Music Criticism as Contact Sport

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As almost anyone with a Facebook account knows, classical music criticism is going from spectator sport to participatory activity. Some people read the comments on articles or news feeds just as avidly as the actual reviews that precede them. Meanwhile, as newspaper arts coverage is cut back in many cities, blogs and Twitter feeds are a growing force in shaping conversations about the art form.

But where does this leave classical music? Is the Internet giving us a more democratic form of commentary – or a more shrill, unfiltered one?

This issue recently hit home for violinist Lara St. John, who publicly criticized Facebook commenters who were "piling on" by reposting and joking about a scathing New York Times review of a fellow violinist. In this podcast, St. John explains what she found so distressing.

Also joining us is Anne Midgette, the classical music critic of the Washington Post, and Pete Matthews, the editor of the blog Feast of Music.

Weigh in: What do you expect of a critic? Does the Internet make music criticism nastier — or simply more exuberant and democratic? Leave your thoughts below.

On negative reviews and the online response they generate:

Lara St. John: I have no problem with the review itself. That's what music critics do; they review concerts. But once I saw this happen for the third, fourth and finally the twelfth time, I got kind of angry. It was in a mean way that [Facebook friends] were re-posting this review.

Pete Matthews: I don't think there's much to be gained from cutting down somebody who's just starting their career and trying to build up their cred -- unless your point is to build your name as a critic and get your name out there.

Anne Midgette: I would object to the term cutting down. That propagates this idea that a negative review is about being mean to an artist. For me, the reason to write a negative review is you're trying to uphold standards...But the only way to make the field exciting is to call it sometimes when it's not working. Sometimes that requires a tough review.