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Sunday, 01 December 2013


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Milan Vydareny

The series at Steinberg's blog was a great exchange although I do wonder at Opera aficionados who need walking sticks and wear 4" heels!

More to the point, what I sensed was a difference in levels of expectation and experience among the various posters. I recall two experiences vividly in my artistic attendance. My first exposure to the CSO was pure serendipity. I was walking past Orchestra Hall and noticed that Respighi's "Pines of Rome" was being performed that evening. I had heard recordings of the piece and liked it; it's easy to like! I marched up to the ticket window and got a really great lower balcony seat in the days when all performances regularly sold out. I was blown out my seat by this venerable old show-piece but I can't tell you whether it was a mediocre, average or great performance. I had no benchmark since it was my first time ever attending a live orchestra concert at the CSO level. It was life-changing, however. (Kenneth Jean conducted, to give you some perspective on time.)

On yet another occasion I was in Amsterdam with a free afternoon so I plunked down a few guilders and went to the Rijksmuseum. Everyone has seen images of the painting commonly called "The Night Watch," right? Of course they have. But rounding a corner in a gallery and coming face-to-face with the original work is an experience I will never forget, as much mind-blowing as the Respighi at the CSO.

I know of the depth that you (Patner) have and have also read Ross's "The Rest Is Noise." Clearly both Patner and Ross live in an artistic world much different from most of us. My point here is that an individual's appreciation or evaluation of a particular artistic endeavour is a function both of the emotive impact of the work plus the prior experience of the observer. Thus all evaluations, regardless of disparity, are in some sense correct. We can also safely assume for most audience members who continue to attend and appreciate an art form that their appreciation and evaluation will change over time.

Where does that leave me regarding arts criticism? Just this: I will, of course, continue to have strong opinions about what pleases me and what doesn't. But I'm also grateful for the Andrew Patners, Alex Rosses, and Lisa Hirsches of the world who tend to stimulate my own artistic growth and judgement. Artistic criticism plays a valuable role in the lives of both performers and audience members but should be taken for what they are: expert insights that are also fallible. There have been some really notorious critical faux pax over the centuries, but we needn't dwell on those here. What counts is the significant contributions made by all who write about the arts to everyman's enjoyment.


Andrew  Patner

Beautifully put, Milan, as I would expect from you!

Let me assure you that I and Alex Ross, too, have had and still have moments such as those you describe. I bet Lisa Hirsch has, too. This s a part of what I was alluding to in the opening of the initial review. When a critic stops having or at least hoping for such experiences then it really is time for him or her to move on. "Étonne-moi!" (Astonish me!) as Diaghilev is reported to have said to Cocteau.

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