The news that Alex Ross is now the only full-time classical music critic on an American magazine has got me thinking about the changing status of reviews.
Gone are the days when an ‘important’ concert would routinely be reviewed by all the major papers. When I was a young professional I used to walk down to a newsagent’s shop on the morning after a big concert – yes, on the very morning after a concert! – to see what the critics had made of my or my group’s performance. I rifled secretly through the arts pages to see how many papers were worth buying. Often they were all worth buying.
Reviews were very useful as ‘calling cards’ to attract the interest of promoters, festival directors, grant-making bodies and so on. We used to keep stacks of photocopied reviews and send them around. In a profession where there’s no straightforward way to prove your credentials, reviews were the best way we knew.
With the advent of the internet, music websites sprang up and offered their own reviews. Sometimes those were the only reviews of one’s concert. But managers were very snooty about ‘web’ reviews. We were told not to bother sending ‘links’ because ‘nobody would take them seriously’. I remember applying for a foreign work visa and being told that only hard copies of reviews in prestigious newspapers were acceptable proof that one had some reputation as a performer.
That was fine when there were plenty of newspaper reviews to send. But then press coverage of classical concerts started to dwindle at an alarming rate. A year might go by with lots of concerts but no newspaper reviews at all. Debut concerts, premieres and fiendishly clever programming (usually guarantees of press interest) were no longer routinely reviewed. Newspaper reviews sometimes took three, four, five days to appear, by which time everyone had sort of lost interest. Links started to take the place of hard copy reviews.
Now it’s often said that ‘everyone is a critic’. People voice their opinions on blogs, Twitter and Facebook and more. At the time of writing, however, I’m not aware that any arts manager or festival director would take seriously a review or a complimentary remark posted online by marmaladegirl82, dolphins’R’us or the ProppingUpTheBar blog (to make up some examples). We seem to be in a phase where, in the absence of ‘proper’ newspaper reviews, high-status online reviews are acceptable, but punters’ comments are not.
Where’s it all going? Nobody knows for sure. Soon a festival director may merely need to know that your performance garnered 5,347 ‘likes’ on Facebook.