CHOREOGRAPHER/DIRECTOR JOE NIESEN (right) grew up in a proactive theater-participating Salinas family. His sensational Cats, currently at PacRep in Carmel, revives the dominant role of dance in the popular Lloyd Webber musical. Big ensemble numbers range from a high-energy tap dance sequence in Act I to a dreamy pantomime in Act II, and keep the production’s momentum in constant motion. The tap episode corresponds to two recent reviews of Brian Seibert’s new history of tap, “What the Eye Hears,” the second of which was written by New Yorker dance critic Joan Acocella. To read it, click HERE
“HE LIVED IN DAILY FEAR OF HUMILIATION,” writes Adam Gopnik in his review of the scandal-ridden Vol. 2 of James Kaplan’s “Sinatra, The Chairman.” Click HERE
GO ON STAGE VIRTUALLY
JOIN GOOGLE CULTURAL on stage with dancers at the Palais Garnier or the Philadelphia Orchestra in concert, with interactive scanning. Click HERE
PERFORMING ARTS PEOPLE
MONTEREY NATIVE Laura Elizabeth Anderson, a PhD in opera studies, directs Hidden Valley’s new production of Dave Conte’s The Gift of the Magi. Click HERE
JAN DERECHO ( right) our Performing Arts People person of November 17, has announced her retirement as long-time executive director of the Santa Cruz Symphony. To read today’s press release, click HERE (Photo by Loretta McClellan)
THE ADJECTIVE TRAP
AND WHY YOU SHOULDN’T TRUST IT
I READ A REVIEW last week of the most recent Monterey Symphony concert conducted by music director Max Bragado and featuring piano soloist Orion Weiss. What continually jumped out for me were the words thrilling, magnificently, fabulous, beautiful, perfectly tuned, poignant and superbly rendered. After the first concert of the Monterey Symphony, the words wonderful and gorgeous began the review in the same publication. Even the Symphony program notes described one piece as “nostalgic and reflective.” I found myself muttering repeatedly, “Compared to what?”
The first lesson readers should remember is that adjectives—and adverbs—are all about the writer, not the subject at hand. Personally, I find myself suspicious, and even hostile toward, the presumption that a reviewer’s personal reaction is worth anything at all to anybody else. Yet, surprisingly, I find fewer than more readers going along with the writer’s self-indulgent ego trips. This bad habit even infects other reviewers (and, obviously, some program annotators) many of whom don’t seem to have thoughtfully considered the purpose of criticism itself, much less what constitutes good writing.
There is the crux of the matter. Whether the writer passes him- or herself off as a musicologist, critic or reviewer, the ultimate test is whether the writing itself is any good. Or, put another way, is in any way useful to the reader. For that, the writer has to put his/her judgments into a context that helps the reader understand the event’s significance. How best to do that? Write about a performance that provides contextual information that is useful to the reader who didn’t attend. How best to do that? Be a reporter who accurately and intentionally describes what actually happened. Accurate, thorough, contextual reporting of facts trumps opinion every time. Even when preferred by so many wannabes, opinion, in my opinion, is the least useful and often most embarrassing, of all.
We are lucky to have a few reviewers in the Monterey Bay region who are excellent writers (some who grace our pages) and who, if they chose to call themselves critics, would have my blessing. Of course they also use adjectives and adverbs, but in a consciously circumspect and restrained way that deliberately demurs to the subject objectively, the actual event they purport to cover. It’s what good reporters are trained to do. But we have far more poor writers, including some with doctorates, who carelessly disregard both their readers and the craft itself. More important, they also disregard the very arts they presume to judge. Yet even they don’t bear total responsibility. After all they were hired and are sustained by editors and administrators who are likewise unqualified to make such choices.
Scott MacClelland, editor