Bernard Holland

Yes, I thought much of his writing on 20th-century music was lamentable. But at least he was saying something. On balance I’m not happy to read that Bernard Holland is leaving the New York Times because the wider point is that he isn’t being replaced, it’s simply that the NY Times is downsizing its classical music coverage. (And they’re not the only ones this week – Detritus brings us news of Melinda Bargreen’s departure from the Seattle Times.) Just another nail in the coffin of public cultural debate.

Amongst all the whooping and hollering going on, Joshua Kosman writes a warm appraisal of Holland’s work.

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8 comments

  1. In the abstract, I would agree with you, but in this particular case, and this particular case only, I feel like less coverage is actually preferable to Holland’s writing. It wasn’t just his coverage of twentieth-century music that was regrettable — in recent years pretty much EVERYTHING he wrote was appalling. Kosman (who has his own infuriating quirks, and whose power over the musical life of San Francisco is sometimes abused, but whose firing *would* sadden me) points out some redeeming qualities. But read in a different way, couldn’t Kosman’s post be seen as an argument that Holland should have retired ten years ago, when he was still… capable of coherent thought?

  2. I take your point, Greg – and on another day I might have made it myself. But as a general rule I like to think that all debate (on any issue) is healthier than no debate. That may be optimistic of me, but I think the irritation of having to articulate a defence against those who are patently wrong is better than the complacency of easy consensus.

  3. I DO agree with you, and maybe I’m just still a little giddy. But there is a difference between opening debate on issues, and making glaring mistakes of fact. (My ex is engaged in a little exchange on this point on Kosman’s blog right now.) I mean, that “composers dying young” piece? The Nico Muhly review in which he couldn’t tell the difference between a violin and a viola? The one that the Parterre homos flipped out about where he CLEARLY had not attended the performance he claimed to be reviewing? These things open no debate at all…

  4. Greg, I’m going to discreetly decline to demur from your comments on BH (how’s that for an alliterative double-negative?) but I’m curious about your parenthetical remarks re: moi. Infuriating quirks I have no doubt in great number. But the idea that I abuse my power over SF’s musical life worries me, if only because I made a very conscious decision many many years ago not to even use, let alone abuse, whatever power might come with this gig.

    The one exception is “Hey, only two performances left — don’t miss it!” or exhortations of that ilk. But as a matter of philosophical commitment I make sure, for instance, not to try to tell people (composers, performers, administrators) how to do their jobs. There are many critics who see it as their role to try to shape the course of the local culture to their will; for better or worse, I’m not among them. I’m not at all sure that’s the right decision, but it is the decision I’ve made.

    So if I’m “abusing my power,” that represents a potential bug in the program, and it’s one I’d like to know about. Could you be more specific please? I ask not in any spirit of confrontation, but because I’d like as much as possible to not be the guy you describe.

    I’ll take my answer off the air — no need for us to hijack Tim’s blog for a private conversation. Thanks…

  5. The one that the Parterre homos

    Asshole. “Homos”? What are you, 12 years old? So Holland couldn’t tell instruments apart, at least he wasn’t a pea-brained bigot like you.

  6. @Henry: Since the only person quibbling with Kosman on his blog is a dude, and that’s presumably whom Greg is referring to as his “ex,” I’m willing to bet that Greg above would count himself in the “homo” category he tied to the Parterre folks. Some people get to use derogatory terms that are off-limits to others.

  7. I turn my back for one minute and this place starts looking like a comments page on the Guardian! ;)

    Greg – you and Dan are right on the issue of glaring inaccuracies. There’s no excuse for that. Although it does raise the question of what are the Times’s subs doing letting so many errors get through, and is music criticism in fact the easiest writing gig in the world because its surrounded by an aura in which no one reads what you write, so it really doesn’t matter what you say, just make your 400 words. The fact that such sloppiness is permissible is obviously a problem.

    Henry – chill.


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