank God BMInt’s there for that kind of conversation. I admire the breadth of the events that you’ve covered, no one else comes near. The Globe could come compete if they wanted to but they clearly don’t want to. At the Phoenix, I was always wishing I could go to three concerts at the same time. I haven’t always make the best decision on a given night.

We’re having fourteen reviews this weekend.

That’s amazing. That’s great for the community and it’s great for the performers.

Anything we could do better?

I wish you could pay people.

We all seem to be comfortable with the volunteer model at this point. But the writers at least get good free tickets to some of the events. That’s something, although it doesn’t professionalize it. I’m putting in twenty to thirty hours a week out of love. And I just can’t figure out, aside from begging, how to monetize it. I mean I get offers for $500 ads here and there but they’re from presenters and performers and I just won’t take an ad from a stakeholder because there’s an appearance of a quid pro quo even if it doesn’t exist.

One of the great things about working for the Phoenix is that nobody ever pressured me to review something because there was or might be an ad in the Phoenix.

Well a bigger paper can do that, but for a small journal/blog, it doesn’t look good if it has only few ads and it reviews those presenters or performers.

Right; no, it doesn’t.

So aside from finding some revenue to offer writers, is there any area where you think we should strive to improve?

No, I think it’s a very admirable and idealistic enterprise and I’m very glad it exists.

And we wish you all the best and hope to have the pleasure of publishing more of your words.

Lloyd Schwartz is Frederick S. Troy Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a regular commentator on music and the arts for NPR’s Fresh Air. For 35 years, he was Classical Music Editor of the Boston Phoenix. He is the author of three poetry collections—These People (Wesleyan), and Goodnight, Gracie and Cairo Traffic (U of Chicago)—and edited Elizabeth Bishop and Her Art (U of Michigan), Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters (Library of America), and the centenary edition of Elizabeth Bishop: Prose (FSG). Three-time winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for his writing about music, he has also won grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Society of America (for poetry), the United States Information Agency (for his work on Elizabeth Bishop), and the Amphion Foundation (for his writing on contemporary music). His poems, articles, and reviews have appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Vanity Fair, the New Republic, the Paris Review, Ploughshares, the Pushcart Prize, the Best American Poetry, and the Best of the Best American Poetry. In 1994, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism and named one of Boston’s “Literary Lights.”

23 Comments

  1. >> So suddenly I have this job at the Phoenix,

    Lloyd may be being not only a little modest but also forgetful. For the record, his hiring was chiefly my doing as the paper’s managing editor (and also occasional classical reviewer), wondering how we were ever going to get someone to replace Buell. We all felt fortunate to get a ‘new’ reviewer as experienced and reliable as Lloyd.

    Comment by David Moran — March 19, 2013 at 8:43 pm

  2. I will miss Lloyd’s reviews. I did not always agree with him, but that is as it should be. I did always find his reviews stimulating which is what a review should be.

    Comment by Julian — March 19, 2013 at 8:53 pm

  3. I will also miss Lloyd’s many, many reviews, but there is poetry we can all move on to! One of his poems, “Dead Battery Blues,” was pure fun setting to music some years ago.

    Comment by David Patterson — March 20, 2013 at 1:38 pm

  4. “And I just can’t figure out, aside from begging, how to monetize it.” Dude, just ASK US, and make it easy to give!! It’s not begging; it’s an opportunity for us to support and participate in what you are doing here, which is immensely rewarding.

    Comment by Mark D. — March 20, 2013 at 5:33 pm

  5. I’m not certain (I wanted to avoid “sure”) which Shure performance Lloyd reviewed, but for those
    who’d like to sample this great artist, there is a compilation of NEC Faculty Performances by Shure
    at Jordan Hall (Boston) on Bridge Records BCD 9374. If you go to the Arkiv site, there’s a link
    at http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=784404. The annotator (and appreciater)
    Richard Dyer, says glowing words.

    Comment by Martin Cohn — March 20, 2013 at 6:41 pm

  6. Martin, unfortunately ArkivMusic is a shamfull and *** company. *** At the result ArkivMusic infested market with large amount of **** horribly sounding CDs and nowadays it is pretty much an assurance that if you find any more or less rare and out of print CD at ArkivMusic then it will be but the most horrible that it will be a direfully sounding CD.

    note: this comment edited to remove unsubstantiated serious charges

    Comment by Romy The Cat — March 20, 2013 at 9:14 pm

  7. A few hours before Romy’s post, Steinway & Sons announced it has just bought ArkivMusic.

    Comment by nimitta — March 20, 2013 at 11:16 pm

  8. Even years ago, when both dailies were competing and had multiple reviewers, it was always Lloyd Schwartz’s reviews that were must-reads for both me and my fellow freelancers. What the dailies would say was predictable, and largely shallow; Lloyd’s reviews got to the heart of the matter.

    Extraordinarily fine work, and both it and he will be missed.

    Comment by Mark Rohr — March 21, 2013 at 6:43 am

  9. Lee, the comments about Arkiv are unsupported and libelous. Why tolerate them?
    By the way, the Bridge sounds fine, the playing is superb.

