Mark Swed

Perhaps, I am being too obvious when I say that Alan Rich loved music. It was a great love, an adoration, a life. He lived to write about not music so much as his love for it. He chronicled — in witty, caring, pointed prose — what he loved and why.

There were many sides to Alan, and many contradictions. He was my difficult friend of 30 years. Alan, coming up the ranks in an era of supposedly objective criticism and cynicism, broke all the rules. He made boyish enthusiasm fashionable. He unfettered those of us who followed him. He was sophisticated and happily careless. He reacted rather than pondered. He was very quick and never hesitated to jump in.

Being the kind of personal critic he was meant that Alan expected everything about music to be personal. He was most content when he could commune with music as directly as possible. That’s why he liked so much the intimacy of the Classicists – Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven (particularly the chamber music) and Schubert – and why he distrusted anything too grand. He put up with Mahler and Wagner mainly because of their moments of intimacy.

We once quarreled over an orchestra version of Terry Riley’s “In C,” which I thought glorious, and he, a travesty. When Riley took my side, Alan decided that Terry didn’t know what he was talking about. No one, not even the composer, dare stand in the way of Alan and his infatuations.

Mostly, though, Alan and I reinforced each other. He was a great influence on me when I was music critic of the Herald Examiner. Then he succeeded me at the HerEx and showed them how it is really done. After I took over at the Times, Alan and I championed many of the same causes, especially in our support of new music. Writing against Alan was, to the end, an irreplaceable education for me (as surely it must have been even for his enemies, loathe as they might be to admit it).

But Alan could also be a thorn in my side in his petulant attacks against my colleagues. I argued with Alan about this time and again. He felt that if we didn’t police ourselves who would.
Anyone who ever entered Alan’s kitchen knew that he was not a tidy person. Yet when it came to music, he demanded law and order. There were no compromises (other than the ones he insisted on).

But Alan will not be remembered for his proud belligerence. To me, the great Alan Rich anthology would include no negative reviews, no attacks. It would contain, instead, a great and lasting collection of love letters. To music.

John Harris

I knew Alan pretty well from his days at Pacifica in the late 50s. I’d not seen him since those days but were in touch by email in the decade before his demise. I’ve followed his writing over all those years. I hope every effort possible will be made to preserve his writing. I saw him in New York just after he started writing for the NY Times. He’d written a sharp review of a recital by the aging Lily Pons, I think it was, I think his first, which drew an admiring note from the managing editor, Clifton Daniel.

Uwe Petry

When I worked as a Press Officer at the German Consulate General in Los Angeles from 1993 to 1996 I spontaneously contacted Alan Rich because I was so impressed by his column “A Little Night Music” in the LAWeekly magazine. I felt that his texts where by far the most substantial critical contribution on culture – in his case music – in LA, setting high standards of style and knowledge hard to be found in the world of cultural journalism.

Mr. Rich surprised me with his profound insights into “serious” music, be it classical or “modern”, and I especially admired his great humour which provided this very special flavour and crispness to all his writing. In my view, Alan Rich has made an immense and unique contribution to the cultural discourse in and on LA, which can be counted – if not at first glance – among the greatest places for music in the world, functioning as a meeting point of such diverse traditions as European Classical music, Music of the 20th and 21st centuries, European, American and Asian influences.

On several occasions, I had the priviledge to listen to musical performances together with Mr. Rich and to discuss with him, which included also the pleasure to differ … I met him again in Germany in 1997 where he had been on a cultural trip upon invitation by the German Government. He joked about the fact that one had sent a critic from California into bitter cold winter weather, still expecting good reviews from him…

I wish and hope that in one way or the other, perhaps with the involvement of the Goethe Institute, Villa Aurora, the Austrian Cultural Center and others, there will be an hommage to Alan Rich’s writing and thinking about music, a soirée of friends, professionals and music enthusiasts commemorating what he has done for music in LA and beyond.

Southern California Early Music Society

Bach: A Changing Image and a Memoir
by Alan Rich, March 1999

The highly respected author and music critic takes a nostalgic look back at the J.S. Bach of his student days in time for the many musical celebrations for this, the revered composer’s birth month. —ed.

“Of the twelve greatest moments in music,” proclaimed Archibald T. “Doc” Davison in his much-loved peppery-positive tone from his bully pulpit in Paine Hall, “six are by Bach, and six are by Brahms.” This was Music One, the annealing force in which the musical tastes of generations of Harvard freshman were formed and sealed for all time; the time was 1941, mere weeks before the bombs were to fall on Pearl Harbor. To most of us at the time, the name of Bach conjured up the loud Wagnerian exercises of Leopold Stokowski and his Philadelphia Orchestra, one of which had already gone Hollywood, along with fancy, floating shapes, in Walt Disney’s Fantasia. The name of Brahms signified the even louder exercises by Serge Kousevitzky and his Boston Symphony, a short subway ride from Harvard Square, where the music’s blubbery eloquence seemed to pronounce its own greatness from within.

After that lecture a bunch of us rushed over to Briggs & Briggs, where the record clerks were traditionally benign about granting the student hordes free access to the listening booths, spot-checking the bulky 78-rpm albums one after the other, hell-bent on finding those twelve defining moments. Brahms was easy; to vulnerable undergraduate ears the music was full of nothing but greatest moments, and there was enough of it recorded to allow for what we thought of as imaginative, personal choices. But Bach? Our textbooks suggested the presence of treasures galore: church cantatas by the hundreds, vast quantities of keyboard works, passions, masses, dozens of concertos and other orchestral works, on and on. But the recorded resources, even in a store as encyclopedically well-stocked as Briggs & Briggs, were meager indeed. Of the church cantatas, which we read about in the books, and were eloquently told about in “Doc” Davison’s richly purpled prose as the highest distillation of Bach’s own definition of his relationship to God and to music, only one complete work had found its way to disc by 1941: a faint but obviously grandiose recording of Christ lag in Todesbanden, sung in Catalan(!). Of the Passions, there was only a cruel distortion of the Saint Matthew in Koussevitzky’s bloated reading with the massed forces of “Doc” Davison’s own Harvard and Radcliffe Glee Clubs producing a sound something like wet blotting paper, sung purportedly in English — who could tell? — with the da capos abridged, on 53 78-rpm sides, retailing at 54 1941 dollars. (I knew one student so affluent as actually to own a copy; he’d play it for invited guests on Sundays with incense and sherry, and with 53 trips to the record player at four-minute intervals to flip those fragile discs.)

