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[This Just In]

A Globe critic’s classical bind


Boston Globe classical-music critic Richard Dyer has been caught up — unwittingly, he says — in a snit over pianist Van Cliburn, the pride of Forth Worth, Texas.

Dyer wrote the most favorable of four local reviews of a March 4 Cliburn recital at Boston’s Symphony Hall. That prompted the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to grab Dyer’s review off the wires and run it after its own critic had torched Cliburn for his “wooden playing, poor phrasing, and careless transitions.” The Star-Telegram explained that it wanted to offer “a somewhat different opinion of the same recital,” which the alternative Fort Worth Weekly called “a backpedaling copout that wouldn’t have been done for, say, Megadeth.”

Now it turns out that Dyer is one of 10 jurors who will judge this year’s 11th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, to be held in Fort Worth from May 25 through June 10. Not that Dyer’s getting rich off the deal. According to Van Cliburn Foundation spokesman Sevan Melikyan, each juror will receive an honorarium of a “confidential” sum, but intended to cover only travel, hotel, and other expenses. When I contacted Dyer at the Globe, he confirmed the arrangement.

Still, Dyer has created at least the appearance of a conflict. His Globe review of Cliburn’s concert was notably more favorable than that of the Boston Herald’s T.J. Medrek, who fulminated against the musician’s “loud, ugly, even crude piano playing.” Two other pieces were more mixed. Ellen Pfeifer, in the Boston Phoenix, pronounced Cliburn’s Debussy “dazzling” but his Chopin “unlistenable.” Peter Knapp, in the Quincy Patriot Ledger, called Cliburn’s Brahms “king-sized and richly textured,” but his Chopin “fussy and episodic” and “mechanical.” (What’s with Cliburn and Chopin?) Dyer, by contrast, hailed the “master pianist” for his “easy unforced power, the orchestral range of coloration, the prodigies of voicing, and the open emotion.”

Dyer told me he had no idea the Star-Telegram had even picked up his review until he was contacted by the Fort Worth Weekly for comment. The differing reviews, he says, are typical of how Cliburn’s playing has always been received. As for the Cliburn competition, he says he was invited to help with the judging shortly after giving a speech at the 1999 meeting of the International Federation of Music Competitions, in Dublin. “Because every competition in the world was represented in the audience, I was asked to take part in a bunch of them,” he says. “Having criticized them for years, I wanted to see how they worked.” He adds that he cleared his participation with management before accepting.

Bottom line: there’s little in it for Dyer, and it’s not as if Van Cliburn personally asked him to be a competition juror. But given that he’ll be flying off to Cliburn Central in just two months, he probably would have been well served if he had requested that someone else review Cliburn’s Boston performance.

Issue Date: March 29 - April 5, 2001