Writers of letters to music critics have their own repertory of cliches. "I wonder if you and I heard the same concert . . ." is one of the most familiar. "You need a hearing aid, and I enclose a catalog" is another. Mr. R. falls back on one of the hoariest, the fact that such-and-such
a performance drew a standing ovation and, therefore, how dare I, etc. "Mr. Rich probably would react by thinking, 'So what?'" True enough. It would take only a few concerts to convince Mr. R. of the particularities of the Los Angeles standing ovation, which you can get just by showing up onstage in matching socks, and which has become the Music Center equivalent of the seventh-inning stretch.
The critic has the responsibility to develop a writing style - throbbing with passion, including such value-judgment words as "trash" and "abomination" - horny enough to attract potential converts. "Hey," I like to think of myself as saying, "there's something going on out there, and I'm excited about it, and here's why, and maybe you should check it out, too." The worst that can happen to a musical community is to be drained of curiosity about anything beyond the Top 50 Masterworks. Los Angeles at the moment is well-served symphonically, less well operatically, and terrifically within the thorny stalks of new music. I'm enough of an egotist to believe that the critical press - thanks to the improvements at the L.A. Times above all - has something to do with this.
"There will be 'wrong' critics only as long as there are lazy listeners," wrote Virgil Thomson. "The critic cannot stop at merely handing out grades . . . but also to nag, wheedle, cajole and - if the occasion calls for it - pontificate. It is not the 'yes' or 'no' of a judgment that is valuable to other people. What other people profit from following is the activity itself, the spectacle of a mind at work . . . A musical judgment is of value to others less for conclusions reached than for the methods they have been, not even arrived at, but elaborated, defended and expressed."
Fifty-plus years old, Thomson's brave new words say it all.