Anthony Tommasini, concluding a 21-year run as chief classical music critic of The New York Times – as such, arguably, chief classical music critic of the US – leaves with an essay that mixes ambivalence and hopefulness.
Tommasini observes, “Of all the performing arts, mine has been the most conservative, the most stuck in a core repertory of works from the distant past.” Still, he writes, “It’s not inconsistent to fret over the fixation on a roster of familiar works while also extolling the repertory that’s been created over centuries. The staples are often staples for good reasons.”
He lauds the entrepreneurial spirit of contemporary and avant-garde composers and the performers who serve as their advocates, artists taking an old art form into new spaces and recognizing new and diverse creative voices, innovators who incorporate electronica and other new technologies into classical scores, music schools whose students study past masters while imagining new directions.
He advises listeners, especially those wary of a music routinely identified as “elitist,” to experience “a classical concert as a break from routine, an invitation to turn off devices and sit in silence among others – listening, sometimes for long stretches, to works that demand our focus, music that may be majestic, mystical, shattering, tender, wrenching, frenetic, giddy or all of the above.”
As the organizations and performers of classical music rethink the ways they present their art form – and present themselves as artists – Tommasini’s parting thoughts are worth reading and taking to heart: