Why are classical commenters so implacably bitter? – Slipped DiscSlipped Disc

norman lebrecht

May 13, 2022

Chicago Symphony violist Max Raimi writes:

Our Music Director, Maestro Riccardo Muti, often remarks that one factor in the coarsening of our culture is the lack of regard for the arts in our society. He argues that as classical music becomes more and more marginal, it is inevitable that we descend into barbarism.

Certainly, our society seems to be getting nastier all the time. And classical music is off the radar for the vast majority of the citizenry. But is there really a connection between these two phenomena? Are people who love classical music kinder and more civilized than those who don’t?

A strong counter argument is hard to ignore if you peruse the comments section of slippedisc.com, Norman Lebrecht’s website devoted to classical music. There you will see a number of people who clearly love classical music. Unfortunately, all too many of them are among the nastiest, most mean spirited people I have ever encountered, even on the web.

Norman posted the news that Bae Chen, the daughter of the CSO’s Concertmaster, Robert Chen just won the job of CSO section viola; she will be my newest colleague. The audition could not have been run with a greater concern for eradicating the possibility of bias or nepotism. All rounds, even the finals, were behind a screen, and Robert Chen recused himself from the committee, an rather unusual step for a concertmaster.

I was not there, but the reports from those who were agreed unanimously that Bae played by far the best audition; the vote for her was overwhelming. By no means all these people were particularly close friends of the winner’s father, even if they could have somehow known who was playing behind the screen.

The comments on slippedisc.com were absolutely appalling. Without a shred of evidence, or the vaguest idea how the audition was run, poster after poster insisted that Bae had won the job through nefarious means. More than one invoked the old Daley Chicago Machine, as if this had any remote relevance to what had transpired at the audition. Some of the posters often write nasty things about the CSO and Muti; a few seemed obsessed with these topics.

Bae Chen is a 19 year old girl, a preeminent violist at the Curtis Institute, and she plays her highly regarded. More than one musician well acquainted with her playing has remarked that it would have been surprising if she hadn’t won the job, and that the viola section of our orchestra is likely just the first stop on what should be an extraordinary career. Who attacks a 19 year old girl and denigrates her achievements without anything to support one’s claims? Vicious ugly people, that’s who. People whose passionate interest in classical music has utterly failed to ennoble them.

The trouble with promoting classical music as a way to make people better human beings is that we may get even more marginalized when it turns out that this doesn’t seem to be the case. A great classical work is like a joke in a way; either you get it or you don’t. But I would argue it would be a tragic impoverishment of our world if the art form disappeared. Like the Taliban dynamiting those Buddhist statues years ago.

Norman Lebrecht adds:

Max Raimi is absolutely right. There has been a tendency by some commenters on this site to shower anyone who enjoys success at any level with scepticism and insinuations that are unfounded in any factual knowledge. Our moderators try to curb the abuse. Much as I am committed to free speech, if the tendency keeps rising, we may have to shut down certain contributors. Please curb your lack of enthusiasm.

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