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Sunday, April 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 68.0° F  Overcast
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Tell All: 'We deserve better'
Daily newspaper's classical music critic falls short


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Dear Tell All: I've been clipping Lindsay Christians' classical-music reviews, which started running in the Wisconsin State Journal and on Madison.com last year. I've shown them to fellow classical-music fans, and none of us can believe how silly they are.

I'll give you some examples. In a review of Brahms' first piano concerto by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Christians said that "the allegro non troppo lightens the mood, with bustling arpeggios that bubble down the scale, then march back up it." Setting aside the absurd bustling/bubbling/marching mixed metaphor, her insight is perfectly useless. Here's a music critic who can tell us only that notes ascended and descended the scale.

In her review of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Christians said that "it was possible to imagine a bouncing ball as the themes bounded back and forth, like the musical equivalent of skipping rope or twirling."

In her review of guest cellist Ralph Kirshbaum with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, she said that he "pulled phrases out of his instrument like strands of yarn." Kirshbaum also apparently made a Bach cello suite sound like "the musical equivalent of burnished bronze."

I could go on, but you get the idea. In place of informed, perceptive analysis, Christians provides nonsensical metaphors and fuzzy impressions. Isn't this an insult to Madison's intelligence? Isn't it also an insult to the sophisticated classical-music organizations that put actual thought into these performances? We deserve better.

Gustav Mauler

Dear Gustav: Let's not be too hard on Christians, a hard-working staff writer for 77 Square who can write well enough on other subjects. Instead, let's blame the corporation that added classical-music reviews to her workload, regardless of how qualified she is to cover that beat. The bean-counters at Capital Newspapers probably don't notice or care that Christians' reviews are less than authoritative. They're probably overjoyed that she's turning out classical-music copy along with food, theater, jazz, dance and visual art copy so they don't have to hire anyone else to do it. Your comment about "informed, perceptive analysis" is touching, but I suspect it would get you laughed right out of corporate headquarters.

Do you have a question about life or love in Madison? Write Tell All, 101 King St., Madison, WI, 53703. Or email tellall@isthmus.com.

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