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Classical 101

Critic Andrew Porter Dies

Music Critic Andrew Porter
The New Yorker
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 The death of British critic, writer, translator and stage director Andrew Porter is front page news in the world of classical music. 

Many of us received a Rolls-Royce music education from Porter’s monthly pieces in the New Yorker. He and Michael Steinberg were the shining stars, the great writers on music and musicians, the best since Virgil Thomson retired in 1960.

Porter worked at the New Yorker for twenty years, 1972-1992. This remains the only publication I know of to offer regular, in-depth criticism and cultural reporting. In dept meaning a whole lotta pages filled with knowledge and wit. Today, Alex Ross continues to inform, educate and delight.

Porter brought a British wit and a talent for understatement to his clearly written writing on music: the good, the bad, the personal, the outrageous and the just plain lousy. Porter’s imprimatur made careers, or at least had them taken seriously. He lacked the viciousness of Chicago’s Claudia Cassidy. He wasn’t a pedant and he wasn’t a cheerleader. Virgil Thomson had more clarity and bite. Andrew gave off the Brit-patina of snob appeal. He also was a wonder writer first, who also knew a hell of a lot about music.

I suspect Porter will live on for his epic translations of Wagner’s Ring cycle. The four music dramas were first presented in Porter’s words by the Sadler’s Wells Opera (today the English National Opera) in London in the early 1970s. It takes talent to render Wagner’s text:

“Schacher ihm schenkten zur Frau,” to the singable “Robbers had made her their prize.”

Porter must have been discouraged to write at length -never mind style and wit- today about the arts. I think pieces have gone the way of serious thought itself. Luckily, his collected writings remain in print. His translations of the Ring are sung in the fabulous recordings conducted by Goodall, with Rita Hunter, John Tomlinson, Alberto Remedios, and the best of British opera in the 1970s. Was that a golden age? Or did Andrew Porter telling the world create a golden age?

P.S. Andrew Porter never married. He remained close to his sister, Sheila. She was the publicist for the New York City Opera when I was an intern there in 1980. Sheila Porter was a daffy British lady who would peer right into your face and ask, “Darling, WHAT are You?”. Those were the days.