Challenging Performance: The Book. 9-4 Social media


9.4 Performance criticism in social media

Critics’ skill at disguising the depth of the threat they feel from slightly non-normative performance is something one can look back on with some nostalgia when one faces the kind of commentary routinely published on social media. Here are comments from a conversation on Facebook in response to a video of Patricia Kopatchinskaja playing Ravel’s ‘Tzigane’ at the Wigmore Hall, London, on 26 April 2017.[1] I’ve done a simple web search to find out more about these contributors. The results are added in square brackets after their names. And you’ll see that several are or trained to become professional musicians.

Pia Styver [Former violinist, Sjaellands Symphony Orchestra. Studied at the Royal Danish Conservatory.][2]
Hun er på stoffer! Forfærdeligt!😱😱😱😱👿👿👿😡😡😡
[Transl: She’s on drugs! Terrible!]

Daniel McIntosh [US cellist. Teaches at MacPhail Center for Music. Former principal, Colorado Philharmonic; former cello in the Atlantic Quartet.][3]
She may be the Donald Trump of the fiddle but she didn’t learn that shit in the US.

Judith Weizner [Voiceover artist with a degree from the Manhattan School of Music. Also writes books and articles attacking political correctness. Says on her website that people tell her she sounds trustworthy, believable and educated.][4]
Lesson: never, never, never forget to take your meds.

Cristian Cimei [Conductor, studied at the G. Briccialdi Conservatorium of Music in Terni and at Texas Tech University.][5]
I think she was trying to act like a gipsy … Failed!

Ole Bohn [Norwegian violinist. Studied at the Juilliard School and with Max Rostal in Cologne. Concertmaster of the Norwegian National Opera. Gave the world premiere of Elliott Carter’s violin concerto. Teaches at the Sydney Conservatorium.][6]
Denne versjonen er etter min mening verdiløs og jeg synes hun viser seg som en særdeles dårlig musiker !
[This version is, in my opinion, worthless, and I think she comes across as a very poor musician!]

Dana Chivers [Virtuoso guitarist who also studied with Nadia Boulanger.][7]
I’m afraid that I agree with you Ole. So many of our dear instruments are attacked by tastelessness and egocentricity.

Milan Vitek [Professor of Violin at Oberlin and Chair of the Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition.][8]
This is what Chaplin could have looked and sounded like in concert if he had practiced the violin more!

Tor Frømyhr [Senior lecturer in viola and violin at the Australian National University School of Music and concertmaster of the Canberra Symphony.][9]
Mere Vaudeville. tone quality, musicianship, accuracy, control all taking 2nd place in this comedy circus act where the main objective seems to be to chase the errant violin all around the stage and beat it into submission every time it is caught.

James L. Maley [Australian cellist and teacher.]
This whole piece feels like walking home completely fucking smashed, after a big night. She’s quite convincing.

This level of nastiness does not signal a healthy attitude to classical music (still less to teaching it). Against these examples I can happily set others from the same conversation.

Jaakko Kuusisto [Finnish violinist and conductor. Studied at the Sibelius Academy, Helsinki. Director of the Oulu Music Festival.][10]
Criticizing someone’s playing based on ‘taste’ is a very slippery road. The intolerant nature of the majority of the comments here actually highlight what is perhaps the biggest problem in classical music today. We are looking for talents with strong individual qualities, and yet seem to secretly expect every performance to adher[e] to the same rules. Do you really need every violinist to play Tzigane prudently like it is notated, to every detail? I don’t think that is the point of that piece…

Assi Karttunen [Finnish harpsichordist. Studied and now teaches at the Sibelius Academy.][11]
I find it interesting that often these disliking comments are about ‘how she draws the attention to herself’. In classical music disembodied sound would be preferred and especially by people, who actually only would like to listen to the same recordings again and again.

Reidun Askeland [Norwegian pianist. Studied at the Norwegian Academy, Manhattan School of Music, and Guildhall School of Music and Drama.][12]
Couldn’t agree more! Our tradition is in so many ways overflown with rules and conventions.

It’s easy to see both streams in the conversation calling on the sorts of clichés of WCM ideology that we’ve seen also in the reviews (and in Part 1 here). Mainstream beliefs and training are deeply complicit in the brutality of social media comment and (just beneath the surface) of published criticism. As we’ve seen, it’s training and writing on classical music that have spread and maintained these beliefs. Social media show us what we’ve created, as educators in classical music, in its ugly, unvarnished state.

Continue to 9.5 ‘The risk performers take in the face of criticism’

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[1] The conversation began with Ole Bohn posting a link to a medici TV promotional video. The extracts quote here were posted from April 5–10 2017. I apologise that, due to my leaving Facebook at the time of the Cambridge Analytical scandal, I can no longer provide a detailed reference: I’m afraid I’m not prepared to rejoin, even for a footnote. The video can still be found at A complete recording by the same performers, made in June 2017, is available on CD: Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Polina Leschenko, ‘Deux’, Alpha Classics 387. My thanks to Alison Bullock for assisting with translations.

[2] (accessed 20 July 2019)

[3] (accessed 20 July 2019)

[4] . See also .  (accessed 20 July 2019)

[5] (accessed 20 July 2019)

[6] (accessed 20 July 2019)

[7] (accessed 20 July 2019)

[8] (accessed 20 July 2019)

[9] (accessed 20 July 2019)

[10] (accessed 20 July 2019)

[11] (accessed 20 July 2019)

[12] (accessed 20 July 2019)

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