“New York Times” classical critic answers reader questions

Posted on: February 13, 2009

At the “Talk to the Newsroom” page of the New York Times website from February 9 to 13, Anthony Tommasini, the Times’ chief classical music critic, has been answering reader questions. “You ask about how I prepare for reviewing something,” writes Tommasini in response to one question. “In a way, my preparation is ongoing, a lifetime spent immersed in music. I bring that to everything I cover. But I also have to inform myself as best I can about what I’m hearing, especially if it’s a new artist or a new work…. A review is a mix of reactions and descriptions, part opinion piece and part news report. The mix is not necessarily 50-50. Sometimes I have a strong opinion. Sometimes I don’t, so I stand back a bit and focus in my review on the news, describing what I heard. No matter the mix, the news reporter component of reviewing is crucial. When I review the premiere of a new symphonic work, or a new production of a Verdi opera, I have a big responsibility: I have to describe in the most vivid way I can what I heard and place it in the context of the news of the event.” Tommasini also gives extended answers to questions including the definition of rubato, whether classical music is treated too sensitively by critics, why the Times reviews the first performance of a multi-performance run, and who is responsible for educating audiences. Other Times staffers who previously have answered reader questions in the column include Bill Keller, the executive editor; Bill McDonald, obituaries editor; and Sam Sifton, the culture editor.