Thursday, September 18, 2008

Music in a minor key

The dirge rising from my corner this evening  is prompted by the word that Plain Dealer Music Critic  Donald Rosenberg, one of the nation's best,  has been unceremoniously dismissed from his 16-year role of covering the Cleveland Orchestra.  No, he wasn't fired.  Simply sent to the bullpen where he will be available to cover lesser music events. And in Cleveland, all musical  endeavors are lesser than the venerable Cleveland Orchestra. 

As is the case with many of the shakeouts during the modern media's somber decline,  the once powerful PD found limp reasons to, in effect, humiliate its victim.  The paper's editor, Susan Goldberg, called him in and, according to Rosenberg, gave him three reasons for the demotion. She told him he was too tough on the orchestra, she wanted broader coverage of its work and finally, he had been in the job too long (not that any of his words ever creaked). 

As a former music critic  myself, I think it is more than unfair to accuse a gifted writer like Rosenberg of being too tough.  Actually, he has long praised the orchestra, but has often been critical of the music director, Franz Welser-Most, who appears to have a contract in perpetuity at Severance Hall. I have found myself disagreeing with Rosenberg's reviews from time to time.  So what!  I never questioned his knowledge of his calling nor his sincerity.

Obviously under pressure from the managers and board members who preside over the orchestra, the PD's front office has  been building an anti-Rosenberg case for some time. But eight years ago, he was the toast of  the orchestra and concertgoers  as he was presented to the public at a standing-room-only book signing as the author of the superb seminal history, The Cleveland Orchestra Story, Second to None.   
He will be replaced by Zack Lewis,  a young man (31 ) whom Rosenberg decribed  as "a good man, and smart".  You can find more about him with Google, including a videoed short of him rock-climbing.  

In this final movement, there may be greater losers  at the PD, but Rosenberg, wherever he will be stashed,  is not among them.  May we now stop boasting about press freedom in the trade journals?  


Henry said...

Now if it can be proven he passed orchestra secrets to the Moscow Symphony he's in real trouble. Sorry I couldn't resist.

Grumpy Abe said...

As always, be my guest.

tom moore said...

isn't it surprising that the top dogs seem to know much more than the experts. like to see them do rather than sit in judgement on the real workers.

Grumpy Abe said...

The managers and the reporters are living in wildly different universes these days. It won't show up in quality journalism. .

Anonymous said...

I think that to insinuate that the Orchestra's leadership had some hand in this is giving them too much credit. It is far more likely that Rosenburg has become irrelevent in a dying paper industry.

Damir said...

What a shame! I wonder what the new guy will do, sign pre-typed sheets with a positive critique? This is a very grave matter, Don is a knowledgeable musician and a big champion of the orchestra, now that he is not writing anymore on FWM, we have lost an important voice of dissent. And dissent is what this country needs right now.

Andrew Patner said...

"anonymous" misunderstands -- Don is not being laid off -- he is being kept on staff full-time, he's just not being allowed to do his job!

If anyone is interested, I have more on this story at my own site (link above at my name) as well.

Andrew Patner
Classical Music Critic, Chicago Sun-Times
Critic-at-Large, 98.7WFMT Radio Chicago and

Drew80 said...

What is a local newspaper supposed to do in a case in which its senior music critic has lost all objectivity in covering the Music Director of the local orchestra?

The Plain Dealer handled this as well as it could be handled, I believe.

For whatever reason, Rosenberg has always detested Welser-Most on a deeply personal level. Rosenberg's reviews have become increasingly inaccurate if not strident. In fact, for the last couple of years, Rosenberg himself, and not Welser-Most, has been the story in Cleveland.

At the conclusion of the Cleveland Orchestra's 2007 European tour, Rosenberg offered a recap of the European reviews that was highly inaccurate. He selected only the most negative reviews, even borrowing positive remarks from positive reviews and using them out of context, as support for an article suggesting--wrongly--that the Orchestra's reviews had not been particularly glowing during that tour.

Rosenberg cooked his own goose back in 2007 with that article. Many people in Cleveland were outraged over that article, because they had been reading the European reviews, online, while the tour was under way.

Myself, had I been editor of the Plain Dealer, I would have fired Rosenberg outright after that 2007 incident.

I think Rosenberg is lucky he still has a job.

MarkBlogger said...

I think it is Welser-Most who is the lucky one. There were one or two great reviews from the 2007 tour, particularly for the performance of the Mahler 2nd in Birmingham, but there were some very mediocre reviews of Welser-Most and ones that were kind at best. Those are the ones that should provoke outrage against the Severance Hall powers that be. Instead, the smart folks at Severance Hall take the Karl Rove approach and attack Don Rosenberg, who has been replaced with a relatively inexperienced team player.

Anonymous said...

I continue to be puzzled by Drew80--how on earth can he know someone else "detested" another person "on a deeply personal level"? Just saying it doesn't make it so. Prove it.

I've never, ever, seen or heard the slightest indication that this is the case. When I read DR's reviews I see quite a bit of restraint--at least in reviews of concerts I've also gone to.
To move someone to another post because they have been there too long (i.e. know too much about their subject) is shameful. This does no service to the Orchestra.
Sign me, Anon. 2

Andrew Patner said...

