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July 13, 2010

Case of music critic vs. Cleveland Orchestra and Plain Dealer goes to trial

Nearly two years ago, longtime music critic Don Rosenberg was reassigned by his newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and prohibited from covering the Cleveland Orchestra becasue he was considered too negative in his reviews of that ensemble's music director, Franz Welser-Most. Rosenberg subsequently sued the paper and the orchestra, an extraordinary action that sent quite a ripple through the arts and journalism worlds.

The case finally went to court this week; jury selection began Monday. One estimate I've seen suggests the trial could last at least two weeks.

I've written a good deal about this matter and have been intervewed about it (most recently for an in-depth story written by Michael Gill for the Cleveland Scene), so I don't need to pontificate here again. Suffice it to say that all of us who believe in criticism (music or otherwise) as a serious and valuable profession should be concerned with the outcome of this trial.

Posted by Tim Smith at 1:34 PM | | Comments (2)


He's a wonderful person, should not be so treated

Yes, a newspaper is supposed to _protect_ its writers, not blackball them. ("Editing" is one thing; censorship is another matter entirely.)

Susan Goldberg's statement that reassigning Rosenberg was only "an internal personnel move" is utter horse-crap. Cause-effect: Don criticizes the city's "golden child" orchestra one time too many -- Don is magically "reassigned." This could hardly appear to be a coincidence, except for those who are blind, deaf, & dumb (read: stupid).

I regard Don Rosenberg to be one of the finest classical-music critics in the country, and as an attendee of several Cleveland Orchestra concerts over the past several years, I think that he has developed VERY _valid_ criticisms of Welser-Möst.

I myself find Welser-Möst's overall approach with the orchestra to be a bit cold and uninvolved, but I am willing to be fairly patient with his approach; thus, I'm not _as_ critical of him as is Don (in all fairness, Welser-Möst may not be the most inspiring or interesting conductor in the world, but he's certainly competent). But I have the impression that Don clearly speaks for some of the orchestra musicians, and he always takes the high road in promoting what he believes would produce the "best experience" for the audience.

For the Plain Dealer to censor him outright is a travesty. If they wanted another, "kinder-gentler" opinion, then they should have followed in the footsteps of the Philadelphia Inquirer and hired another critic, giving equal "print space" and reviewing opportunities to each. As history now stands, though, they simply chose to ditch their "quality critic" and put a grinning sock-puppet in his place.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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