Even in those unenlightened times, there were islands of probity. You could hear the orchestral works in something like an “authentic” performance (although nobody dared to use the term back then) with Adolf Busch conducting a fine small ensemble, with Rudolf Serkin at piano rather than harpsichord, but with George Eskdale’s breathtaking high trumpet in the Second Brandenburg. Wanda Landowska’s first version of the Goldbergs on six imported (and, therefore, expensive) discs, more elegant and propulsive than her later RCA recording, graced record shelves in the more affluent homes. Albert Schweitzer’s recordings on an organ in Strasbourg, ponderous but loving, gave off a glorious noise. The British émigré E. Power Biggs began a series of broadcast recitals on the newly constructed Baroque-style organ at Harvard’s Germanic (now Busch-Reisinger) Museum, and opened ears to more of what Bach had in mind in this mighty music.

Remarkable to relate, many of these early landmark recordings are still available in CD transfers: the Busch Brandenburgs, both of Landowska’s Goldbergs and a couple of Schweitzers. One more relic of the time, dim-sounding and “inauthentic” though it be, lingers in my affection and also remains miraculously available (on England’s heroic Pearl label): the B minor Mass recorded in London’s Kingsway Hall in 1929, conducted by the redoutable Albert Coates and including among its soloists the divine Elisabeth Schumann and the era’s great Wotan, Friedrich Schorr. My major school activity, taking up far more pleasurable time than my studies, was the Crimson Network, Harvard’s student radio station (now known as WHRB). During the pre-finals cram weeks (known in gentle Harvardese as “reading periods”) the station broadcast all-night musical “orgies,” one composer per night. At 3 a.m. on the morning of June 6, 1944, during our Bach Orgy, we had to interrupt that recording of the B minor Mass for the news of the Normandie invasion. Boy-oh-boy, did we play the hot-shot radio act for the next couple of hours, stealing news broadcasts from all the networks and eventually returning to the Mass with, as was only proper, the “Et resurrexit.”

The war ended, and so did the Bach famine. By 1946, two years before the dawning of the LP era, the hills had already come alive with the sounds of the leaner, cleaner Bach we now know and honor. In Boston the composer and scholar Daniel Pinkham produced the Cantata No. 106, Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (Actus Tragicus), on the Technicord label, with small performing forces and harpsichord. In New York the young Robert Shaw, fresh from his days as choral director for Fred Waring, formed his Collegiate Chorale and recorded cantatas and the B minor Mass for RCA with chorus and orchestra numbering a paltry but “authentic” 35 each. On Britain’s new highly-touted London FFRR label came a somewhat fairer likeness of St. Matthew, again sung in English and with enough cuts to fit onto a mere 42 sides, but with forces far smaller and better balanced than on the old Boston set. Reginald Jacques was the conductor, and among the soloists was the incomparable and tragically short-lived contralto Kathleen Ferrier. One entire CD from that set, containing all of Ferrier’s performance, is included in London’s ten-disc anthology of the harrowing, haunting singing of this treasurable artist.

The LP era exploded upon us in 1949. The new technology that allowed for uninterrupted listening 30 minutes at a throw, with a hitherto unheard-of frequency range, also allowed for a huge repertory expansion. Producers armed with portable tape recorders could range freely through the performing world. Orchestras and soloists in impoverished postwar Europe — in politics-racked Vienna most of all — were only too happy to deliver their vast repertory into American microphones for a flat recording fee and no royalties. Vox acquired a St. Matthew in Berlin, led by the estimable Fritz Lehmann with soloists including a promising young baritone named Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Vanguard, through its subsidiary Bach Guild label, began gobbling down cantata performances in Vienna, under the batons of previously unknown conductors like Felix Prohaska and Franz Litschauer and the roving American Jonathan Sternberg. The German conductor Hermann Scherchen, known for years for his championing of hard new music, virtually began a whole new career on the Westminster label with a series of cantatas recorded in Vienna in the early 1950s, and with a B minor Mass of almost mystical impact, his excruciatingly slow tempos made logical by an overarching vision.

For the glory of Bach, then, the first decades of the LP era constituted a bacchanal of rediscovery comparable in amazement quotient to the years after Felix Mendelssohn’s restoration of the St. Matthew a century or more before. Comparable in amazement, in fact, but infinitely more respectful to the source. The world had pretty much rejected the brocaded reharmonized and reorchestrated Bach of earlier times. Even the performances of the pioneering Wanda Landowska, who had preached her gospel from an oversized and romantically resonant harpsichord the size of a grand piano (and made for her, indeed, by the piano-making house of Pleyel), and who performed the sacred Preludes and Fugues with a rubato suitable for her countryman Chopin, were overshadowed by the more straightforward Ralph Kirkpatrick recordings on one hand, and by the nonpareil Glenn Gould — who on an “inauthentic” piano seemed to redefine all of Bach for his own time. Karl Richter, with his Munich Bach Choir, found a Bachian middle ground: performing forces of proper size, honoring a range of expression aimed at audiences unafraid of beauty in music of any and all eras.
For us today, awash in the 32 fine-print pages of Bach in the latest CD catalog, the marvel lies not so much in the quantity as in the variety. I recently checked out a new recording of the Cantata No. 8, Liebster Gott, wann werd’ ich sterben?, a work whose first movement I have often used to win over those few abiding doubters who question the possibility of beauty in Bach. On the new recording — conducted by Philippe Herreweghe on Harmonia Mundi — that first movement times out at six minutes, 41 seconds. On another disc, part of the nearly-complete Bach cantata series on Germany’s Hänssler label, Helmuth Rilling dispatches that movement in four minutes, 34 seconds. On Karl Richter’s old (and, alas, discontinued) Deutsche Grammophon recording, the same music commands the attention for eight minutes, eighteen seconds. Each performance states the music’s intense, dusky beauty in a manner loving and convincing; I rejoice in owning all three.
Even so, I cannot discount the beauty in the Bach of other times. With or without the imagery in Disney’s Fantasia, Stokowski’s take on the D minor Toccata and Fugue maintains its bone-chilling resonance — far more, I blushingly add, than the evidence Christopher Hogwood has put forward that the work was actually meant for solo violin. Recently the New York Philharmonic issued an archive album culled from some of its broadcasts over the years, and included is an Arturo Toscanini performance from the 1930s of the same work in an even more blatant orchestration, by Sir Henry J. Wood. Toscanini on Bach? (His only other exemplar on disc is the Air on the G String.) Toscanini, whose often-touted watchword was “fidelity to the composer’s own wishes”? No, the racketing percussion and the blooie-blooie of Toscanini’s brass lie at some remove from anything Bach might have envisioned. Yet there is beauty here, which Sir Henry J. Wood bravely underlined in his own vision of the music, and which Toscanini obviously took to heart. You can play the discs of this Toccata and Fugue in the Wood or Stokowski blowups, comb the used-record stores for Jaap Schroder’s now-discontinued solo-violin version, or mingle with the organists whose rendition fills a whole column of tiny print in the latest Schwann. Give thanks for the luxury of choice.

