Back to the future: A familiar city, a new beginning

By Lawrence A. Johnson

 It has been nine exhausting and rewarding months since South Florida Classical Review was launched, and the website has achieved virtually all of its goals. It has become the leading source of record for classical music in the tri-county region with comprehensive coverage of every leading performance of note. It has broken several major news stories ahead of local newspapers (the Concert Association of Florida’s imminent bankruptcy, Florida Grand Opera cutting back its season and the departure of FGO’s music director). And, via reverse syndication, it has supplied South Florida dailies with classical coverage they no longer have the resources to offer directly to their readers.

 Advertising from local organizations, while slow to get underway, has grown substantially, even in the worst climate for advertising revenue in decades. Most of the leading Miami music organizations have participated, enabling this project to continue. I’m very optimistic that, with enough advance ad commitments for the 2009-2010 season, South Florida Classical Review will continue to thrive and bring detailed, comprehensive, and independent classical coverage to audiences for a long time to come. Which brings me to the reason for this column. 

 In six weeks, I will move back to Chicago to launch Chicago Classical Review (, a website that, like its South Florida counterpart, will comprehensively cover the rich array of music activities and organizations in the Windy City. And while, as editor, I will continue to direct the overall coverage and review schedule of South Florida Classical Review, the daily local reviewing will be passed to other hands.

 My final Florida review will be the New World Symphony’s season-closing program May 2 at the Arsht Center. The few remaining events in May and June will be covered by other critics, some of whom are already familiar to regular readers of this site.

 When I visited Chicago last November, it was for no other reason than that I simply wanted to see Porgy and Bess at the Lyric Opera. But something unexpected and completely unforeseen occurred on this trip. Catching Bernard Haitink leading the CSO in Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony and experiencing a life-changing production of Berg’s Lulu at the Lyric made an enormous impact on me. Over four days—even in bone-chilling temperatures—I realized how deeply I missed my hometown and all it has to offer.

  The Lyric Opera and Chicago Symphony Orchestra are major draws, of course, not least with Riccardo Muti coming aboard in 2010 as the latter’s music director. But there’s also the Art Institute, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance, the rest of the bustling theater scene, and the bewildering myriad of small and mid-size classical ensembles, the lakefront, the restaurants, the bars, the streets, the changing of the seasons, and the people. When one of the Orchestra Hall box office fellows handed me my CSO ticket, and, smiling, said “Welcome back,” it felt like coming home. And it was.

 In many ways, it’s a counterintuitive time to make such a move, for personal and professional reasons.  Advertising and financial support are growing for South Florida Classical Review, and, with a few tweaks to the site, the crucial second season will soon be underway, a time to consolidate progress and build for the future.

 But Chicago offers a vast opportunity, as a major metropolitan city with a large and engaged arts audience. In the current, highly volatile climate for the news business, I feel Chicago possesses especially fertile soil for this type of website music journalism. I also look forward to rejoining my friend and mentor, John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune, as colleagues across the aisle.

 Shortly after Chicago Classical Review kicks off, I will be starting a third site, The Classical Review, which will provide national coverage of significant music festivals, CD and DVD releases, opera performances, and classical premieres, cherry-picking the most important events from around the country.  As before, all reviews and articles will be original and all three sites interlinked and easily searchable in the same reader-friendly format as South Florida Classical Review. I’ll have a final column with more details in late April, closer to the time of my departure.

 In the meantime, two business notes: Freelancers interested in writing feature articles, as well as potential concert reviewers in Chicago, New York, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and South Florida, should contact me at [email protected].  And I’d like to make a pitch for national as well as Chicago and South Florida advertisers to consider website ads. Remember, advertising is by no means limited to classical music ensembles or cultural entities, and any individual or organization wishing to support the continued work of South Florida Classical Review and/or Chicago Classical Review and the national site is encouraged to write.

Posted in announcement

4 Responses to “Back to the future: A familiar city, a new beginning”

  1. Posted Mar 18, 2009 at 6:01 pm by Andrew Patner

    Fascinating and great news, Larry! It will be terrific to have you back in Chicago with your new site.

    But I’m afraid you’ll have to sit behind John or in front of him. I’m across the aisle and not giving up my seat just yet! 😉

    All best,

    Andrew Patner
    Chicago Sun-Times
    98.7WFMT Radio Chicago and

  2. Posted Mar 19, 2009 at 1:30 am by Thomas Sleeper

    Well– congratulations Larry.
    Very happy for you and looking forward to enjoying your projects as they unfold. You’ve been a courageous champion for the art in a tough neighborhood – bringing us rich insights and thought provoking commentary.
    Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do for music.
    Greatest success!

  3. Posted Mar 19, 2009 at 10:10 am by Jack Firestone

    Larry, we will miss you and your insightful writing. You have done a great job while in Florida and especially this year in launching the site. We are lucky that we will have South Florida Classical Review as your continuing legacy. Looking forward to your Chicago adventures and the national site to follow.


  4. Posted Mar 19, 2009 at 11:21 am by Jung

    Good for you! South Florida is becoming a cultural wasteland anyway.

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Wed Mar 18, 2009
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