If the Cleveland Orchestra is our city's most famous cultural ambassador, then the person who has that beat at our lone daily paper is a Very Big Deal. He's the sole critic writing week after week about one of the world's greatest musical institutions, and as such is history's principal scribe on the subject. And in a city that routinely tops lists having to do with poverty and failing schools, what people think of our world-famous orchestra really matters.
What people think of newspapers really matters, too. So does real, honest, substantive criticism. Someone should tell that to Plain Dealer editor Susan Goldberg. After what seems to have been years of lobbying on the part of orchestra administrators, Goldberg - in charge just 14 months - has apparently bent to their wishes and "reassigned" longtime critic Donald Rosenberg. He's been replaced by Zach Lewis, a pianist and a fine writer who not too many years ago was tagging along with Rosenberg as an intern, and who more recently wrote classical music briefs for Cleveland Scene. Now a PD staffer, Lewis writes a column about training for marathons and other heart-healthy activities. He has degrees in English and journalism. Rosenberg, incidentally, has a French horn degree from the Yale School of Music.
Goldberg declined to comment, stating only that it was a "personnel matter."
Nor has the Cleveland Orchestra responded to a request for comment. Rosenberg says the editor told him the "credibility of the paper is being compromised by his views," that he was being "unfair" to the orchestra, that he was "attacking them," and that it was an "untenable situation for the newspaper." She's talking about his criticism of music director Franz Welser-Mšst, whom Rosenberg has frequently faulted, but also praised. PD publisher Terrance Egger and retired publisher Alex Machaskee are both trustees of the Musical Arts Association, the organization that runs the Cleveland Orchestra.
Tim Smith - Baltimore Sun critic, author of The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music and president of the Music Critics Association of North America - offered some insight on his blog:
"Music critics are hired to deliver critical opinions. If those opinions are not popular with some people, tough. As long as the critic demonstrates musical knowledge and a keen ear for what is involved in the art of music-making, the critic is fulfilling the job requirements. Don's musical background is as good as it gets, his evaluations reasoned and sensitive. He has covered the Cleveland Orchestra for nearly three decades (including a stint with another area paper), and he's the author of the definitive book about that orchestra. So what did he do wrong? He has questioned, more than once, the sanctity of the Cleveland Orchestra's music director, Franz Welser-Mšst …"
Smith summed the decision up in two words: "It stinks."
Pulitzer Prize-wining music critic Tim Page wrote in a letter to the Poynter Institute's journalism blog that Rosenberg is "among the most admired critics in the field, recognized for his eloquence, taste, musical training, sensitivity and honesty. At the papers where I've worked - the Washington Post, Newsday, The New York Times - editors stand behind the people they hire, especially when they express unpopular views. I'm sorry to say that this no longer seems to be the case in Cleveland."
The news moved quickly through the ranks of critics across the country. Rosenberg has received supportive e-mails from at least two other Pulitzer-winning critics, Martin Bernheimer and Justin Davidson. David Stabler of the Oregonian described it as "Cleveland's shame." Chicago-based Andrew Patner wrote, "Courageous critic cut off at the knees by cowardly Cleveland newspaper." Andrew Druckenbrod of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called the news "shocking." The Cincinnati Enquirer's Janelle Gelfand wrote that she was "stunned," and then observed, "A hometown critic walks a fine line between boosterism and constructive criticism. This reaction to Don's expertise as a critic is shocking, and frankly, provincial."
But that reaction is likely nothing compared to what will come when an iminent New York Times story makes the "reassignment" known worldwide - especially in London, where critics and some musicians savaged Welser-Mšst's tenure with the London Philharmonic in the mid-'90s, dubbing him "Frankly Worse than Most," and in Vienna, where the conductor is beloved and will assume the post of music director of the Vienna State Opera in September 2010. But he will retain his Cleveland gig; his contract with the orchestra was extended in June until 2018.
Officials from the Newspaper Guild, the reporters' union, were scheduled to meet about the Rosenberg demotion on Tuesday after press time. Updates, as warranted, will be posted at www.clevescene.com. - Michael Gill
FOR THOSE ABOUT TO VOTE …
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum has announced its 2009 artist nominees. Eligible this year are Jeff Beck, Chic, Wanda Jackson, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Metallica, Run-D.M.C., the Stooges, War and Bobby Womack.
