Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« The Great Schlep | Re: The Great Schlep »

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Plain Dealing? I Don’t Think So: A Tough Critic Silenced in Cleveland

posted by on September 25 at 8:57 AM

Donald Rosenberg, the Cleveland Plain Dealer classical music critic who has been covering the venerable Cleveland Orchestra for 28 years, has been removed from his beat.

Removing a critic from his beat after 28 years is tantamount to firing him. He’s been reassigned to general “arts and entertainment reporter” and the paper is refusing to explain itself, though in Rosenberg’s account, he was called into the editor’s office and summarily “reassigned” after she accused him of “attacking” the orchestra.

It’s true that Rosenberg was deeply critical of the orchestra’s current conductor, Franz Welser-Möst.

It’s also true that the editor who fired Rosenberg has been at the helm of the paper a single year—and the publisher is on the board of trustees of the orchestra.


Stop, stop, stop.

Just about every critic worth anything has a long list of people lining up at the editor or publisher’s door requesting their removal.

In this case, even the orchestra’s executive director tells the New York Times: “I’ve never read anything in a Rosenberg review that was nonmusical.” He says he didn’t ask for Rosenberg’s removal.

Probably he didn’t have to. When the publisher is on the board of the orchestra, the critic is the one on the outside from the beginning.

I can’t describe how wrong this is.

Welser-Möst has received mixed reviews from other critics as well. On tour in Europe, he gets good response. In New York, so-so. But these reviews are from critics who don’t have to listen to his work every single week. What is a critic supposed to do when he believes, as Rosenberg told the New York Times, that “this is a case of an extraordinary orchestra with an ordinary conductor”? Be quiet about it? Who’s best serving the city, the organization, and the art form then?

Repeated criticisms of the same subject by the same critic can begin to sound shrill. Readers often begin to accuse critics of having ulterior motivations. Critics have to watch out for this—and judging by Rosenberg’s writings, he stayed well on the safe side of this dynamic.

But what is a critic to do when he or she disagrees with the artistic philosophy or doubts the abilities of a conductor, or a museum director, or the head of a theater?

The last time I was in a situation not unlike Rosenberg’s (before his “reassignment,” that is), a colleague who has been in the business far longer than I have pointed out: Editors and publishers don’t mind if you write that this concert was boring and that concert was boring. But if you string it together into institutional critique—hey, everything that director does is boring, and wait, that’s keeping the institution back—then you, the critic, are seen as “on the attack.”

I fear that something like this happened to Don Rosenberg, when he was simply trying to do his job.

At this moment, I’m just glad I don’t work for the Plain Dealer. The paper has embarrassed itself and its city.

RSS icon Comments


What an utterly fascinating you must lead.

Warning, kids : attempting to "write sbout art" for a prolonged period of time will indeed make you this crushingly dull.

Just say no!

Posted by Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz | September 25, 2008 9:17 AM

the gerard schwartz of cleveland.

2011 is too far away.

Posted by max solomon | September 25, 2008 9:36 AM

@1: Fuck right off, you cretin.

@Jen: Thanks for this. When the world isn't busy firing critics, it's busy muzzling them. The sadness!

Posted by Billy the Cid | September 25, 2008 9:40 AM

The Cleveland Orchestra has been firing many long time employees as well. It is a toxic environment there. The story is not as much the Plain Dealer as it is the orchestra.

Posted by From Ohio | September 25, 2008 9:44 AM

That's because the paper name is being changed to the Palin Dealer and their actions and policies must reflect that.

Posted by S-Lo | September 25, 2008 9:55 AM

Damn--there goes Cleveland's artistic reputation.

Posted by Tiktok | September 25, 2008 10:03 AM

@6 - You may scoff, but the Cleveland Orchestra is one of the Big 5 orchestras, one of the most important classical music institutions in the country:

What a sad, sad read. It's this sort of back-room politics that drags these institutions down, and, along with the depressing lack of new music programming, is one reason why I just don't bother to attend orchestra concerts anymore.

Posted by David | September 25, 2008 10:05 AM

Fuck right back off yourself, crybaby. It's dopes like you that make dopes like Jen think they serve some "purpose".

Posted by Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz | September 25, 2008 10:31 AM

Really, Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. You know it deep down inside—you're an idiot.

Posted by Billy the Cid | September 25, 2008 10:42 AM

@1 & @8:
Yes, well, that's the sort of blinkered, philistine pig ignorance I've come to expect from you non-creative garbage. You sit there on your loathsome, spotty behinds squeezing blackheads, not caring a tinker's cuss for the struggling artist. You excrement! You whining, hypocritical toadies, with your colour TV sets and your Tony Jacklin golf clubs and your bleeding Masonic secret handshakes!

Posted by Joe M | September 25, 2008 10:47 AM

Ha, like THIS is going to embarrass Cleveland. Let's all go to the Flats! Go Yeomen!

Posted by john | September 25, 2008 12:23 PM

No, Billy, deep down, I know somebody that writes the turgid crap that the (cough) esteemed Ms. Graves writes is an idiot, trumped only by someone who thinks she's not one.

And @10 - oooh, you can Google Monty Python sketches. Isn't he a CLEVER little boy - do you like your rattle? Oooh, can you talk, can you talk?

Posted by Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz | September 25, 2008 8:55 PM

Cowards. Censors. The Plain Dealer never was an interesting paper anyway except for Don Rosenberg's reviews which were written with educational and historical detail and, in my opinion, utterly truthful about the great and powerful FWM. Hopefully the people behind this "change" will have the same thing happen to them (sooner rather than later).

Posted by Sharlet | September 27, 2008 11:37 AM

lertnphjx zgnbt vyocljbdr xinkp bdolzxft bfzdthqji zlfsmj

Posted by knwicmh ijmbx | September 28, 2008 12:08 PM

lertnphjx zgnbt vyocljbdr xinkp bdolzxft bfzdthqji zlfsmj

Posted by knwicmh ijmbx | September 28, 2008 12:10 PM

Comments Closed

Comments are closed on this post.