A professional critic's job is to ask for something beyond possibility. Some go after it with venom-tipped nibs, but most are just doggedly persistent idealists whose personal vision of a work of art too rarely matches up with given realities on stage or screen, in gallery or concert hall.
As a musician myself, I confess I am often more in than out of sympathy with the perspiring spotlit pianist or the exhausted soprano who truly longs to die at the opera's end. I'm with them, that is, if they are giving us everything Bach or Verdi intended for us to hear or, failing that, are not offering trendy gimmicks but hiking significant new trails into unexplored musical territories. Anything less is not worth the trouble. That's the tragedy of criticism. But give me anything equal to or better than my expectations and that's where the joy of a realized ideal comes in.
I won't start my tenure as Willamette Week's classical music reviewer by asking for the impossible. There's time for that later. But I do come bearing a wish list. I've tailored it to the Portland classical music scene of today and tomorrow, but nothing I'm requesting means shooting the moon--even the outlawing of the Automatic Portland Standing Ovation.
In the best of all possible Portlands...
1. The Oregon Symphony will relocate from the attractive but acoustically unsatisfactory Schnitz to a true concert hall, designed to help rather than hurt performance of great music. Maestro James DePreist's replacement after his 2005 retirement will fearlessly build into the orchestra both the passion and the precision it needs. And no more we will open our programs to find foolish pictures of OS musicians perched on motorcycles or pogo sticks.
2. Concertgoers will finally drop the offensive habit of bringing cell phones and other gadgetry into concert spaces. They will also discover the virtue of keeping unwrapped cough drops in a handy pocket rather than at the bottom of a cluttered purse. And when in the throes of pneumonia, they'll realize it's always best to expectorate in the privacy of one's own home.
3. Parents will see the counterproductivity of bringing squally children to hear Renaissance motets and will instead leave them at home with the baby sitter. If the child must be brought, at the first sign of infant mayhem the parents will whisk it from the concert hall and keep it away until the performance is finished or until puberty has been achieved.
4. Journalists prone to the temptation of mingling sports imagery with musings on art or music will cease to pair basketball and Beethoven on the same page. They will realize that with the arts losing more newsprint inches every day everywhere, the last thing we need to do is cede well-heeled sports scribes and their subject matter even more Lebensraum.
5. The inescapable Portland standing ovation will become so rare that future generations of patrons and performers will inquire with wide-eyed wonder, "Were they really so easy to please?"
's Fall Arts Preview insert next week.