By Deborah Borda,
President and CEO, Los Angeles Philharmonic

Tonight seat G154 at Walt Disney Concert Hall is empty. That’s where Alan Rich always sat.

Alan passed away last week and where ever he is now you know —he is really ticked off that he’s missing this concert.

An impassioned critic, a passionate advocate for new music, indeed for music.
Alan was one of the first to really “get” what was going on in Los Angeles. He worked tirelessly to convince others that this was, in, fact the new happening arts city. His prescience became truth.

Last Saturday night—he missed the first of many concerts he should have been at. Oswaldo Golijov’s Passion—for which Alan had written the liner notes. On that night his friend Mark Swed placed an origami flower on G154 and we talked about how much we would miss him. In point of fact how American Music will miss him.

Now because Alan would have wanted to have the last word I will read
the entry he wrote for himself in Bakers Biographical Dictionary of Musicians :

“RICH ALAN, American music critic of uncommonly bellicose disposition tempered by prejudice towards favorites.”

So Alan, where ever you are– in thanks and in love the Los Angeles Philharmonic dedicates this program to you. You will be missed.

So I’ve heard.

Sally Mosher
President, Piano Spheres

Alan Rich was a good friend to Piano Spheres, as he was to so many contemporary music endeavors. I’ve known him since the days of Betty Freeman’s Music Rooms, beginning in the early ’80’s, and as President of the Piano Spheres board I considered him part of our extended family. It’s possible he missed one concert during our sixteen seasons, but probably no more than that.

Like Leonard Stein and Betty Freeman, Alan Rich was a massive presence in the Los Angeles music scene. In a way, it seemed he was always here. His dazzlingly extensive store of knowledge encompassed both the earliest and the most recent music; opera, symphonic, chamber, choral, solo anything – he was ready for it all, and could also venture into some kinds of pop and world music with his ever-discerning ear.

Alan and I had occasional email exchanges, and in one of our last we agreed that from his current vantage point Leonard Stein – deservedly – was able to screen out all but the best in music. And that’s the afterlife I wish and envision for Alan.

Doris Koplik
Director of Media Relations
Long Beach Opera

Alan Rich was an early champion of Long Beach Opera, the oldest professional opera company in LA/OC, and he enthusiastically watched its development into an edgy and relevant company. He didn’t love everything we did, but he didn’t love everything anyone did and we wouldn’t have wanted Alan any other way. I loved sending him invitations to review our shows as he often made amusing comments to me. My last memory of Alan was at the opening night of NIXON IN CHINA on March 20. He wrote when asking for tickets:

“With the suspicion that I may not outlive any further revivals of John Adams’ marvelous opera, I’d to request pairs of press comps for both “Nixon in China” performances this month. Strike, the poet said, while the iron is hot, and “Nixon” is surely that.” Alan Rich
He is missed!

Adam Crain
Director of Communications
St. Louis Symphony

The music world has lost one of its greatest advocates and fans in Alan Rich. He was one of the great music critics of our time. His reputation was so renowned and his writing so strong that — I must admit — when I first met him I was a bit intimidated. But we got to know each other quite well during my years in LA & I considered him a friend. What remains a most cherished memory are the times I would meet Alan in the Walt Disney Concert Hall Cafe before LA Phil concerts. Alan would inevitably get into an impassioned debate with other LA music critics over some musical matter, and I would sit back and listen to their brilliant repartee. It was the music that mattered most to Alan, always. The music world won’t be the same without him. He will be sorely missed.

Suzanne Escoffier & Patrick Bagacina

Alan Rich did just as his name promised… he made us rich. Many people knew Alan professionally, but I was lucky enough to call him a friend as well. We met at Voyager, where he delighted in calling me “his” producer, and quickly embarked on a long-term friendship outside of work.
As I was living in a condo and suffering from land-deprivation, Alan opened his yard to me as my weekend design project. I spent many happy hours planning, digging, and planting in his back yard. He would always make lunch for me and discuss the progress of both his writing and my gardening. My weekend gardening at Alan’s house ended when my husband and I purchased a fixer-upper but I still stopped by regularly for a chat and a stroll through the garden.
Alan was at the top of the A-list for the backyard parties we held at our house. He met many of our friends and always contributed to the ambiance of any event. He was part of our family, in that very special way that we all build ‘families of choice’ when we move away from home.
We celebrated many memorable events with Alan. He picked the dinner music for our wedding (Mozart, of course) and provided a lively toast. We met up at concerts all over town and delighted in reading his reviews. We showed up for New Year’s Day and stayed to do the dishes. We threw him a birthday party celebrating the end of the 60’s – complete with love beads – for his seventieth and staged a gamelan and dance performance in his backyard for his seventy-fifth. And with our dear friends Moira and George, we flew him to Napa and treated him to a magical meal at The French Laundry Restaurant for his eightieth. Sadly, we didn’t celebrate his eighty-fifth birthday last year, as he was struggling with his own declining health.
My husband and I were fortunate to be able to cook for Alan in this last year, and to take him to the Jacaranda concerts when he was able. Just to share a meal with him was a grace and a privilege. Alan was brilliant and unstuffy, cantankerous yet gracious, and always interesting. I will miss him forever, but count myself blessed to have been his friend.

Larry and Ginny Kruger

Remembering being EnRiched by Alan

A music critic capable of palpably fostering music life, performance culture and the growth of repertory is the rarity that Los Angeles enjoyed for the several decades when Alan Rich thrust his impact upon us via any vehicle he could command. Uncompromising and constructively generous in sharing his knowledgeable insights about music and musicians, the decades of pungent commentary extended to recent blogs filled with large, balanced aliquots of vitriol, passion, humor and pep talk. His behind the scene activity running the “Music Room” contemporary music sessions at Betty Freeman’s home brought many of us in contact with the avant garde composers of 20th century music, and although much was controversial- as Alan thought it should be, the spirit of camaraderie became an important force in the music scene of our times.
Alan loved to ‘curmudge’, much as he loved to create verbs from nouns, and Rich nomenclature and whimsy has long infiltrated the local world of music.
He loved words and good food as he loved music-passionately! Although he sometimes loved to qvetch, it was usually with that smile which is the way we shall remember him.

