Unfortunately, serious music critics are a dying breed in the media. These days, the marketers and accountants want the arts pages to be filled with glossy puff pieces on the latest wunderkind, not serious examinations of Mahler symphonies.

But the Cleveland Plain Dealer has just hammered another nail in the coffin of the music critic, with its decision to sack, after 16 years of service, that newspaper’s critic, Donald Rosenberg.

Cleveland is a hollowed out old industrial town, but one brightly burning light is its famous orchestra, which shot to stardom in the 1950s under the baton of the legendary conductor George Szell. Today the Cleveland Orchestra is one of the top five in the US — no mean feat. So when Mr. Rosenberg turned on the Orchestra’s current chief conductor, Franz Welser-Most — known to some bitchy English critics as “Frankly Worse than Most” — the Plain Dealer decided that Mr. Rosenberg should no longer be allowed to review the Orchestra’s concerts.

Rosenberg’s criticisms of Welser-Most’s conducting over the past six years have been relentless, but done with a sense of style and intellectual polish. He said of a Welser-Most account of Mahler’s 7th symphony that the conductor, “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” And after a performance of a Mozart symphony, Rosenberg wrote that it was “one of several ineffective Mozart performances I have heard from Mr. Welser-Most”.

The Plain Dealer’s editor Susan Goldberg has decided enough is enough. Welser-Most has just had his contract renewed to 2018, but Rosenberg won’t be around to torture him anymore. Rosenberg told the New York Times last week that Goldberg called him to a meeting and said the paper was making a change and “broadening its coverage of the orchestra.” And, for good measure, she apparently told Rosenberg that his reviews were unfair and that he was attacking the orchestra.

The sacking of Rosenberg appears to have done serious damage to the Plain Dealer and the Orchestra itself, which lobbied and complained to the newspaper about their critic. Rosenberg’s colleagues in other newspapers and online publications are rallying to his defence. Tim Smith a critic for the Baltimore Sun, had this to say about Rosenberg’s sacking:

The Plain Dealer has clearly caved into pressure from a faction representing the orchestra and the man on its podium. By silencing Don, those myopic folks must think they’ve achieved a great victory. They haven’t. They’ve made a venerable newspaper look cheap and act cowardly. They’ve made a sterling orchestra look a little less so.

Ouch!

Peter Fray

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