    Comment by Martin Cohn — March 21, 2013 at 9:21 am

  10. Steinway bought ArkivMusic 5 years ago. Nimitta must have seen a misdated announcement.

    I am not sure whether the “fraudulent and highly shamfull” comments should be better characterized as libelous or ludicrous. Do our libel laws obtain in the alternate universe they proceed from ?

    Comment by SamW — March 21, 2013 at 10:35 am

  11. Readers should note that since I removed intemperate language from Romy’s earlier comment, some of the follow-ups lack context. Comment writers should be careful not to expose themselves to libel and slander charges.

    I have also unapproved Romy as a contributor until I receive assurances from him that he will observe our standards for civility. I’m very sorry to have to do this, since his comments are often interesting.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — March 21, 2013 at 11:06 am

  12. It’s fun to get excited about things and express opinions forcefully, but the setting affects what is acceptable. As you say, Romy can be interesting, so I hope he’ll be able to scale things back and return, even if I do find it tiresome that he never seems to be able to enjoy a BSO performance.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — March 21, 2013 at 10:25 pm

  13. Lee, thank you for the thoughtful interview with Lloyd. It’s a wonderful read and captures so much of what makes Lloyd’s voice special to so many of us.

    Comment by Catherine Peterson — March 22, 2013 at 7:42 pm

  14. ‘Well, you’re looking at someone with no credentials whatsoever’.

    I guffawed!! Imagine a critic with the candor to admit this!

    What I like about Lloyd’s reviews – whether I agree with them or not (and I often do) – is his emotional presence. Here is someone who genuinely seems to enjoy going to concerts (most of the time). His reviews, besides being consistently well-written. are about the experience of ‘being there’ and whether he was been moved – and if not, why not – rather then endless musicological babble.

    Lloyd’s voice will – and must – continue to be heard. It’s only a question of where.

    Comment by Michael Beattie — March 22, 2013 at 11:19 pm

  15. Thank you to all the readers of this interview for your kind words of support. These are the readers who’ve made my part of our “conversation” about music so fulfilling over the past 35 years.

    To David Moran: Not forgetful at all. You are the person who hired me, and in a very unusual way. As I recall, there were three contenders to replace Richard Buell while he spent his year at the University of Michigan. David, you had invited Russell Sherman to give a private pre-New York recital at your house. The three contenders were all invited and asked to try out by reviewing the Sherman recital. I loved Russell Sherman’s playing and couldn’t believe my good fortune to be invited to this recital. I was the only one of the applicants for the position to show up, so I got the job by default. I didn’t have to write the review. But as you know, I reviewed many Sherman concerts for the Phoenix–one of the particular joys of that job. It was, in fact, at that recital at your house that I explained to Russell that I was the critic he was quoting–or mis-quoting–about the “pious” Waldstein. Thank you for hiring me. You did a brave and wonderful thing and I will never cease to be grateful.

    To Martin Cohn: The Leonard Shure performance I was reviewing for the Herald took place at Jordan Hall in November of 1976.

    Comment by Lloyd Schwartz — March 23, 2013 at 9:52 pm

  16. Would anyone mind if this particular interested party got his own petty and egocentric two-cents-worth in?

    The period of time during which I happened to be writing for both the Globe and the Phoenix was 4 to 5 years, not 10. I put it that way because my academic year at Ann Arbor was actually spent not writing for either of them. (Therefore subtract 1 if it suits.)

    And the program itself was not “a year-long conference in critical writing” but an analogue (funded then by the National Endowment for the Humanities) to the Harvard’s Niemans and open to mid-career journalists of all sorts. A “Knight Wallace Fellow” — signifying a change in where the money has been coming from recently — is what I’d be called now.

    And there was never any express Diktat from on high at the Globe forbidding me to write for the Phoenix. Covering and writing about the same event for both — which I did only once I think — didn’t go over, but all I ever got for that was the lifting of an eyebrow.

    Well, there was that morning in 1978 when I showed up at the Phoenix office in an altered state of consciousness (ah youth!) and told Steve Mindich to go back to his pushcart. At the time I felt I was burning bridges (especially the day after), but Peter Herbst later on said I was welcome back any time.

    The Phoenix came out once a week, the Globe seven times a week. The latter offered better exposure and more work hence more money. And it was obvious I could learn a lot more by working with/alongside/around/despite Richard Dyer than if I’d tried to shoehorn myself into a cubbyhole with Lloyd.

    And, let us remember. that was when the Globe — thanks to Michael Steinberg’s having set the precedent — the Globe covered virtually everything. Lloyd couldn’t, and he didn’t have to.

    I remember Michael writing to me in Ann Arbor, playfully, that Lloyd, my then-substitute, “tends to have religious experiences.”

    Under the aspect of eternity all this seems so important — not!

    Comment by Richard Buell — March 24, 2013 at 12:01 am

  17. Lloyd, what a superior memory you have. Thanks much. And what a packed hauskonzert that was, with people even spilling onto the stairs of a small Auburndale colonial. Russell played well then, and I still hit that same piano every day. How good that it all worked out as it did, that you went on to enthusiastic local eminence. Thanks again for the clarity and elaboration, 35 years on.

