Cleveland Orchestra hires its own “critic” in Miami

February 07, 2011
By David Fleshler

The Cleveland Orchestra has hired a "critic-in-residence" to help promote its concerts with Franz Welser-Möst in Miami

The Cleveland Orchestra, not known as a fan of music critics, has hired one to assist with its annual residency in Miami.

Enrique Fernandez, former features editor, critic and staff writer at The Miami Herald, has been engaged to do a blog on the orchestra’s Miami residency web site.

Fernandez, who has the title critic-in-residence, said he will not be reviewing concerts, as that would put him in the awkward position of passing judgment on his employer. Instead he will attempt to stimulate discussion among the blog’s readers, in hopes that the blog will be driven and supported by comments from the orchestra’s listeners in South Florida.

So far, in response to Fernandez’s prompting, comments posted by readers have ranged from laudatory on the orchestra’s first performances at the Arsht Center in Miami to highly critical, in particular of Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s performance of the Schumann Piano Concerto. The critical comments have remained on the site, and Fernandez said that’s how the blog will be run.

“The whole point is to curate the discussion, and I’m trying to leave my critical opinions out of it,” said Fernandez, who holds a doctorate in comparative literature and has covered music, literature and other cultural subjects for the Herald. “I know some people found Aimard’s rendering of the Schumann horrible. I’m actually glad they’re saying that. I’m glad there are dissenting opinions. This isn’t for the views of the Cleveland Orchestra. As much as possible, let’s get a discussion going, which is healthy and opinionated.”

Fernandez said the orchestra is trying to go beyond a monolithic institutional voice and to embrace the dynamic possibilities for give-and-take offered by the web. “Online brings a whole new dimension to things,” he said. “It’s an acknowledgment of that that prompted the orchestra to foster the discussion, to stimulate a community who goes to concerts and wants to write something about it.”

In comments so far, listeners have inquired about the name of the encore from the most recent concert (Träumerei am Kamin from Richard Strauss’ opera, Intermezzo). One reader wrote in that a melody in Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, performed on this season’s first concert program, had been the theme for the old TV series The Naked City. They discussed whether it’s all right to applaud between movements. Several said they loved the performance of Ein Heldenleben (“This is an amazing orchestra for playing Strauss,” wrote one. “The sound is unbelievable.”) and there were several comments on the Schumann concerto like this: “I was very disappointed by the poor interpretation of Schumann’s piano concerto both from the soloist and from the orchestra.”

The orchestra made news in 2008 for successfully pressuring The Cleveland Plain Dealer into removing its longtime music critic Donald Rosenberg from coverage of the orchestra, after his frequent criticisms of music director Franz Welser-Möst. But the orchestra’s Miami residency director, Sandi Macdonald, said the hiring of Fernandez is not an attempt to do an end run around traditional music critics.

“That couldn’t be further from the overall goal of the web site,” she said. “He is not shilling for us. The purpose of the blog is to create a place for discussion.”

The blog is part of a larger strategy by the orchestra to create more of a sense of community around its winter activities in South Florida, she said. Now it its fifth year, the residency consists of concerts at the Arsht Center, as well as master classes, programs with Miami-Dade County public schools and family events. Macdonald also said that negative reviews of the orchestra will not be deleted.

“I was actually thrilled that people have opinions,” she said.

6 Responses to “Cleveland Orchestra hires its own “critic” in Miami”

  1. Posted Feb 08, 2011 at 11:15 am by Clarence Bucaro

    I no longer read in town reviews of the Cleveland Orchestra and when I can attend a concert I try to select one that features a guest conductor. I have not been disappointed. This is no knock on Franz. He looks good in publicity photos.

  2. Posted Feb 08, 2011 at 7:02 pm by Marvin

    So can the Cleveland Orchestra fire it’s patrons if they post a negative review of W-M? Isn’t that the idea of a professional music critic to provide an “expert” review of a performance? Do people really care that much about random audience members’ views?

  3. Posted Feb 09, 2011 at 9:32 am by Tom

    Rosenberg’s reviews never struck me as expert, except in the “I know what I like” sense.

    I think this blog to stimulate discussion is a good idea. If people need critics to tell them what they should like or dislike, they may as well stay home and just let the critic go to the concert.

  4. Posted Feb 11, 2011 at 7:11 pm by Rich Copley

    The blog looks like an interesting attempt at editorial-style marketing. There is nothing wrong with that, and it looks like Dr. Fernandez is enjoying the gig. But the title critic, in this instance, is a misnomer, though he seems to be the kind of critic the Cleveland Orchestra wants: one who never renders an opinion.

  5. Posted Feb 11, 2011 at 7:14 pm by WriterGal

    Perhaps this is too quick a response, but what the heck? Why hasn’t there been any publicity about this in Cleveland? Just askin’–.

    People that are comfortable in their own skins don’t care what a critic likes or dislikes, but they can learn from a critic (or any teacher) if they are open to learning. Although I’ve heard a lot of classical music and can tell whether or not I respond to it, I’ve learned a lot from Rosenberg’s reviews. Did I always agree? Of course not, but he does bring education (in music and performance) and a lifetime of listening to the table. I, for one, miss him.

    I had no problem (before the “firing”) accepting the idea that Franz wasn’t a perfect conductor (and I suspect he’d agree that he wants to be even better), but I respected him. Now I certainly have little respect for the board members whose obvious conflict of interest was a factor in bringing this sad situation about–and Franz has fallen in my esteem as well.

    I agree with McDonald that Miami hasn’t really hired a critic–actually the Orchestra has a similar setup here in Cleveland on its website–though it’s more informal–. But still, life is less fun now that reviews tend to be so bland. OTOH, who would believe that Cleveland (the town that is [mis]characterized as fatter and dumber than most) would actually inspire a fight over classical music criticism? LOL!

  6. Posted Feb 17, 2011 at 9:45 am by George Loomis

    The TV program that used Ein Heldenleben for a theme was The Big Story, a show about the newspaper business that ran on NBC in the 1950s