Cheryl Lew

I knew Alan only well enough to say hello to and to chat with very brief whenever we saw each other at concerts and various music social events. On one occasion he sat with me and one of my colleagues at the Café in WDCH—but I think our conversation wasn’t scintillating enough so he ate his chili and excused himself quickly. He was unfailingly warm and cordial, despite his curmudgeonly persona in his reviews.

During the 2nd iteration of the Tristan Project, since I was enamored of the individual parts, I went to see the whole and was sitting in my seat up in the terrace level when I heard the unmistakable booming baritone right behind me. Knowing that Alan was NOT enamored of the Sellars-Viola approach to this opera, and that the voice was coming from NOT his usual critics seat, I was astounded to turn around to see him right there. So I blurted out “What are you doing here? I thought you hated this production.” He laughed and said that he wanted to hear the new tenor imported to replace the original. He then remarked that the copy of the Oresteia in my hand was an odd choice to read in preparation for Tristan und Isolde, but then went on to give me a review of the several great and not so great modern productions of the Oresteia he’d seen over the course of his career when he wasn’t doing his music thing.
I’ll miss seeing the suspenders at Ojai and the red sweater at WDCH.

The Other Alan
Alan Warhaftig

I met Alan Rich through Sue Knussen, with whom I was working on Music for Educators, a Los Angeles Philharmonic professional development program for K-12 teachers. Alan barely acknowledged my existence. I loved music but knew little about it compared with Alan, Sue and pretty much everyone else around them.

Alan and I had a breakthrough several years later when Sue fell critically ill in London. We were both, after all, denizens of the World of Sue. Sasha Anawalt had asked me to fill in for Sue as moderator of two sessions – with Alan Rich and fellow critic Mark Swed – for the Getty Annenberg program for midcareer arts journalists. I was invited to a reception for the participants at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and when Alan arrived, a somber expression on his face, he made a beeline for me. He told me that Sue had taken a sudden turn for the worse and would not recover.

The loss of a friend, especially a friend like Sue, can bring people together. I hadn’t been sure how Alan would react to having his Getty Annenberg session (on The Flying Dutchman) moderated by a nonprofessional, but Alan was cooperative and charming that afternoon.

In the years since, he was unfailingly friendly as I saw him at concerts, dinners and his New Year’s Day party. When Cynthia came into my life, and we married, he developed a particular fondness for her, and we always looked forward to seeing the man who signed his e-mails “The Other Alan.” Cynthia and I will miss Alan’s impish humor and sharp insights.

The loss to the musical world, of course, is far greater. For more than sixty years, music had been the center of Alan’s life. He’d seen every performance he could and listened to every recording. He had become a musical compass and steward of our collective cultural memory, pointing us northwards as well as calling balls and strikes.

Los Angeles, particularly, is impoverished by his loss, a city that too often believes its own publicity and needed Alan to remind the city of its traditional hospitality to serious music.

Perhaps Alan’s passing, like the premature loss of Sue Knussen, will bring his friends closer to each other – that would be a fortunate outcome. Alan had a good, long run, and those of us who are saddened by his departure would do well to honor his memory by deepening our own commitment to musical culture.

Bob Goldfarb
Remembering Alan Rich, 1924-2010

Classical music has lost one of its most astute and beloved chroniclers. Alan Rich, former critic at the L.A. Weekly and the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, died Friday. For over sixty years he covered and commented on concert life, from the Koussevitzky era at the Boston Symphony to the Dudamel era at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He was respected and loved by legions of friends and colleagues.

I first spoke with Alan in 1972 when I interviewed him for Harvard’s undergraduate radio station, WHRB, of which he was an alumnus. He continued with radio after college, when he moved to Berkeley and broadcast over KPFA. Once, while reminiscing about those days, he asked me if I had ever heard of Philip K. Dick, the author of many now-classic science-fiction novels. I was dumbfounded when Alan told me, “He was my roommate.” Another friend of his from those days was KPFA’s film critic, the then-unknown Pauline Kael.

In 1984 I became Alan’s colleague at KUSC Radio, where his audio essays were a regular fixture. He also produced award-winning programs about the music of Kurt Weill and other twentieth-century music. Alan had come to Los Angeles to be part of New West Magazine after many years as the tastemaking music critic of its parent publication, New York. After the magazine’s demise he stayed in L.A. and became the music critic for Newsweek. His writing was always both plain-spoken and authoritative, a combination as rare then as it is now.

Later, when I worked at the former KFAC-AM-FM, I invited Alan to be a commentator on the station. In those pre-Internet days he would sometimes drive to the studio after a concert to write and record a review for broadcast the next morning. I’ll never forget watching him at work. He would sit down at a typewriter, insert a blank piece of paper, and proceed to type his complete 500-word script from beginning to end. He knew exactly what he wanted to say and how to say it.

Critics sometimes become bored with the routine of concertgoing. Alan never did. In his last years he was as eager to encounter a new work, hear a new soloist, or see a new opera production as he was when he went to Boston’s Symphony Hall as a student. He also never lost his unshakeable integrity. Besides speaking his mind about musical matters without fear or favor, Alan didn’t hesitate to puncture pomposity or pretension when he encountered them.

His artistic judgment was of course highly sophisticated. I sat with him at a performance at the Bing Auditorium of a new Pierre Boulez work, watching as he took in the highly complex music with rapt fascination and spontaneous delight. Yet he certainly was no snob. The film “Billy Elliot” moved him to tears, and he loved classic Hollywood films too. One day, over a sushi lunch, Alan shared with me his latest enthusiasm: the audio-book version of a Harry Potter novel. He was charmed by the story and dazzled by the British actor who impersonated all the many characters.
A few years ago I saw Alan, at the premiere in San Francisco of the John Adams opera “Dr. Atomic,” for what turned out to be the last time. I’m not sure why, but as we took our leave I was moved to tell him how much I had always liked and admired him. I am grateful to have been granted that chance. Most of all, I’m fortunate to have known Alan Rich, a gifted, dedicated, endearing, singular human being. May his memory be a blessing.

Bob Goldfarb is the president of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity in Los Angeles and Jerusalem, and a former executive at radio stations KUSC and KFAC.

