Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Unclassical response to classical music

 ON JAN. 13 E.J. Thomas Hall on the University of Akron campus was the host of an historic visit by the Guarneri String Quartet for a performance on the Tuesday Musical series.  It was historic because the world-famous quartet, created in 1964,  was  making its valedictory  tour of concert halls before retiring at the end of the 2008-2009 season. Its program of Janacek, Mozart and Dvorak did not disappoint the audience who had come to expect extraordinarily played music by a  group that had been critically acclaimed across the globe.  For the privilege of hearing it in our backyard, we could thank Tuesday Musical, which across generations has striven to produce the highest level of classical music programming.  If you need more evidence to convince you, the series has scheduled Renee Fleming, perhaps the most revered operatic soprano on the Met stage today, for a solo program on April 7.  .  

How nice.  The Akron area's long-standing reputation as a committed supporter of the finest in classical programming deserves nothing less for keeping the concert halls active through good economic times and bad.  Well, only partly nice.  There is one critical missing part these days that has the folks at Tuesday Musical, the Akron Symphony and E.J. Thomas Hall scampering about for a solution.  Since the departure of Elaine Guregian as the Beacon Journal's classical music critic, she hasn't been replaced.  No reviews nor advance feature stories on the Guarneri, which might as well have performed in Kansas that night.  The same is true of the Akron Symphony's concert the past weekend. 

In both instances, it may have been the first time either group was snubbed by the local "metropolitan" newspaper.  Based on what their representatives have been told by the paper's editors so far, it's not likely to change.   They went away with nothing more than a rite of passage into the economics of  today's newspapers, at least as the editors and their Canadian owner might describe it. That means the BJ will continue to pretend to be a full-service newspaper while ignoring an important segment of the city's cultural spectrum.  It means that  the paper can find ways  to devote five pages to sports news (and - trust me -  I'm a big sports fan) daily and not come up with the equivalent of a couple of pages a month to concert fare.  Unless, of course, one of the entertainment venues happens to shut down, as was the recent case of the published  hysterics over the sudden demise of Carousel Dinner Theatre. Good Lord, there goes another potential advertiser!

Regarding Carousel, Dan Dahl, executive director of Thomas Hall , has moved to lure the Carousel series subscribers who will not get refunds for their subscriptions to Carousel shows. He is offering a free ticket to one of Thomas Hall's three remaining Broadway shows that come to town through April.   "This will cost us money," sighs Dahl, who faces the same economic demands as everyone else in the business and is searching  for ways introduce his stage to newcomers. 

The outlook is grim.  "It's unconscionable," says Barbara Feld,  Tuesday Musical's veteran executive director.  "It's terrible for a paper not to have a reviewer.  There wasn't  a word about the Guarneri. It just diminishes the cultural legitimacy of the community." She says she is embarrassed to tell a performing artist that if they come to Akron "there won't be anything in the paper."  It creates a prairie town atmosphere all around.  That would appear to be of no consquence to its absentee owner, David Black, in his faraway office in Victoria, British Columbia.  

There isn't much joy in other organizations, either.  Both Jessie Raynor, executive director of the Akron Area Arts Alliance, and Margot Snider, exectutive director of the Akron Symphony, share Feld's pessimism that the Beacon Journal  will respond to their concerns. "We were told," Raynor says, "that Elaine will not be replaced."     Snider laments that the symphony "obviously is being hurt" and predicts  the situation will only get worse.

I asked Bruce Winges, the BJ's editor via e-mail about these concerns.  His  reply was not reassuring. He said:

"We do not have anyone on our staff with Elaine's expertise, and we are not in a position to hire.  We will, however, continue to cover the arts community (we recently did a look at the state of funding for the arts in Akron and there is the closing of the dinner theater."

Is he in a bind between the owner's Scrooge-like attitude and the cultural needs of the Akron area.  Doubtless.   No one who has spent much time reading about the current travail of newspapers can ignore the economic pressure on the industry.  But is it only economic pressure, or is it also  the lack of will and imagination by local editors and the big guy who owns the place that are cheating a special group of readers?   For one thing, has there been any  consideration of alternatives that would help?   If there is absolute resistence to adding a music critic to the staff, there are other ways to solve the problem.  There are competent freelancers in the music schools at the University of Akron and Kent State who might be willing for a few bucks and a free ticket to write an advance story about a concert and then a review.  So I don't step aside when editors wring their handkershiefs and say that I ought to understand their predicament.  

Today's deadlock is especially brutal in a town with no television station and a couple of bargain-basement radio stations incapable of taking take up the slack. The one exception is the heroic effort by WKSU to inform its listeners of the best that the  area  music organizations have to offer.  As I have asked in the past, "When can  a newspaper stop calling itself a newspaper?"



Anonymous said...

A search of the WKSU website shows they didn't cover the concert either. While WKSU has not fallen as far as the BJ has, the station doesn't produce the news with the same quality and diversity of coverage they used to.

Bob Burford said...

WKSU aired many promotional announcements about the Guarneri concert, and we had information about it on our website in two different areas (Hot Picks and ArtsLink). We also included in our e-mail newsletter, E-Notes.

Anonymous said...

Summit County Republicans Throw Themselves A Pity Party

On the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration, a splinter faction of the Summit County Republican Party met in a small conference room in Akron's Four Points Sheraton to discuss plans for the future. These were members of the self-titled "New Republicans" of Summit County, the upper-class junta that tried to unseat Alex Arshinkoff in an unsuccessful coup last year.

It was a somber event, though they tried to spin their increasing irrelevance as best they could. One man stood up to explain how Obama's victory was actually a failure, since he outspent McCain, yet only won by a "small margin." The only real issue discussed was how they needed to utilize e-mail and Facebook in upcoming elections, a point somewhat lost on the mostly geriatric crowd.

The meeting was much like the Festivus tradition of "the airing of grievances," as Arshinkoff's supporters called for unity while the "New Republicans" demanded inclusion. Don Varian, a loyalist to state senator and gubernatorial candidate Kevin Coughlin, got himself in a tizzy at one point, claiming Summit County's GOP was ruled by a "clique" which he had never been asked to join, so he wouldn't let them join his club either! So there.

Finally, Coughlin stepped up. With Coughlin, a "family-values" Ÿber-conservative, you never know what you're going to get. Sometimes he'll demand green license plates for sex offenders. Sometimes he'll talk about death certificates for aborted fetuses. Sometimes, as he did with Scene, he will tell you how Arshinkoff once made a pass at him at a Republican event. But on Monday, Coughlin blamed the media. Apparently, journalists never gave local Republicans a chance because we were too busy fawning over Obama and praising Ted Strickland.

You're right, Senator. Maybe it is time for us to pay a little more attention to you. - James Renner