Yiddish Artsong 'too ethnically specific' to merit review in Gramophone.

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Yiddish Artsong 'too ethnically specific' to merit review in Gramophone.

Andrew Mellor, the reviews editor of this magazine has refused to consider our new CD, 'Di Sheyne Milnerin' - a Yiddish Die Schone Mullerin' for review as follows: A fascinating and worthy project but I’m afraid given our space limitations this was just a little too ethnically specific to warrant a review...

 'ethnically specific.' What might that mean? What other music may it exclude? As one friend wrote, ' I find Cimarosa a bit too Neapolitan,'

A major ambition of ours, all along, has been to introduce the joys of Yiddish music, performed as art song, to an audience who might not have considered it was for them but then find themselves pleasantly surprised by what they hear. I know it works because I spent years introducing 'ethnically specific' songs into song recitals, almost always to find that they were the ones which had gone down best with the audience. I'm furious as are my label Nimbus and quite a few others who have now been made aware of Mellor's remark. Here is my own reply to him:

Dear Andrew Mellor

I was perturbed to see your response to John Cronin in regard to our new CD, 'Di Sheyne Milnerin'. It suggests you are, perhaps, unaware that the late, great John Steane himself gave a very good review to its predecessor, 'A Yiddish Winterreise'. You might be interested to know that Mr Steane himself had qualms about 'A Yiddish Winterreise', until he heard the CD. His review was so positive that it has been quoted by us ever since. I myself am a former international operatic soloist, Alexander Knapp an ethnomusicologist of international repute with a background as a classical pianist. A major aim of ours is to introduce Yiddish music, in a classical style, to an audience weaned on Lieder who will be more than pleasantly surprised by what they have discovered. We have performed at The Kennedy Center in Washington with resounding success (asked back to perform in 2013 and 2014 as a result), at the Purcell Room, at Leeds Lieder Festival, New York Symphony Space and the Chicago Cultural Center amongst many other venues. Naxos and Nimbus are, as you know, serious classical labels. They have not taken us on without reason. It would be appreciated if you would at least grant 'Di Sheyne Milnerin' the space allowed to its predecessor 'A Yiddish Winterreise.'

Have a listen to the clips available on Nimbus and see if you find them 'too ethnically specific.'http://www.wyastone.co.uk/di-sheyne-milnerin-schubert-s-cycle-of-love-forlorn-retold-in-yiddish-song.html 

Distinctly strange

I have to say this refusal to review a fascinating-sounding disc by distinguised artists from a reputable recording company seems distinctly strange. And the grounds for refusal are positively offensive. If the reviewer does not like the disc for artistic reasons, he or she is perfectly entitled to say so. But to reject it in this way is unacceptable, I'm afraid. As for space considerations, Gramophone Magazine is becoming thinner and thinner because of the lack of recordings being made. So that seems discinctly strange too. I feel an explanation is necessary first. Then a review!

RE: Yiddish Artsong 'too ethnically specific' to merit review

Thank you for your comments Mark and allow me to clarify a few things.

Firstly I should point out that we haven't refused to consider your recording for review; we did consider it for review. We consider every recording that is sent to us, that is available for purchase from the UK, and that falls under the (admittedly problematic) label 'classical' - all parameters under which your recording qualifies. Interestingly, pace davidparry's comment above, the volume of CDs being sent to Gramophone is increasing; it has been ever since I arrived on the reviews desk two years ago and it did throughout my three years as reviews editor on another classical music magazine immediately previous to that.

To put this into perspective, I'd approximate that in a busy section like 'Vocal', we have about five CDs fighting for every one review space in the magazine. Many more if you consider reissues.

Which leads me to my second point, the endless challenge of choosing what gets reviewed in Gramophone. This is, without question, a treacherously difficult task - saddeningly so, in some respects, as every month I can count upwards of 30 recording projects which I've found enjoyable and thought-provoking which we simply haven't found the space to review.

Gramophone still carries more reviews than its competitors and, for the last twelve issues, has carried more reviews per issue on average than the twelve month period preceding that. It boils down to prioritising, which is an ugly but neccesary process. I don't take any of the decisions lightly - nor do my colleagues who make decisions about features in the magazine and, indeed, the Gramophone Choice list - but I do believe that there is firm editorial reasoning behind every review we commission.

Which in turn leads to my final point - and an apology if you found my 'ethnically specific' description offensive, which it was certainly not intended to be. Unlike John Steane, I didn't have any initial qualms about A Yiddish schöne Mullerin, I actually found it rather intriguing from the off (and it came with an interesting endorsement and anecdote from a colleague of mine on Gramophone's staff). What I had to do was prioritise what we could cover in the issue in question (Gramophone's December issue) and draw a line somewhere, which unfortunately this disc was on the wrong side of (along with many other fascinating recordings). What we have here is a recording that takes a staple of the classical repertoire and, correct me if I am wrong, reimagines it through the prism of Yiddish art and creativity; that, I felt, was reason enough to view the disc as falling into a 'niche within a niche', and so weighing-up the four other discs that were fighting for that one space, I took the decision to give the space to something else.

