Academic journal article Journal of Singing

A Conversation with Lloyd Schwartz, Part 1

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

A Conversation with Lloyd Schwartz, Part 1

Article excerpt

AT THE LOVELY CAMBRIDGE CENTER FOR Adult Education in Cambridge, MA, Lloyd Schwartz, Pulitzer Prize-winning classical music editor of the Boston Phoenix, and I had the following conversation . . .

Leslie Holmes: What do you think the role of a music critic is?

Lloyd Schwartz: For me, I think there are a number of roles. I think my place is to have my half of an intelligent conversation with the reader about what my experience has been. If the reader-which is, probably, half the time-is someone who has also heard the music that I heard, the reader is going to have his or her own opinions. I would like to be able to have mine, and explain why I liked something, or why I didn't like something. It's not to tell people what they should think, but to say what I think and why . . . and, maybe, argue my case, and hope I do it cogently, intelligently, and interestingly. The writing should be interesting itself.

LH: Of course, this presumes intelligence on both sides.

LS: One would prefer that. I'm going to go out on a limb, and say that, at least, most people who take the trouble-and go to the expense-to go to a classical music concert are going to be intelligent.

LH: And your intelligence is not in question, given your education [Queens College and Harvard].

LS: No, my intelligence is always in question. I came to this business without a serious musical education.

LH: But you had a year of violin.

LS: I did, but I was five. I've studied music-I certainly had some wonderful music courses in college. I was always interested in music, but never from a technical point of view. So, I've learned a lot more about music since I started writing about it than I did before. In fact, when I thought about whether I had anything to offer, this was what I thought it was, because I came to music, not from a professional, technical point of view, but really from the point of view of an informed and interested member of the audience. I knew something . . . it wasn't something completely cold to me . . . and it was something that I'd loved from the time I was very, very little.

LH: And we do learn so much for doing things that, perhaps, we really weren't trained to do. What are your criteria for judging a singer?

LS: I want a combination of a beautiful, or interesting, vocal quality-I do care about the voice!-but I want the voice to serve something expressive in the music. If I had to choose between an empty singer with a beautiful tone, and a singer who had a less attractive voice-maybe even an unattractive voice-but who could use that voice to service the music, to bring out something in the music, I would prefer the latter. I think one of my touchstones is the thing that Verdi wrote, when he was writing Macbeth, very early in his career. He said that, for Lady Macbeth, he didn't want a singer who had an especially beautiful voice. He didn't say that he wanted a singer who had an ugly voice. But beauty of tone was not his primary object for that role. I don't know if he felt that way for Trovatore or Forza del destino, where you really want beauty of tone. But, I'm thinking that here is a composer who cares more about expression than just sheer vocal production, and that's really how I feel. I'm bored by artists-and not just singers, but violinists, pianists, and so forth-who just have a pretty sound, and nothing else going through. I'm much more tolerant of a musician whose natural equipment may not be absolutely gorgeous, but who is using what they have for the purpose of revealing something, or expressing something, in the music, or score, in itself. I'm happy to meet them more than halfway.

LH: What is the relationship of the poetry to the music, in classical music?

LS: I think it's crucial. I think singers have to know what the words are about. They have to know what the words mean, which means not only in Italian, or Russian, or French, but also in English. …

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