That was quick

Chalk it up to the speed of light – or the speed of bits over the Internet. On Monday:

Opera News, 76 years old and one of the leading classical music magazines in the country, said on Monday that it would stop reviewing the Metropolitan Opera, a policy prompted by the Met’s dissatisfaction over negative critiques.

On Tuesday:

The Metropolitan Opera learned on Tuesday that censoring the press, even your in-house press, does not lead to good publicity.

Just a few hours after it emerged that Opera News, which is produced by an affiliate of the Metropolitan Opera, would stop reviewing the Metropolitan Opera, the Met announced that no, actually, it was changing its mind and Opera News could keep running reviews. ..

“From their postings on the internet, it is abundantly clear that opera fans would miss reading reviews about the Met in Opera News. Ultimately, the Met is here to serve the opera-loving public and has changed its decision because of the passionate response of the fans,” the Met wrote in a statement. Bravo!

In ye olden tymes (say, pre-1995), this is a story that people in New York and other coastal enclaves would have learned about the day after from reading the New York Times, and a few of the rest of us might have learned about days later had our local paper picked the story up from the wires. Those upset about it would have written letters (either by hand or on their typewriters) to the Met in protest, which would have dribbled in over a period of a week or so via the USPS.

But in the 21st century, within hours of unpopular decision being announced, a tsunami of emails and online commentary simply overwhelms the ability of the decision-maker in question to deal with anything else until the decision is made to go away. The irony, of course, is that the Met is one of the most tech-savvy arts institutions in the western world – and still didn’t see this coming.

We had a similar example of the new accelerated speed of controversy a couple of years ago when a member of an audition committee posted a rather negative comment to Facebook – from the audition – about his/her perception of the quality of auditionees at that days’ screened auditions. Of course the local critics were FB friends of the poster, and our PR department was fielding inquiries within an hour or so of the posting, which meant that the management and union were dealing with it not very long afterwards.

Fortunately the situation was resolved with no damage or negative PR and nothing similar has happened since. But it was an education in how problems that used to emerge as a black cloud no bigger than a hand on the horizon can now arrive – like ICBMs – with no advance warning at all before leaving large craters in an institution’s reputation.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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