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Confessions of a Critic

For those who haven't heard, Tony Tommasini, the chief classical music critic of the New York Times, is answering readers' questions this week on the Times website. Say what you will about Tony and his occasionally self-aggrandizing style - he knows his stuff.

Here are a few pearls:

  • "I want classical music to thrive, to be healthy. I should hold performers, especially the major institutions, to high standards. Still, I start off wanting to be as encouraging as possible. Remember, many of the concerts and operas I attend are presented not by the stars in the field, but by impressively dedicated performers who are sacrificing a great deal to pursue their art."
  • "It's amazing to me how seldom I hear performances of really sub-par quality."

  • "Every time I hear someone talk about the long, difficult road to becoming a doctor, I get very impatient. A medical student travels that road knowing that without question it will lead to an immediate place in the profession. Contrast this with aspiring musicians, who go to school, take out loans, study and practice, and practice and practice, and do so without any certainly that this will lead to anything. Now that is really difficult."

  • "I think that there has been too much emphasis in classical music on performance over content. Orchestras should think a little less about how they play and a little more about what they play and why they play it."
  • "A concert is not an exam. You don't have to study and show up prepared."
  • "I admit that I try to be especially open-minded to new music. After all, new music is new, so we may not quite know what to make of it."
  • "I think we love music intensely because it is the one art form that gives us a break from meaning. It moves us powerfully, elementally, viscerally, spiritually, but not specifically."
  • "I like my book (Opera: A Critic's Guide to the 100 Most Important Works and the Best Recordings) It's one of my favorites!"