Sorry, Drew, that's just not true. Don's articles have never been personal, nor has his attitude. He takes each concert and performance as it comes. His only "crime" is calling out mediocrity and defending a great orchestra.

And Mark, I don't know what you mean by Zach Lewis being "a team player." He is a protégé of Don's, smart, a good writer, and independent of outside influence.

It's because of Don that there even *are* some younger critics out there. He is a passionate advocate for music criticism in newspapers, for training and continuing education for critics, a mentor to many, and was an outstanding and outstandingly active president of the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA).

Grumpy Abe said...

Hey, Mr. Drew80, we can agree to disagree. But would you agree that the PD handled the demotion in a way that would humiliate him? No? Could you defend that in court?

Drew80 said...

Sure, Mr. Grumpy Abe, I'll have a go at this.

ASSUMING THAT OHIO LAW IS MORE OR LESS THE SAME AS EMPLOYMENT LAW IN MOST JURISDICTIONS, I would be happy to defend the Plain Dealer, and this is because the Plain Dealer would have nothing to defend. Donald Rosenberg does not have a colorable cause of action against the Plain Dealer under the law in most states.

My assumption is that Donald Rosenberg has not experienced and will not experience a reduction in salary, so there are no potential damages here in any wrongful employment action.

There is no issue of potential humiliation, because the Plain Dealer has not issued any defamatory public statement addressing the reassignment of Donald Rosenberg.

Further, alleged humiliation, without more, does not arise to an independent cause of action. There must be some lawful underlying cause of action before any issue of humiliation would even come into play, such as wrongful termination, slander or defamation.

If Donald Rosenberg had kept his mouth shut, would anyone even know that he had been reassigned at the Plain Dealer? People would have figured it out over the course of coming weeks, of course, but it is Rosenberg's own blabbing that has brought such attention to himself in recent days. The Plain Dealer is not responsible for Rosenberg's self-induced humiliation.

Further, Rosenberg seems to be complicit in generating if not actively encouraging such publicity. Otherwise, he would have asked his music critic brethren to cut the crap by now, and let him keep a low profile while he licks his wounds in private.

No case for Rosenberg, I'm afraid.

Now, as for the Plain Dealer, the newspaper MIGHT have a case against Rosenberg if it can establish that Rosenberg is actively trying to harm the newspaper's reputation. In that event, Rosenberg well might face a defamation suit.

Rosenberg, clearly, from this point forward should keep his trap shut and ask his music critic friends to stop writing about his reassignment. He has nothing to gain, and much to lose, by encouraging continued public discussion of his situation.

I reiterate my caveat about any peculiarities unique to Ohio law.

John Ettorre said...

I'm finding this discussion interesting, and will soon post this to my blog. But Andrew, could you possibly be the same Andrew Patner who wrote that incredibly powerful little book on I.F. Stone some years ago?

andrew patner said...

Dear John Ettore,

Yes, I am the very same Andrew Patner -- Thanks for your nice words on my book, "I.F. Stone: A Portrait" (Pantheon, 1988; Anchor pb, 1990)!

Let me also state publicly that, attorney or not, Drew80 is pushing towards libel -- and impugning the integrity of critics he neither knows nor knows anything about -- in his claims that Don Rosenberg has had *anything* to do with the comments that we have raised *wholly independently* about the changes at the Plain Dealer.

In the department of tongue-holding methinks this gentleman needs to take a deep breath.

Gary Hanson said...

In recent days, the music writers’ blogsphere has been rife with assumptions and even accusations that the management of The Cleveland Orchestra engineered personnel changes at Cleveland’s daily newspaper, The Plain Dealer. These accusations are false.

I want to set the record straight: I was completely surprised by the news last week that Plain Dealer music critic Donald Rosenberg has been re-assigned and will no longer cover The Cleveland Orchestra for the newspaper.

A half dozen critics have called or emailed me this week asking if I met with the newspaper’s editors to lodge complaints. The answer is I have never met with them to protest Donald Rosenberg’s opinions. In the normal course of business during my tenure with the Orchestra, I have spoken with every editor, past and present, about the newspaper's coverage. In those meetings I have delivered compliments and concerns about their news and feature coverage as well as their editorial positions and decisions. But in every case I have also said, very explicitly, that the Orchestra’s management understands and respects the paper's and the critic’s role in expressing opinion about our artistic activities. And whether or not we agree with the opinion we fully accept and support their right and responsibility to publish it.

Donald Rosenberg has written about The Cleveland Orchestra for decades. I worked directly with him for many years, especially during my early tenure here as Director of Public Relations. In that role, I opened the Orchestra archives to him for research on his comprehensive history of the Orchestra “Second to None.” I very much enjoyed the productive and professional relationship we’ve shared. I appreciate and admire a great deal of his work on the subject of the Orchestra and I am grateful for his dedication to regular and comprehensive classical music coverage. Over the years we have agreed and we have disagreed. All the same I will miss working with him.

Drew80 said...

I see this little matter turned out precisely as I had predicted here more than 22 months ago.

Rosenberg should have heeded the analysis you invited me to submit.

He might have saved himself two years of grief and considerable expense.