Sean O’Connell, LA Record News

“I am a member of an endangered species. Encountering dangerous members of the species makes me frightened or sick, especially at 82. I happen to think that I am better than a lot of them, on the strength of having studied with superior teachers and stayed awake in their classrooms.”
—Alan Rich

I first met Alan while working for the box office of Walt Disney Concert Hall. We got along well because I was the only lackey that didn’t ask to see his photo ID every week when he picked up his tickets. Being a regular reader of his weekly column didn’t hurt either. There isn’t a writer out there who can resist the satisfaction of knowing that someone is actually reading the words they hammered out in passionate solitude. Alan was no exception. When he was unceremoniously canned in 2008 by LA Weekly’s “Phoenix-based bean-counters who evaluate every word in their chain of papers against the income they produce,” he was understandably devastated, having had his internationally recognized voice silenced after 50 years of unrivaled observations and cantankerous wit. As any unemployed 80-something-year-old would do, he started a blog and, more importantly to him, began remodeling his kitchen—a project he referred to as his true gift to the world.

Alan Rich and George Bush Sr. were born five days apart in 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts, where stone-walled property lines date back to the days of John Quincy Adams and every house has as many chimneys as bathrooms. Although he attended Harvard in pursuit of a medical degree, Alan veered off the path—much to his parents’ dismay—toward a career in music journalism. He often said that it wasn’t until he had introduced his parents to his friend Leonard Bernstein that they accepted his career choice. After college he bounced around the world, helping to start KPFA and studying the finer points of Viennese musicology before returning to New York to document the ground-breaking work of artists like Philip Glass and Steve Reich. In the 1980s he made a permanent move to Los Angeles where he became an early proponent of Esa-Pekka Salonen and current keeper of the Philharmonic baton, Gustavo Dudamel.

Although he made his living primarily as a commentator on the classical music world, writing for such publications as the New York Times, Newsweek, Variety, New York magazine, and LA Weekly, and closed it with particularly astute observations on the vital work being done in Los Angeles, Rich’s career would make any music writer—or reader—green with envy. His stories of being flown to meet up-and-comer David Bowie in London, or having a dinner of metaphorical entrees and unbaked bread with John Cage, or attending the “Howl” obscenity trials, or having lunch with a young Harry Nilsson in New York, or having a roommate who smoked banana peels at the advice of Donovan, or being put in a headlock by Placido Domingo for less than flattering comments about his personal life, or counseling sophomore-slumped neighbor Rivers Cuomo on the finer points of Debussy were fascinating and, most importantly, true. Alan was unafraid to voice his opinion or take others to task for having ineloquently voiced their own.

Alan made a living typing out his diatribes on increasingly complex machinery to an increasingly complex readership without ever sacrificing his intelligence or honest opinion. He was the last of a breed who, in the “good old days,” ran back to the office at intermission to submit a review only to return to the venue for the second half to make sure he wasn’t completely off target. His advice and encouragement will live on in a handful of us, and his beliefs will live on for even more. Rest in peace, Alan—I hope the acoustics are good in the afterlife.

David and Margie Barry

My first encounters with Alan’s genius as a music credit were before I had met him. Around 1992, I began reading his reviews in LA Weekly. Many of the concerts that he reviewed were attended by Margie and me, and had been reviewed in the LA Times. So I was interested in what he had to say, even his disparaging remarks about Brahms and Sibelius. As luck would have it, when Disney Hall opened, our seats were just above his seat. I learned much about his terse and rather non-communicative comments about any opinions that I offered. Gradually, we enjoyed talking and reminiscing about what we had seen and what seemed important.

I think that the only time I saw Alan dressed up in a tuxedo was at the opening gala of Disney Hall. He looked splendid.

Somewhat to my surprise, Alan called me and invited Margie and me to his New Year ’s Day afternoon party. This continued until 2009, when we sadly realized that Alan was failing. I realized then that Alan and I had become close friends, although this was more implied than expressed. In the past year, I have taken Alan to many sushi lunches, meals he could not resist. During this period, we opened our discussions to many people and topics. I loved his opinion that Gustavo Dudamel came from another planet. I loved Alan, and will miss him so much, as will most Los Angeles music followers.

Phil Gallo

Working with Alan exposed me not just to classical music and composers, but what makes music tick, how it connects with the soul and is so much more than just getting the notes right. Alan’s openness to the new and disdain for the lackluster – all of it based on a incredible bank of knowledge – was his hallmark, a reason to view him a model critic. False praise and following the crowd were not his style, two traits that we don’t see enough of anymore.

Heidi Lesemann

Alan proposed the New Music LA calendar to me when I took on the American Composers Forum Los Angeles Chapter. He was very straightforward about it: “LA needs a new music calendar. I think ACF-LA should publish it and I think I should edit it.” There was no possible question. I LOVED working with Alan. He made the short calendar descriptions utterly delicious with his wit, sarcasm and passion: For example: “GO calls itself an ‘organic orchestra’: all real instruments (including kanjiram, pandiero and dumbek) led by composer/conductor A____________ with the great autophysiopsychic world musician Y___________ as guest soloist/composer. Or: “Young British whizbang conductor Daniel Harding leads the LA Philharmonic in the US premiere of H.K. Gruber’s trumpet concerto known as Aerial; the highflying Hakan Hardenberg is soloist, and the program also includes works by Ives and (Richard, alas) Strauss…” And then there were the editorial discussions that he led on one end of the phone line. Alan allowed me to feel like a publisher, and perhaps in some instances I rose to the task. But whatever my failings, Alan never had any. Oh, and then there were the food discussions..and…Oh, I’ll miss him!!

Mortimer Chambers, Los Angeles

I first met Alan soon after I entered Harvard in spring 1947. I think he had just graduated from Harvard and I was in the class of ’49. We met as I was scouring record shops in Boston, for I was a long-time collector of classical records. He was working in a small shop, the J.G. Kaufman Company, and he broadcast commentary on records for the shop. “Here’s another fine recording I found at the J.G. Kaufman company…” I think he took a liking to me because I knew a great many of the album numbers for Victor records. He soon taught me how to slip into Symphony Hall to hear the Boston Symphony when they played afternoon concerts. You pretended that you were an usher, and we young men in our 20s could pass as such.

Alan sold me, for very little money, some shellac records, some of which I still have. Soon his parents invited me to a meal in the Brookline section of Boston. Alan and I went to some concerts in Boston. One was a recital by the Griller String Quartet. They announced an encore, an Andante from Haydn’s quartet in F major, Op. 3, no. 5, and as they were about to play it Alan whispered to me, “Also known as ‘Eighteenth century dance,’” this being the name that Victor records had given this movement as played by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra under Stokowski. I was really impressed.

