NY Times names chief music critic – Slipped DiscSlipped Disc

norman lebrecht

April 05, 2022

In what many will see as a foregone conclusion, the classical music editor Zachary Woolfe has been named chief critic in succession to the retired Anthony Tommasini.

The pronouncement is a classic of unqualified times self-praise:

We are delighted to announce that Zachary Woolfe will be the next classical music criticizing for The New York Times, giving him a broader scope to share his authoritative, illuminating insights into old masterworks, new compositions, important developments in the field and noteworthy performances from around the city, the country and the world.

Zack’s ability to demystify classical music and to explore the many ways in which it enriches and intersects with our lives is well known to readers of The Times, where he has been writing reviews, features and essays for more than a decade.

“I started at The Times as a freelance critic in 2011,” Zack said. “The past seven years as classical music editor have been wonderful, but I’m thrilled and honored to return to focusing on my writing, to push myself and our coverage in new directions and try to meet the standard of a distinguished tradition of critics. ”

Since becoming The Times’s classical music editor in 2015, Zack has introduced a number of popular, innovative features, including the beloved 5 Minutes That Will Make You Love… series and My Favorite Page, in which eminent artists discuss a favorite section of a score they are performing.

Zack often engages with the major issues confronting the field — editing and writing pieces about the continuing obstacles female conductors face; the lack of diversity in major orchestras and on podiums; the ways classical music should change in an era of racial reckoning; and the field’s complex, fraught relationship with Asian and Asian American musicians. When the Met fired James Levine after concluding that he had engaged in sexually abusive conduct, Zack wrote about the need to revisit the myth of the all-powerful maestro. And after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted some institutions to cancel performances by Russian artists with ties to President Vladimir Putin, he wrote a thoughtful, historically informed essay about the limits of cultural exchange, but also warned of overreach: “Eliciting — coercing, some might say — affirmative statements hardly seems the right way to oppose authoritarianism.”

As a critic he has reviewed hundreds of performances — in New York; at the great European festivals of Salzburg, Bayreuth, Aix-en-Provence and Glyndebourne; and across the country, where he has closely followed the artistic paths taken by major American orchestras, especially in Los Angeles, Cleveland and Chicago. His interests are broad: He has filed dispatches from both the royal theater at Versailles and the Borgata in Atlantic City, where he observed the pop-opera teens Il Volo. He traveled the country to sample the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD movie theater broadcasts in Las Vegas, New Orleans and Wichita, Kan., and took a road trip through upstate New York to explore the strengths and challenges of its orchestras. He hosted a premiere at his apartment, and has written about Yanni, Kanye and the highest note ever sung at the Met. (It was an A over high C, for the record.)

Zack grew up on Long Island, where the tastes of his music-loving parents ran more to Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Joni Mitchell than to classical music. “So they were supportive but a bit confused when I hung a picture of the dramatic soprano Birgit Nilsson above my bed,” he recalled. He played the cello as his passion for opera grew, then studied literature at Princeton University and worked at the publishing house Farrar, Straus & Giroux before becoming The New York Observer’s opera critic in 2009.

Classical music has long been central to The Times’s culture coverage, and Zack inherits a storied tradition dating back to the 19th century, when The Times reviewed the first complete “Ring” cycle at the first Bayreuth Festival. We can’t wait to see how Zack writes the next chapters, and we think readers — including the passionate fans who follow classical music closely and general readers who are interested in learning more about it — will be in for a treat.

Zach himself says: ‘After seven years as The Times’ classical music editor, I’m so excited and honored to be able to return to focusing on my writing. Thank you to everyone at the paper, past and present, for the generosity, trust and support!’

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