Thereafter the world keeps turning: our shelves have to be cleared and the next batch of discs (which arrive in swathes ever day) needs to be looked at afresh, so that we don't chase our tails and are always printing reviews as quickly as we can. I only wish we had the space, the budget and the workforce to commission reviews for every quality recording that arrives here - but that would be quite some space and quite some budget. I know that will be of little comfort to an artist who has put their all into a project and is disappointed not to see a Gramophone review, but that is something beyond our control.

Andrew Mellor, reviews editor

 

RE: Yiddish Artsong 'too ethnically specific' to merit review

The CD presents, with considerable scholarship and artistry,
the contribution made by Jewish composers to the genre of classical art song in
the late 19th and early 20th century.  To term the music ‘ethnic’ implies that these
Jews were not entitled to bring their music into the concert halls of civilised,
enlightened society and to have their music deemed the equal of the German
lieder being written from a Christian, ‘volkart’ perspective. More worryingly,
denying it now for review implies that these values perhaps persist today.  As a subscriber to the Gramophone now for
over 30 years, and something who greatly values the quality of its writing, I
would ask that you perhaps rethink your decision. Thanks!

RE: Yiddish Artsong 'too ethnically specific'.

I sample most of the songs on Nimbus link and, while I don't know if they are "too ethnically specific" (whatever this term might mean), I found the songs definitely too Yiddish to let me appreciate the "Artsong".

Having said that I don't mean to espouse any exclusion from Gramophone reviews, which, in any case, is not my business at all.

Parla

RE: Yiddish Artsong 'too ethnically specific'.

"Ethnically specific" (a term I used in a private correspondence) does absolutely NOT suggest that this music isn't entitled to be heard alongside any other sort of music. To suggest that it does is at best a misunderstanding of basic terminology and at worst a serious (and unjustified) questioning of the character of the person who used the term - me. 

Around 18 months ago the label BIS released a quite beautiful recording which saw classical musicians collaborating with singers from the "yoiking" tradition used by Samis in northern Scandinavia and Lapland. This recording is full of outstanding musicianship. It is enlightening and it is profound (or, at least, it was for me). It cannot be deemed inferior or superior to - for the sake of argument - a song cycle by Sibelius; from the same terrain but a different tradition. It is also a recording I've returned to literally dozens of times since I first heard it.

Did Gramophone carry a review? No. This was a project which I would describe as "ethnically specific" - not in audience, but in origin. Does that preclude a review in Gramophone? Absolutely not, but when each review space is fought over by five discs, we have to think of our readership - and the fact that they are more likely to be interested in reading reviews of a Haydn Mass, a Brahms song recital etc - especially when we would have to had EXCLUDE major artists performing central repertoire to include discs from outside (or, at least, with one foot outside) the so-called 'classical tradition'.

Please understand that this is a matter of space and mathematics.

 

Just to add

One thing that saddens me, Andrew, is that we've been trying,
all along, to introduce this wonderful Yiddish music and its culture to an audience
way beyond the Jewish community because, like any art of genuine
worth, it deserves a wider audience. How do you define 'ethnically
specific'? I'd say most of Edward Elgar's music is ethnically specific
as it's so, well, English, but that doesn't mean it can't be
appreciated by people of many races and backgrounds.

But there's something else that saddens me much more. By ignoring and
marginalising Yiddish culture of all kinds, one is, whether consciously or not, and I accept entirely that in your case it's the latter, abetting
those who wanted to see the obliteration of an entire people together
with its culture. What's significant is the quality of one's work. What
determines whether something is worthy of a wider audience is not its
ethnicity but its quality. It's not for us to decide whether we meet
that standard, but John Steane, a very eminent vocal critic, certainly
felt our first CD, A Yiddish Winterreise, was worthy of inclusion in
the mainstream with his own review in Gramophone. You, who haven't heard it, have decided that it isn't.

RE: Just to add

Sorry, Mr Glanville, you've gone too far. It's absurd and obnoxious of you to link Gramophone's failure to review your disc with anti-Semitism. I suspect you're not making many friends here. (I'm Jewish, as it happens.)

FAO Mr Graber

I don't for one minute believe there is any anti-Semitism involved here, Mr Graber. You've misunderstood my points. I merely feel that the grounds given for not reviewing the CD are shaky but I also understand the pressue Andrew Mellor is under for space. Given the terrible fate of most Yiddish-speaking people and their culture, I'm a staunch and willing crusader (odd word in this context, I realise) for that cause. I also happen to derive a great deal of my inspiration from that world. I'm not a coward. I've always stood up for what I believe in and have made many more friends than enemies as a result. You may be interested to know that others who are not Jewish have been far more up in arms about this than me. 

RE: Yiddish Artsong 'too ethnically specific' to merit review.

Mark, with respect, quit while you are ahead. You are digging yourself into a hole here.

RE: Yiddish Artsong 'too ethnically specific' to merit review.

Pity the editorial staff if every CD that didn't get included for review leads to the same amount of pressure!

 

Chris A.Gnostic

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