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January 24, 2013

Oestreich stepping down as New York Times classical music editor

Big news in the classical music field -- James R. Oestreich is stepping down as New York Times classical music editor at the end of the month. He is taking a buyout from the paper of record, which he has served for 24 years. He still plans to contribute to the paper after his departure.

For quite a few of us in the ever-threatened business, Jim has been a great influence and inspiration. Count me among his ardent admirers.

I am biased, of course, especially since ...

he twice asked me to write pieces for the Times, something I never thought I would do in my lifetime, and since we shared a lot of tastes in composers and conductors.

I also got a kick out of the fact that Jim, notorious for taking his sweet time answering a phone call or email, used to get back to me promptly when I contacted him (usually about Music Critics Association of North America business -- we did some projects together in the past). That gave me some pretty valuable street cred for a while.

And how can I ever thank him enough for teaching me the comfort and joy of a gin and tonic?

Being at the Times, where he did occasional reviews as well as editing, made him a magnet for a lot of negative stuff. It's a very tough, sure-to-displease-someone job.

Someone was always miffed at an article, or lack of one. Someone always assumed he was manipulating this or that, accused him of favoring or disfavoring one writer or another.

But none of that nonsense has ever dented Jim, one of the most authentic souls I've met in the classical music world. He's not just knowledgeable, but passionate, about music and truly moved by it. (That should be a given, but I guarantee you that there are folks in this business who have never shed a tear of felt a shudder hearing music; they are much too busy calculating something.)

Jim has kept the classical music pages of the Times lively and informative (not sure if he had a hand in moving those pages a little closer to the front of the Sunday Arts and Leisure section in recent months, but, heck, I'll credit him with that welcome development, too).

He has contributed his own distinctive voice to the paper's music coverage as a reviewer. And he has helped a lot of young critics over the years.

Others can write a lot more meaningfully about the man and the imprint he has left -- thanks to a Tweet by Steve Smith, I was led to this excellent post on the Seated Ovation blog -- but I just wanted to add my voice and (at the moment, figuratively) raise my glass of G&T to salute Jim and his many contributions to classical music.

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:04 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Classical, Clef Notes


Bravo, Tim!

A well-deserved and touching tribute to a great music person. Thanks for this.


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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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