To the editors:
Thank you for continuing to print John Litweiler's concert reviews. I tried to describe the recent performance by Roscoe Mitchell and the Note Factory [February 21] to some friends who are not familiar with this music, and I had to give up. Mitchell's art is simply so far removed from the usual classifications of these things that it defies my poor power to explain it. Mr. Litweiler, however, has the knowledge and skill to do the job. Anybody reading his review would have a good idea just what took place at Mandel Hall that night. And with anything unique, such as a single performance of improvisational music, plain description is more useful to a reader than a catalogue of the reviewer's feelings.
After comparing Mr. Litweiler's piece with the crabby, perfunctory treatment of this same concert given by the Tribune, I'm led to wonder why daily newspapers bother running concert reviews at all. They don't allow enough time or space for adequate description, thus any review boils down to a Siskelesque "thumbs up" or "thumbs down." Of what possible use is this to anybody? The concert is over, so it's not as if we can be warned away from something; and in the case of a protean artist like Mitchell, we're unlikely to see anything even very similar ever again.
The only explanation I can find is that daily papers feel some obligation to be "where the people are," regardless of the tastes of their reviewers. If such a "compulsory reporting" argument is the reason for the coverage, it makes all the more sense to treat these concerts as straight news stories. Just think if the Tribune's police reporters started telling us how they feel about the activities they cover. If they aren't going to give cultural events feature-length treatment it's better just to present the facts--unless they imagine we buy the paper to know what sort of night Howard Reich had.
I thought you might want to know your efforts are appreciated.