San Francisco Classical Voice

Article excerpt

All Internet enterprises are new, but some are more original and constructive than others. San Francisco Classical Voice, a Web-based journal of music criticism for the San Francisco Bay Area established at the beginning of this musical season, at, is a unique and important venture that aims toward a new relationship between electronic media and the musical arts.

SFCV is high tech with high purpose. The first publication of its kind anywhere, it covers classical-music events in the local area-with an emphasis on performances by resident musicians and organizations. Every week, along with calendars of upcoming events, it offers reviews and commentary by more than 50 of the region's composers, musicologists, and performers. At a time when newspapers are downsizing their review staffs and de-emphasizing local music coverage, San Francisco Classical Voice is an important forum and reference resource for Bay Area music lovers and performers.

The site was founded bv Robert Commanday, the San Francisco Chronicle's music critic from 1965 until his retirement in 1993. When I ask what impelled him to take on such a responsibility, his first response is, "I don't know. Recklessness, I suppose." But he really does know, and he explains his motivations in detail.

"My retirement from the Chronicle coincided with a change of management and the start of a new editorial policy that disturbed me," he says. "There was a great diminishing of coverage of local classical music. When I was a critic I was always unhappy that we couldn't do more. We had to cover the big-ticket events, of course-the symphony, the opera-even when the actual merits of the occasion weren't so remarkable: a recital by a very familiar artist, a special concert more pop than serious. There were always more local presentations than a staff of three could keep up with.

"Now the papers are doing even less. The Chronicle, for example, is now down to one staff music critic and one dance critic. The major presenters are reviewed, but a lot else gets lost."

This imbalance of coverage nagged at Commanday until he conceived of the idea of establishing a Web-site forum for informed opinions and local music news. "I wanted a variety of points of view. Performers, composers, musicologists all review differently. They have different preparation, points of view, research backgrounds. The original concept was that work done for the site would be pro bono. I would get critics and colleagues from the universities to contribute.

"But then a grant came through from a private foundation. During the complicated process of organizing as a nonprofit, the advantages of affiliating with the San Francisco Foundation Community Initiative Funds were pointed out to me. Such an association automatically confers nonprofit status, and the Foundation administers the business operations of our project.

"Being a funded nonprofit has great advantages, certainly. The cost of establishing the site is covered, and there is some pay for contributors-without the need to sell ads. Business is taken care of. But everything else takes time, too! Learning to manage a Web site is as complex as learning to play the oboe. Between editing copy and managing software, I don't have time for promotion. It's an irony that Classical Voice is an electronic medium that depends heavily on word-of-mouth advertising. …