Sunday, April 01, 2012

STOP PRESS! Critics to undergo formal auditions as musicians

After many discussions in the past year about what makes a good music critic, change is afoot. A consortium of directors drawn from the ranks of arts editors, conservatoire heads and senior figures from the highest echelons of the musical profession is preparing a new scheme whereby every music critic is to be vetted for his or her abilities - as a musician. The panel will be headed by the principal conductor of the UK's top orchestra: Valery Gergiev (right), who has made time in his busy schedule to undertake this vital task. Each critic will be required to perform three constrating pieces of music in front of Maestro Gergiev and his colleagues.

"There's a general feeling amongst musicians that standards of assessment are dropping," said a source close to Gergiev. "We feel it is only fair that the public should be confident that people passing judgment on seasoned artists' professional achievements actually know what they are talking about.

"We cannot have a situation in which, to take a hypothetical example, a pianist might be condemned by a critic who cannot play a note and could consequently be stirred by dubious motivations, such as professional jealousy of another critic who has expressed a contrasting opinion of that artist. We believe that making each critic perform for the panel will not only test their own innate musicianship - and hence the integrity of their judgments - but will also give them a degree of empathy for their targets and the process that each of those musicians undergoes every time he or she is on stage."

In response, a spokesperson for the critics (who prefers not to be named) voices words of protest: "We believe that good critics, first and foremost, must be good writers," she declares. "I have met excellent musicians who can't tell the difference between "their" and "there" and who, frankly, have no clue where to put their apostrophes. Some of them can scarcely spell their own names, let alone the words "persuasive", "occasionally" and "Massachusetts". The musical profession, having concentrated its training on the perfection of performance, sometimes neglects the general education of budding performers to a very unfortunate degree. Consequently, you cannot expect a good musician necessarily to be a good critic. This panel will test only one part of the picture, and not necessarily the best part."

But the die is cast and we're all going to have to audition for Gergiev. So I'd better go and practise. They've promised I will be permitted to play Bach on the piano.

Happy April.