My most memorable musical adventure with Alan came in 1948, when I went to New York to hear a recital by Arthur Schnabel, whom I worshiped. He played four sonatas including Beethoven’s last two, Opus 110 and 111, in Hunter College. Alan arranged for the tickets. On the way out he told me he had just spoken to B.H. Haggin, then the noted music writer for The Nation. Again I was impressed.

Alan’s most impressive narrative was of attending a Boston Symphony concert in spring 1945. The war was ending, and a news agency (Associated Press?) prematurely leaked the news that it was over. Serge Koussevitzky, the conductor of the symphony, came out to the podium and announced, wrongly, “The war is over!” Of course there was a stupendous uproar, which was followed by a performance of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, whose final movement set to music Schiller’s poem, the Ode to Joy. Alan described the euphoria – it must have been the Beethoven’s Ninth of all time.

Alan soon went to work as a representative for Cetra records, an Italian company, and he passed on to me one or two memorable discs (these were still 78-speed shellacs).
Then I left Harvard and for years didn’t hear of Alan, while I was working on my own academic career. Many years ago now he moved to Los Angeles and I heard of it. My wife and I invited him to dine. We saw each other only now and then, at musical events, and twice at his home on January 1, when he held open house. Even into his eighties Alan had tremendous energy and attended music events large and small in southern California. He sponsored new music such as the Jacaranda concerts in Santa Monica and was never content with nothing but Beethoven and Mozart. He could be an amusing curmudgeon at times. He did not wish to be called “the Haggin, or the Hanslick, of his times.”

He never got the job he should have had, chief music writer for the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times (he did write for the New York Herald Tribune, which folded soon after he joined it, and for journals like New York and The American Scholar). I had long told him of my wish that he should collect a large selection of his essays, and he finally did so in an inexhaustible book, “So I’ve Heard,” and this became the title of his blog, when the journals he wrote for (LA Today, I believe, and others) closed one after another.

His long experience and his scholarship made him the most eminent writer on music in America. One saw him sitting in his usual seat in Walt Disney Concert Hall and waited for his evaluation, always written with the style he had developed at Harvard. We who love music wonder how we can get along without him.

Abby Sher

I recently began playing gamelan, and performed at REDCAT in November with the Cal Arts Balinese gamelan group, Burat Wangi. Alan cancelled other plans to attend, for which I was grateful, but also very self-conscious, knowing that his keen ear would hear everything. In the course of the hour-and-fifteen-minute performance I must have played over a thousand notes as intended, but missed a few. Afterwards I asked Alan if he’d noticed. He said, “That’s like the seventh violin in a Brahms symphony asking me if I noticed a few missed notes!” Perfect Alan! Now, if I ever get nervous, I think of that.

Richard Foster

I met Alan when he came to Munich a few years ago to review the Bavarian State Opera’s world premiere of “Alice in Wonderland.” He had a fine time at the performances and the meals with others.

At one point he mentioned that he had been in Munich in the 1950’s, visiting a relative there. I believe it was his sister, married to someone in the US Army. He was living in Vienna at the time and made the trip.

One event of his stay then was that he met a young man in the English Garden who took him home to visit his family in the nearby town of Schäftlarn. They had a meal; then the mother prepared food for Alan before his long trek back.

I took time off from work and we recreated Alan’s trip to Schäftlarn. Now it is a 20-minute ride on the S-Bahn. Everything was green and prosperous, with reconstruction long since completed. Alan’s German was quite impressive after over 50 years; he had a few words with the local residents. We walked around, looked into the big church, and had lunch at a local restaurant before taking the S-Bahn back to Munich.

Jim Farber

Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.

The first time I met Alan Rich was rather like that.

It was a long time ago during a press conference to announce the upcoming summer season at the Hollywood Bowl. We were all a lot younger, except Alan, who had already had attained a certain august status that (he felt) placed him above lesser mortals.

I remember going up to Alan, introducing myself and complimenting him on a review he had written— I believe it was about the Chicago Symphony. I also remember how Alan, like the Caterpillar, took one condescending look at me and dismissed my observation out of hand with a tart response along the lines of, “Of course it was a good review! How dare you bother me.” That was that.

It was not until several years later, when I appeared on Betty Freeman’s doorstep for one of her famous musical gatherings in the company of John Adams and Charles Shere that Alan looked at me with an expression that seemed to say, “Well, perhaps you are someone after all.”

I don’t think Alan ever did entirely respected me as a music critic; my credentials never were as rock solid as his. But he did come to accept me, both as a colleague (who was not entirely dim) and as a friend.

Over the years we attended many a concert together and shared long drives on the 405 to and from Orange County. It was during these drives that we explored a wide range of experiences related to classical music and opera. But we also discovered our mutual delight for things unmusical, whether it was a favorite restaurant, a classic film, or the way the British actor Jim Dale could make the “Harry Potter” books come to life.

If there was a Golden Age in our relationship, it had to be those Sunday afternoons at Betty Freeman’s when the dynamic trio of Alan, Betty and Betty’s robust, pasta-preparing husband, Franco, held forth. Those gatherings represented a Who’s Who of contemporary composers, musicians and music lovers. It was a joy and a privilege to be included.

Sure, Alan Rich could be a total schmuck. But he could also be a joy to be with and a real friend. I’ll miss him.

John Forsyte
President, Pacific Symphony

Like so many in the Southern California music community, I will miss Alan’s brilliant wit, his vision, and his passion. He was always ahead of us — exploring, challenging, discovering and nurturing new voices. His taste in music was cultivated over many years, and one felt compelled to read his reviews or commentary.

Pacific Symphony appreciated his efforts to attend American Composers Festival concerts, supporting a growing interest in Orange County for contemporary composition. From Boston to New York to Southern California, Alan took many of us on a journey that left us amazed and invigorated. He was one of a kind. He will be deeply missed.

