In a recent essay in New York Magazine, classical-music critic Justin Davidson went public with his struggle to like Philip Glass’s music. “Drugs work differently on different metabolisms, angels appear only to the elect, and I lack the gift of spinning Glassian tedium into bliss,” he wrote.
Davidson’s column set in motion some impassioned reactions from the composer’s loyal listeners: “Philip Glass is our greatest living composer and then some.” Some were more measured (“His music requires listening and almost abandoning one’s regular boundaries”), while others shared Davidson’s mental block against Glass’s brand of minimalism (“I can set a synthesizer’s arpeggiator on and approximate some of his music with a couple of keystrokes”). Many, including Davidson, expressed a desire to overcome what they perceive to be their personal hang-ups.
Being a critic doesn’t eliminate normal, human sensitivities. Anyone, including a critic, can fail to be moved by music by a popular or widely respected composer. We might like the music on paper, but for whatever reason—NPR blogger Tom Huizenga calls it a blind spot —we can’t plug in. And according to Jacob Street, who recently won first prize at the inaugural Rubin Institute of Music Criticism, the advice he received from the Institute’s critics was to be personal and write in his own voice. For the record, among those critics was Alex Ross, who also shared his struggles with Glass. Even in his 75th-birthday year, Glass is clearly still a composer who attracts ardent admirers and staunch critics in equal number.
So we want to know: What mental blocks plague your listening? Maybe it’s Liszt. Yes, there are those transcendent Petrarch Sonnets, but you still think of him as the composer who wrote for the fingers, not the heart. And even though you have tried again and again to convince yourself that millions of fans can’t be wrong, he fails to move you. Whatever your bête noire, share it with us by taking our poll and adding your comments in the area below.