To the Editors:
I was dismayed and unsettled by Colin Roshak’s review of a faculty chamber recital, published in the Sept. 25 edition of The Oberlin Review as “Faculty Fail to Meld During Chamber Recital.” As a musician studying in the Conservatory, as someone who has written about music (including in the Review) and simply as a human being vulnerable to other people’s views of me, I was discomfited by the vituperative characterization of Professor of Viola and Chamber Music Michael Strauss in Mr. Roshak’s article.
I was not at the recital and do not challenge Mr. Roshak’s opinion of it. Rather, I object to the judgmental and malicious critique of Strauss, chiefly the assertions that Strauss “hadn’t put much effort into his preparation for the concert,” that he displayed “apathy for the music” and that his playing was “disengaged.” Everyone is entitled to their own opinion; indeed, it is the critic’s job to have an opinion. Yet criticizing a performance is one thing; assuming that a performer did not care about a concert and that they didn’t even bother to prepare well is quite another. No one but the performer can know how much effort was put into preparation, how invested the musician was in the music or what the circumstances surrounding the performance were. Everyone has bad nights; getting up and performing in front of a crowd is incredibly difficult and equally admirable. Stating that a performer was apathetic toward a performance is an inference unsupported by fact and completely based on one person’s subjective hearing, parsing and reception of a concert. Making such a claim implies that a performer does not take their entire career seriously, for it is their job to perform, just as it is the critic’s job to critique.
Having taken the Introduction to Music Criticism course offered in the Conservatory and having participated in the 2014 Rubin Institute for Music Criticism in San Francisco, I have had many discussions about the role of the music critic. The critic can educate an audience, subjectively document a concert ( for there is no such thing as pure objectivity), guide listeners to new music, entertain through vivid writing and call for innovations by heralding new trends or dismissing old traditions. I cannot reconcile Mr. Roshak’s review of Michael Strauss (and only Strauss, for Mr. Roshak was complimentary of all the other performers) with any of these purposes. I will not attempt to discern Mr. Roshak’s purpose in writing this review, rather I simply point out that I cannot comprehend it. I understand that Mr. Roshak did not enjoy the concert, solely because of Strauss. I respect his expression of that opinion, even publicly in the Review. However, I cannot condone a calumnious vilification of a performer.
I respect Mr. Roshak’s writing and have even been a beneficiary of it in a kind review he wrote of a concert I performed in last year. I can only imagine how I would feel if I had received the treatment afforded Strauss instead of the gracious compliments I was fortunate to gain.
It is now only too easy to encounter unchecked, spiteful views online and in the political sphere. I ask only that respect, dignity and compassion be maintained in published arts journalism.
– Daniel Hautzinger