Cleveland Orchestra hires its own “critic” in Miami

By David Fleshler

The Cleveland Orchestra has hired a "critic-in-residence" to help promote its concerts with Franz Welser-Möst in Miami

The Cleveland Orchestra, not known as a fan of music critics, has hired one to assist with its annual residency in Miami.

Enrique Fernandez, former features editor, critic and staff writer at The Miami Herald, has been engaged to do a blog on the orchestra’s Miami residency web site.

Fernandez, who has the title critic-in-residence, said he will not be reviewing concerts, as that would put him in the awkward position of passing judgment on his employer. Instead he will attempt to stimulate discussion among the blog’s readers, in hopes that the blog will be driven and supported by comments from the orchestra’s listeners in South Florida.

So far, in response to Fernandez’s prompting, comments posted by readers have ranged from laudatory on the orchestra’s first performances at the Arsht Center in Miami to highly critical, in particular of Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s performance of the Schumann Piano Concerto. The critical comments have remained on the site, and Fernandez said that’s how the blog will be run.

“The whole point is to curate the discussion, and I’m trying to leave my critical opinions out of it,” said Fernandez, who holds a doctorate in comparative literature and has covered music, literature and other cultural subjects for the Herald. “I know some people found Aimard’s rendering of the Schumann horrible. I’m actually glad they’re saying that. I’m glad there are dissenting opinions. This isn’t for the views of the Cleveland Orchestra. As much as possible, let’s get a discussion going, which is healthy and opinionated.”

Fernandez said the orchestra is trying to go beyond a monolithic institutional voice and to embrace the dynamic possibilities for give-and-take offered by the web. “Online brings a whole new dimension to things,” he said. “It’s an acknowledgment of that that prompted the orchestra to foster the discussion, to stimulate a community who goes to concerts and wants to write something about it.”

In comments so far, listeners have inquired about the name of the encore from the most recent concert (Träumerei am Kamin from Richard Strauss’ opera, Intermezzo). One reader wrote in that a melody in Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, performed on this season’s first concert program, had been the theme for the old TV series The Naked City.  They discussed whether it’s all right to applaud between movements. Several said they loved the performance of Ein Heldenleben (“This is an amazing orchestra for playing Strauss,” wrote one. “The sound is unbelievable.”) and there were several comments on the Schumann concerto like this: “I was very disappointed by the poor interpretation of Schumann’s piano concerto both from the soloist and from the orchestra.”

The orchestra made news in 2008 for successfully pressuring The Cleveland Plain Dealer into removing its longtime music critic Donald Rosenberg from coverage of the orchestra, after his frequent criticisms of music director Franz Welser-Möst. But the orchestra’s Miami residency director, Sandi Macdonald, said the hiring of Fernandez is not an attempt to do an end run around traditional music critics.

“That couldn’t be further from the overall goal of the web site,” she said. “He is not shilling for us. The purpose of the blog is to create a place for discussion.”

The blog is part of a larger strategy by the orchestra to create more of a sense of community around its winter activities in South Florida, she said. Now it its fifth year, the residency consists of concerts at the Arsht Center, as well as master classes, programs with Miami-Dade County public schools and family events. Macdonald also said that negative reviews of the orchestra will not be deleted.

“I was actually thrilled that people have opinions,” she said.

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Mon Feb 7, 2011
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