By Sasha Anawalt, Director, USC Annenberg Arts Journalism Programs

On Missing Alan Rich (1924-2010)

There is going to be a great, big hollowness in the concert hall. Walt Disney Concert Hall, REDCAT, the church where Jacaranda plays in Santa Monica, wherever E.A.R. unit is, in short, wherever music is in Los Angeles. It’s going to be harder to listen without Alan Rich, because when he was there – and he was always there – I partially listened through him. He and Mark Swed helped many in L.A. fall in love with listening. Alan’s writing is what done it. A colleague of mine at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and at the LA Weekly, he wrote fast; that’s because he loved writing as much as he loved listening, which I have to say I envied. “However often my ears are blessed by Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, I am stirred every time by new things discovered and an uncontrollable urge to write about them,” he wrote. Alan reveled in discovering new things, including new things in old things. He was never too old for any new thing. And, you know, one of the things I will miss most about him is how he would always treat me like a sweet, new young thing and ask me to sit on his lap.
I’ll miss the flirtation. And the reading. And him.

Andrea Laguni
Executive Director
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Alan Rich was a very important and influential friend to music in Los Angeles. He enlightened music lovers with his knowledge and his wonderful way with words, encouraged and demanded that musicians be the very best they could be and promoted the creation and performance of new music in our city.

At the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra we always held him in the highest regard, beaming when we earned his praise and resolving to try harder next time when we did not live up to his expectations. What Alan thought about our Orchestra mattered. He mattered.

His insatiable curiosity about music was remarkable. I can see him now, in my mind’s eye, impatiently stomping around at Royce Hall, waiting for the doors to open for Concert Preludes. It always impressed me that he would be so keen to attend these pre-concert talks when, with his knowledge, he was just as likely to be the presenter as a member of the audience.

On his blog, Alan had this to say about himself: “I discovered writing about music, finding the words to translate the experience of hearing music and reacting to it, soon after I discovered music itself…I go to concerts and operas and try to share the experience of the people around me in the hall; that is still the best way to experience music…At 83, almost 84, I still keep some space free in my head to get excited by a new experience…even for something not necessarily all that new.”

An excerpt from Alan’s review of the last LACO concert he attended (Chris Thile’s Mandolin Concerto and two Copland works were on the program) speaks to this musical curiosity and passion: “It might have happened; I mean, I might have rounded off my allotted span without once having heard a concerto for mandolin in a live performance…[Thile’s] Concerto, which had its first-ever hearing at Royce at an exhilarating concert by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (lovable bunch, they) is a small masterwork, instantly lovable, out of which he himself did play the veritable Hades…”

LACO was always happy to add to Alan’s musical delights and to bear stoically his criticism when we did not meet his exacting standards. We will miss him.

Martin Bookspan

Back in the 1940s the Boston Symphony Orchestra used to make 250 seats available in Symphony Hall’s Second Balcony for its Friday afternoon concerts. These seats were made available on a first-come first-served basis. Called “rush” seats, the line to secure them assembled on the dozen or so steps at the Huntington Avenue entrance.

I started to be a “rusher” when I was about 15. There was always a young man in the line who could not have been older than 17—but he seemed to know everything about all the music we were about to hear. After a couple of Fridays on the line, I appoached him, introduced myself, and asked him his name. “Alan Rich” came the reply. Over the course of that season we became friends. In the Fall he entered Harvard. I followed him there two years later. One of Harvard’s best extra-curricular activities was its campus radio station, its broadcast signal accessible only in certain of the dormitories. Alan became a staff member of the station, then called The Harvard Crimson Network (later it acquired the imposing call letters WHRB).

When I entered Harvard, Alan urged me to try out for the station. I did, and after a 6-week “Pledge” period I became a staff member also. At the same time Alan had become an usher at Symphony Hall, attending all the concerts in Boston’s renowned concert hall Again Alan suggested I try to do likewise, which I did, and got the job of ushering in the location best-known to both of us—the second balcony! Thus it was that we both wre present when Serge Koussevitzky conducted the world premier performances of the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, a work that Koussevitzky had commissioned. When Alan was graduated from Harvard, he went to New York to work at the CBS Radio Network and then made the great migration to California to work at Pacifica Radio.

Flash forward about 10 years. We kept in touch over the years, and at one point he said he longed to return to New York. At that time I was Program Director of WQXR, the classical music radio station then owned by the New York Times. I had become friendly with Harold Schonberg, then chief Music Critic of the Times. Harold at one point mentioned to me that he had an opening on his staff. “Have I got the man for you,” I said to Harold. “He’s lived in Los Angeles for some years, but I know he’d like to come back to New York. He’s a music maven and a terrifc writer. His name is Alan Rich.” Schonberg tracked Alan down, asked him to submit some examples of his reviews–and hired him. Thus began Alan’s extraordinary life as one of the nation’s most highly-regarded music critics.

After stints at the Tmes, the Herald-Tribune and New York Magazine, Alan pulled a reverse switch: from New York back to California. The 3,000 mile separation made our contact irregular, but it was always a pleasure to exchange musical thoughts and perspectives with him, even when we differed wildly on those thoughts and perspectives. Alan was an irreplaceable commentator on the national music scene, and all of us are the poorer at his passing.

Barbara Livesey

Mid 1960’s: On a hot summer evening in Brooklyn Heights. Everyone who lived on the lane was outside hoping for a cool breeze. Someone was projecting a movie onto the side of one of the carriage houses, another had set up a badmitton net. A friend joined us and introduced his guest as Alan Rich. They came again for dinner and then Alan came again and again for the rest of his life. My family and I moved to a town north of The City and later Alan moved to Grandview on the Hudson, not very far away. Friends would often call to ask if I was cooking and what was the menu. Alan phoned about 10am on a Sunday – I knew by that time he had finished the (NYTimes) crossword (in ink) and he, no doubt, knew that I had not finished (in pencil). “Yes, I’m cooking. Chinese. Bring something if you want. But, I heard this Bach piece that sounds like a it was written for a calliope and do you have it and could you bring it?” He arrived at dinnertime and I asked if he brought the music. He told me that it was in the car. I went out to fetch it and found that his station wagon was packed full of vinyl records. I was to do something useful with them, for his library was now converted to cd’s. I did my best, but I kept some and still have a turntable to play not Bach but Schubert this week.

A decade ago, I moved back home to Indiana and Alan came to visit more than once. He cc’d me on an email earlier this year:

February 27, 2010: “….You talk of Indiana, which is a magic place for me, most of all Brown County and the area around Columbus (IN)and Nashville. (IN) My friend Barbara has a farm there, and it fills up with local kids with guitars. There’s a Bluegrass Festival near a town called Beanblossom, where you get to eat home-made pies and stuff on the grass, and that sort of cleans out your brain for the next few months. Sorry to get going on like this, but mentioning Indiana does this to me. Barbara also has Great Pyrenees dogs, huge, hairy things, and she gives classes to local folk in Nashville about how to turn that hair into sweaters. That can bring you close to Schubert. Alan”

I enjoyed sharing his life also.

