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reviewing the review

November 15, 2011

2011 has been a fantastic year. I’ve heard more of my own music than ever before, and have had a great time, being flown around the country, meeting so many music lovers, making so many musical friends and enjoying the company of such talented colleagues. This is not in any way meant to be a carping blog but there is something curious about the coverage in one quarter that has puzzled me for some time and I think it is all right to share my thoughts, because it is an area that affects many artists and is very difficult to address without either becoming frustrated at one’s powerlessness or overreacting. Simply explaining it and inviting reflections from others seems a valid thing to do.

By 2008, I had noticed that a prominent reviewer in the Age newspaper in Melbourne seemed to have begun to ignore my performances. If I took part in a concert, my contribution would not be mentioned; if I gave a solo concert, it would be overlooked. I assumed I was simply being oversensitive. Anyway, arts reviews are hanging onto their place in our media by their fingernails, so it might well have been the result of quite reasonable sub editing. Then, by June 2009, I noticed that my compositions were receiving the same treatment, for reasons that remain unclear. Even when a concert including one of my works was reviewed, all works except mine would be addressed. Since my piece Black is the Night was played by the ACO in June that year, no mention of my work has been made. I noted this in my blog entry and included a link to the review by Clive O’Connell at the time. I did wonder what it meant, and began to be curious about how my year’s contribution to Musica Viva’s national programme in 2011 would be reported.

As it happens, it has been widely reported and I’m more than delighted by the opportunity, the wonderful performances, the chance to meet so many people, and of course just to hear so much of my music for the first time. The press coverage has been extensive, almost overwhelming, and generally very positive. In light of this, the continuing boycott by O’Connell is, I suppose, a minor thing, but it is still a mystery. The latest review is a good example. In May, the Brentano String Quartet played my first string quartet. This is what O’Connell had to say.

It has now been three years since I was mentioned in this particular column, and I have been involved in something like twenty Melbourne concerts during that time. Elsewhere, the coverage has been pretty much as one would expect. Melbourne is my home town. It’s a great city and a lot of superb art events happen there, supported by a music-loving, art-mad cultured community, who not only want to enjoy their art to the full, but are proud of their local artists and expect them at least to be given a look-in and critiqued by those in the local media who are paid to do that.

People are starting to ask me about it and I cannot tell them anything, except just to keep coming to the concerts and to enjoy them! The rest is beyond our control but we can, at least, remark on it, can’t we?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. johnofoz permalink
    November 16, 2011 12:42 pm

    Take no account of reviewers. The composer’s gauge of success should be the effect the music has on the listener. While Clive O’Connell may ignore it, and Peter McCallum may pooh, pooh, I will most remember the woman in Glebe, who, without so much as a prompt, explained how the second movement of your clarinet quintet had awakened wonderful emotions.

    • November 16, 2011 9:59 pm

      Thanks, John. Of course, I came to terms with reviews and reviewers many years ago. One must, although I can’t say I’ve ever been absolutely sure what they are for, and suspect that they often don’t have a clear idea themselves, and that’s reasonable.

      As for my music and it’s varying reception, well, I had an experience very early on, when I was at the VCA as a nineteen year-old, that has stayed with me and informed all this ever since. I might write about it, but not here and now. It was amusing, thought-provoking and disturbing all at once.

  2. michael sariban (brisbane) permalink
    November 17, 2011 8:58 am

    Absolutely loved the clarinet quintet!! Refreshing and so clearly original – how often can one say that? In the gorgeous dreamlike campfire mov’t, the clarinet seemed almost to flesh out the ghost of ocarina or accordeon…would love to see this recorded, and Sabine would be just dandy.

  3. November 17, 2011 8:53 pm

    The big is issue is that the major broadsheet newspaper in Melbourne has an entrenched reviewer dictating – by omission – the taste or ‘worth’ of classical music making/goers in this city. But since actions speak louder than words, keep composing, keep producing, as these works will endure both personally and professionally as universal artifacts, whereas a few tepid words here and there will be quickly forgotten.

  4. johnofoz permalink
    November 17, 2011 10:23 pm

    It’s worth adding Cathy McCorkill’s comments to the mix also. See

  5. December 28, 2011 10:35 pm

    Dear Ian,
    Your comments about Melbourne press reviews are comforting.
    However, being ignored by ‘The Age’ could be a blessing for you, in disguise. I receive my bad reviews in Melbourne. I have played a number of solo and chamber Melbourne concerts since 1997 but have only been reviewed twice in The Age, and both times in a very mean-spirited tone, despite “nailing” the works I presented and great audience reactions. (One review was by Joel Crotty and the other was by Clive O’Connell.) Works were, in both cases, left out of reviews in order to favor destroying another piece or perhaps, as you say, randomly omitted or cut. My most recent review by Mr. O’Connell (Dec 15th 2011) starts out as if to say ‘oh no….go away Lisa’. It started with “Once again, Lisa Moore is back in town…”. Well, since I have only had two Age reviews in 14 years the ‘once again’ seems a little overstated perhaps? But hey, I won’t be coming back too soon for that kind of remark. And that’s nothing compared to this review’s further trashing of post-modern composers and persnickety, negative adjectives and remarks.
    Yes, perhaps I am overly sensitive too, but the amount of work I put into a lovingly prepared concert and the personal sacrifice I make presenting good, strong, new works that are rarely heard seems, after all this, to be unappreciated and not wanted. Flippant nasty remarks about composer’s works are just embarrassing, frankly.
    It is hard to get back and start work again.
    I have since gone on line and checked the general tone of Clive O’Connell’s reviews and find him to be snobby and provincial in most of them. I hope he never comes to another concert of mine again. What is the point of reviewing a one-off classical event with such disdain and a hostile outcome when it’s clearly a reflection of his own personal peeves. A responsible reviewer would describe and report.
    And “The Age” business of rating new music from 1-5 stars? How tacky is that on first hearing?
    Thank you so much for your great pianistic and compositional output. Keep on keeping on….and count your blessings!
    Best wishes for 2012,
    Lisa Moore

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