Monday, April 22, 2013

Tortured lede department

Look, I get it. I edit a daily newspaper and I churn out a lot of music previews, and I know what a challenge the first paragraph of a story can be. You want to be vivid, you want to be creative, and you want to use the active voice (or, depending on your journalism professor, you have to use the active voice. Even so, I can't quite forgive comparing Charles Ives to Harry Potter, as Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim does in her review of the New York Philharmonic's performance of the Fourth Symphony:

There were moments during Wednesday evening’s New York Philharmonic performance of Charles Ives’s “Symphony No. 4” at Avery Fisher Hall when I felt like a spectator at a Quidditch match. It’s true that neither the Philharmonic players nor their conductor, Alan Gilbert, were riding on broomsticks. But with 14 airborne players, four balls, six goals, and a winged target, Quidditch, the sport central to the Harry Potter novels, is a lot like Ives’s music. Things come hurtling at you from unexpected places. Players are chasing a zigzagging target. The laws of physics don’t seem to apply.

Uh, OK. When critics resort to this kind of extended conceit, it's a signal to me they don't really know what they're talking about, and they bury their ignorance in verbiage. My impression was confirmed by the rest of the review, which offers only sketchy descriptions of one or two outstanding moments and doesn't even attempt to assess either the music or the performance. OK, so Mr. Gilbert seemed relaxed under daunting circumstances. I'm relieved for him.

Vivien Schweitzer does a somewhat better job in her preview of the performance, though at times she sounds as though she's regurgitating program notes.


Cal said...

Resorting "to this kind of extended conceit" is also a sign that the writer is not confident that her readers will get the reference. Better to choose something that needs only a mention, not a description.

If she doesn't know her Ives, she does know her quidditch. Having "things hurtling at you from unexpected places" is a big part of the game's appeal.

Anonymous said...

Just let Zach Wolfe write about everything...