The list is 66 percent kick-ass.
Jeff Beck does not kick ass. He's some old dude who was widely recognized as a guitar god back when "classic rock" referred to Led Zeppelin. He played in the Yardbirds, who were hot shit before Zep came along.
Chic does not kick ass. The Rock Hall bio says they "rescued disco in 1977 with a combination of groove, soul and studio smarts" - which should be grounds for automatic disqualification.
Doo-wop group the Imperials featuring Little Anthony sang "Tears On My Pillow" and "Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko-Bop." Shimmy over to the table that's reserved for acts that do not kick ass, fellas.
Wanda Jackson is the Queen of Rockabilly. She has some kind of connection to Elvis, Social D frontman Mike Ness covered her "Funnel of Love" song and she plays Cleveland regularly, so we'll say she kicks ass.
Metallica set new standards for heavy metal, from underground speed to commercial acceptance. Their first three albums kick so much ass that gnarly long-haired dudes in dirty denim jackets will openly weep when confronted with everything that followed. Their fifth album, 1991's Metallica ("The Black Album"), sold 15 million copies without kicking any ass, but was buoyed by the power of two slow jams. Dude, we'll always have "Trapped Under Ice."
Run-DMC is a hip-hop group - nay, the hip-hop group. They rock harder than any of the Rock Hall's 2008 inductees (which included Madonna and Leonard Cohen). Reminder for hater rock fans who insist on the "rap is not rock" argument: Aerosmith owe their post-1979 career to their cover collaboration of "Walk This Way."
The Stooges totally kick ass, end of story. They invented punk. Raw effin' power, dude. "I Wanna Be Your Dog." "Search and Destroy." The classics kept coming. No band has ever been that ahead of its time. They're one of the few acts that truly divide music into before-this-group and after-this-group eras.
War kick ass. "Low Rider" and "Spill the Wine." That's some funky shit. Bobby Womack is some soul dude from way back. The Stones "It's All Over Now" is not actually the Stones' song; Womack wrote it and recorded it first, with the Valentinos.
Five of the nine nominees will be inducted. The vote is conducted by some back-room music-biz Illuminati who were getting old when the first Woodstock happened.
The real news is that the Induction Ceremony will be held Saturday, April 4, in Cleveland's Public Hall. Aside from Metallica, none of these folks sell any kind of serious tickets these days, so there's a good chance they'll show up. And even onetime thrash kings Metallica know what side their bread is buttered on, so they may show too. The Rock Hall says tickets will be available to the public. Learn more at www.RockHall.com/Induction2009. - D.X. Ferris
Women tend to bear the brunt of bad economic conditions. Women still make much less, as hourly or salaried workers, than men. In Ohio, the median wage disparity between men and women last year was 21 percent. That means that more women in Ohio, and across the country, live in poverty, remain uninsured and are single parents. They need, among other things, an increase in the federal minimum wage, access to universal healthcare and affordable and high-quality childcare.
Barack Obama wants to give tax breaks directly to middle-class families, and his healthcare proposals will lift more Americans out of ad-hoc emergency room care, or no care at all, into affordable programs. He also supports a federal bill making it easier for women to sue over making less than male counterparts.
John McCain opposes that bill, and his positions on issues affecting women's ability to provide for their families seem to be more private, market-based solutions. Give tax breaks to small businesses, he says, and see everyone's socioeconomic status improve. Sure, just like it did under previous Republican administrations.
Despite his positions, McCain seems to want progressive cred for selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Since then, six women's rights organizations have endorsed Obama: Business and Professional Women/USA, Feminist Majority Political Action Committee, National Association of Social Workers, National Congress of Black Women and the National Organization of Women, which has not endorsed a presidential candidate since 1984.
To further shift discussion away from Palin's nomination and back to issues, the ACLU of Ohio has organized a panel discussion, "What Women (Really) Want." Panelists include Amy Hanauer, the executive director of Policy Matters Ohio; Gail Long, a community activist; Rhonda Y. Williams, a history professor at Case Western Reserve University; and Mexie Wilson, a hip-hop activist. The free event is at 7:30 p.m. October 1, at the Max Wohl Civil Liberties Center, 4506 Chester Ave. For more information or to RSVP, call 216.472.2220 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. - Charu Gupta
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