The Art Of Reacting To Bad Reviews


In the end, the joke was on me. Here I was almost a century after the review had been written, obsessing about it. As Benko wrote me after learning my response, “The fact that you at first were fooled into thinking this was a terrible, real review is itself an example of the effect bad reviews can have on performers, the sometimes devastating power of nasty criticism on musicians.” Indeed, I was guilty of letting the review get under my skin. Taking a deep breath and remembering Boris Goldovsky’s advice to his singers about ignoring ALL reviews, I decided to develop a few somewhat tongue-in-cheek rules for musicians (and other creative people) concerning reviews.

Rules for Reviews for Musicians 

  1. If at all possible, don’t read any of your reviews. If the critics really knew so much, how come they aren’t on the concert stage or writing a symphony or a novel?

  2. If you do read your reviews, don’t take them seriously, whether pro or con. It is as dangerous to believe adulatory reviews as negative ones.

  3. Don’t send a response even if a publication invites you to. (As a reader of the “New York Review of Books,” I am always amused by the writers whose books are the subject of criticism who are invited to respond to the reviews. Once they do, the reviewers are invited to respond to the authors’ responses, always giving the critics the last word and the opportunity for one-upmanship.)

  4. Don’t discuss and carp about a bad review with others. The sooner the piece can be forgotten and die the better. As my mother used to say, “Gain altitude.”

  5. Tell a friend to read your reviews and save the best of the good ones. They will be useful in your publicity material (which is all they are good for). NB. Such was the practice of the novelist, George Eliot. George Henry Lewes read her reviews and only passed on the good ones.

  6. If you can’t help yourself and you have to read a bad review and it bothers you, write a clever response. Make the critic look as bad and as ignorant as you can.

  7. DON’T SEND YOUR CLEVER RESPONSE OR SHOW IT TO ANYONE.

  8. Finally, throw out the review (or delete it) but save your response. If you ever feel compelled to return to a bad review, take out your response instead. It may make you feel a little better.

 

Notes

1.      The composers whose works were being reviewed at the opening of this blog were in order of quotation: Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Debussy.

2.      The review in question is quoted in its entirety below:

BENEFIT CONCERT GIVEN BY FINISHED PLAYERS 

A so-called concert of Chamber Music was given last night at the Camden Opera House. Intended as a benefit for the Camden Hospital, its success in this particular was complete, inasmuch as the entire audience was removed to the hospital immediately after the concert.

The Beethoven Trio in B flat Major, Opus 11, opened the programme. Also every exit opened as the musicians in the audience left the theatre. This seemed most unjust to the writer, for the performance was noteworthy in every respect, with the possible exception of technique, ensemble, quality of tone, intonation, and other essentials indicative of general musical understanding. It should be added that the players were lost in their devotion to the music. In fact, Mr. Salmond never succeeded in finding his place, but this emergency was successfully met by Mr. Goldovsky, whose piano playing completely drowned out the other parts.

Justifiably miffed by the above circumstance, but completely unaware of its agreeable reception by the audience, Madame Luboshutz and Mr. Salmond omitted the piano entirely from the second number and played the Passacaglia by Haendel-Halverson without accompaniment. This unfortunate error of judgment, which precipitated immediate confusion between the performers, owing to the lack of rhythmical support, caused a near riot in the audience, which was quelled when it was announced that the final number would include the piano. After the performance, it was openly admitted that Madame Luboshutz and Mr. Salmond apparently learned music in no time.

The performance of the Tchaikowsky Trio which ended the program, left nothing to be desired, especially Chamber Music. The players had evidently decided that the one who played the loudest was the best musician. It is a matter of record that Madame Vengerova won handily, Mr. Salmond was a poor second, while Madame Luboshutz achieved her first real success of the evening, being seen, but not heard. It is worthy of mention that Madame Luboshutz, while somewhat indifferent to long notes, played the short notes with passionate, seductive abandon. Mr. Salmond, on the other hand, omitting the short notes entirely, scored heavily with the long ones, thus insuring a perfect rhythmical balance. As the concert ended, the management hastened to announce that the remaining concerts of the series would be indefinitely postponed, the first concert having “Capped the Climax.”



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