    (Richard, it was I who got your publisher slur effectively unwound.)

    Comment by David Moran — March 24, 2013 at 1:37 am

  18. Excellent reading, all!

    Comment by Clark Johnsen — March 24, 2013 at 4:01 pm

  19. To Richard Buell. Thanks for correcting the information about your time in Michigan. My memory of the story came completely from what I was told by the Music Editor of the Phoenix. I think you must have been writing for the Phoenix for considerably longer than four or five years, though the time you were writing simultaneously for the Globe was surely as you say. My position at the Phoenix was explicitly to be your replacement, to fill in for you for a year. When you returned, I was warmly thanked and given my walking papers. There was no offer to alternate with you once you returned, even occasionally. You then wrote one Phoenix review. A few days after your review appeared, I got a phone call from my former editor informing me that you had been contacted by a Globe editor who was disturbed to “discover” that you were writing for both papers, something you had been doing for a number of years (as I recall, the phrase my editor used was “called on the carpet”). He told me that you’d been forced by the Globe to choose between the Phoenix and the Globe. Since you’d be doing much more writing at the Globe, and getting paid more, there was no question that you had to choose the Globe. And so I was asked to return to the Phoenix. There was never any intention, as far as I knew, to have us both writing for the Phoenix. The information about your departure from the Phoenix was what was reported to me directly by my editor.

    Over the years, I got to be good friends with Michael Steinberg–he was a great and eloquent critic and music historian, a profound role model for younger writers. When I was guest editor for an issue of Ploughshares in 1979, I asked Michael if he would contribute something for my issue. He gave me his extraordinary translation of an ETA Hoffmann story (I urge readers to try to find that issue–I don’t know if it was ever republished. It’s both amusing and painful, even under the aspect of eternity, to learn so many years later that someone I admired so much was having fun at my expense.

    Comment by Lloyd Schwartz — March 24, 2013 at 11:52 pm

  20. Let me also add how much I admired Richard Buell’s writing in both the Phoenix and the Globe. Few writers have been so witty and smart in what they had to say about music.

    Comment by Lloyd Schwartz — March 24, 2013 at 11:55 pm

  21. Conclusion first: in due time things worked out for the best for all concerned and people wound up where they belonged. Can this be denied?

    Honest, I don’t remember any Globe management heavy breathing (certainly not directly at me) about my working both sides of the street. Which is only to say that I don’t remember it. As to a mooted sharing of tasks on the Phoenix, this may have been on my mind at the time — if on my mind only — and most likely in the form of some sort of turf-battle paranoid fantasy. I did mention an “altered state of consciousness” above, didn’t I. As to the unfortunate “pushcart” incident, THAT it happened is all I’m really sure of.

    Well, that was then — 35 years ago — and this is now. “Mens sana in corpore sano” is the way to go, I’ve found. Otherwise, in my case, there wouldn’t even be a now.

    And Lloyd, I agree heartily with what you say about my writing.

    Comment by Richard Buell — March 25, 2013 at 1:25 am

  22. Alright, everybody. An interview is just that. It is not a scholarly article. In this case, it qualifies as “oral history.” Harvard Am Civ students used to be taught not to regard Mark Twain’s account of Life on the Mississippi [to the publisher: itals needed] as accurate, because that raconteur was writing about his experiences of decades earlier. That is, until some wag pointed out that that is precisely what oral history IS. Recollections. And it has values if taken as that. Temps perdu, folks. This journal aims not only to be timely, but to beat other “publications” to the punch whenever possible, and therefore “time is of the essence.”

    Actually, I did wonder about the length of time Richard Buell had been writing for the Globe and assumed that my memory was faulty. But Buell loves to be punchy (part of his charm is his sometimes nasty ebullience, even when one is the recipient of the barbs), and his writing should be interpreted that way. Even he is not sure about demands made or not made by the Globe and the Phoenix.

    A week or so ago, I did raise the issue of potential libel from some of Romy’s comments with Lee, as my name still appears on the masthead and I do not favor squandering my wonderful six grandchildren’s inheritance on the courts. I do think there was no need — especially with offending remarks expunged, to state that Romy had been “unapproved”; the wording on his status could have been more gentle, something like, “We enjoy many of Romy’s provocative (sometimes provoking) statements, and hope he can continue, with adherence to BMInt’s policy of restraint and courtesy.” Time for a little of it on the entire interview, here.

    Comment by Bettina A. Norton — March 25, 2013 at 5:57 am

  23. “What even the more sophisticated members of the audience don’t know is the relationship between the management agencies and the orchestra or the concert series that hire the celebrities, and that there are a lot of really not very good, not even particularly talented so-called “artists” who were performing because a management firm really insisted that their clients be used.”

    I so wish to see curtain pulled back on the wizard. When listeners not in-the-know find out why and how they are listening to such and such an artist, they are amazed; cheated they are.

    Comment by aaron — April 3, 2013 at 11:32 am

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