Nick Ciriello

Most of us in California have known Alan later in his life when he had become silent, even seemingly dour, and not the vigorous conversationalist of yore. I always recall Alan at the bar table where I first met him in NYC, surrounded by rapt acolytes all, and talking his head off in the witty, learned way only the younger Alan could.

He was writing for the Herald Tribune then……which tells you how long ago it was. Even then, the best critic of all……

Mike Sigman

I’ve loved Alan’s work since I first read him in New York Magazine in the ’70s. Later, I had the privilege of publishing his work in LA Weekly for many years and getting to know him a bit. We didn’t talk often, but every now and then he’d peek his head into my office to make sure things were okay on the business side and tell me about a concert he thought I should see, or one I shouldn’t
see. He asked me once to play four-hand piano with him, but I was much too nervous to accept. Now I wish I had.

Ojai Music Festival

Ojai Music Festival patrons tell us that once they head to Ojai and arrive, there is something magical that happens when the music starts to play. Alan Rich also felt this way about Ojai. In his over 20 years of attending the Festival, Alan always had his signature way of describing us –“its triumphant proclamation of the mingled roles of music and the human spirit;” “…takes on the sounds of some other planet;” “thread of serendipity, mingled with unreality, “the wondrously indescribable festival-like-none-other.”

Alan was an intricate part of Ojai not because he was a reviewer or a reporter but he was one of our Ojai family members who had unbridled gusto for making sure that music of today be heard and valued.

We will miss you, Alan, and your words will live forever.

Russell Steinberg
composer, conductor of the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra

On Alan Rich:

There were many composers Alan did not like. Chief among these was probably Richard Strauss. Alan met me initially as the author of the Voyager CD-ROM Richard Strauss; Three Tone Poems, so our relationship was doomed from the outset. What charitable effort it must have taken on Alan’s part then to invite me to his home specifically to view a video interview of Glenn Gould—whom he did adore—waxing on about Strauss’s genius. I remember though that we both marveled at one point where as a spontaneous attempt to answer a question, Gould plays practically the entire gargantuan Heldenleben tone poem on the piano from memory. Alan’s LA Weekly column dazzled not only with the sheer number of concerts he reported, but because it made clear that classical music mattered. He showed it was absolutely relevant today both despite and because of all the clatter that surrounds us. I always tried to keep that in mind when reading his diatribes against various composers—not just my living friends, but somewhat well known and admired figures from past— say, Johannes Brahms for instance! With Alan, it was a lot more fun talking about things he did like. A favorite time was when I had just finished teaching a UCLA class on Schumann’s Dichterliebe and Alan asked if I had heard the Danish tenor Aksel Schiotz. He ushered me up the stairs to his studio where, not far from shelves lined with many thousands of CDs, we listened quietly for the next half hour to the entire Dichterliebe sung exquisitely by this hero of Alan’s. For music he did admire, his love was unbounded and pure. I am so thankful for his reviews to the many concerts I couldn’t attend as well as his “two cents” on those I did. He gave us the larger picture of our classical music scene here in Southern California and helped us to realize that we are really living in a special time artistically. That is as important to those of us who compose and perform as well as those who listen. The dastardly demise of his column from the LA Weekly still feels like a fresh wound years later. I noticed it didn’t stop Alan from schlepping all over LA to continue to attend concerts and write about them these last few years.

Elaine and William Sollfrey

“Are you following me or am I following you?” These were the first words that we heard from Alan Rich about 10 years ago. The scene was Zipper Hall, the concert no longer identifiable. We had seen this gentleman at many performances, he had evidently seen us, and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. We are the Elaine and Bill of whom Alan wrote “[They] understand me better than I understand myself”.

Alan’s well known cantankerous disposition was carefully contrived. He once told us that he had patterned his public personality on King Gama, the main comic in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta Princess Ida. That priceless character describes himself in his introductory song by “Yet everybody says that I’m a disagreeable man, and I can’t think why.” Alan’s surface presentation concealed a warm interior, and he will be missed by all who knew him.

John Payne

Remembering Alan Rich, Dean of American Music Critics

It wasn’t just by dint of his incredibly long career in music that Alan Rich deserved the title Dean of American Music Critics. When he passed away last Friday at the age of 86, he left behind a cultural legacy that owed as much to his enormous depth of experience as to his razorlike gift for spotting the issues in the classical, opera and new-music spheres he explored. As he knew, the pivotal issue was whether or not the music mattered.

I was Alan’s editor at L.A. Weekly for 10 years; his last writing for publication was for my magazine. At the Weekly, once or twice a week we’d go over his copy and iron out the kinks. Quite often I’d object to a bit of odd syntax or his occasional repetition of a word, or I’d suggest that he was perhaps being a bit of a crabby apple, too harshly condemning in his evaluation of an artist’s shaky performance.

“It doesn’t bother me,” was his standard response. I learned to live with it.

What bothered him was mediocrity, or pretension, or lack of imagination. Alan pulled few punches when he felt it was time to flatten inflated egos and pretentious pomposity. And he did this not just because he’d rolled out of bed on the wrong side, but because he really believed that his greatest contribution to the art of pushing the music forward was his ability to speak the truth about its glories and miseries, whether we liked it or not.

Alan was one of your cultural coal canaries; he remained prescient right up to the end. Somewhere along the line he acquired a reputation as a gadfly, a status he thoroughly enjoyed. He’d been radicalized personally and artistically by his experiences as a student at Berkeley in the 1940s, where he rubbed shoulders with many of the future giants of the new music, including Lou Harrison, John Cage and Harry Partch. He never lost his passion for the new and pioneering “serious” music, and helped promote a long list of moderns, including Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley. He was also an avid supporter of Esa-Pekka Salonen and Gustavo Dudamel. And he dug Radiohead.

Alan didn’t write to be liked, that’s for sure. Yet whether he was effusively praising an artist or tearing him or her limb from limb, he did so with an enormous amount of credibility; he literally had history to back him up. (The story is that he’d actually attended the premiere of Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1945, when he was a student at Harvard.)

Alan told me privately, however, that his biggest joy — outside of the music itself — was the idea that he had provoked readers to think for themselves.

Bon voyage, Alan Rich. And thank you.

By Martin Perlich
Author – Producer- Broadcaster

First and foremost, of course, Alan Rich was a music lover. As our most dedicated and discerning critic -author, broadcaster, historian – he took every opportunity to join his prestige to the promotion of the institutions, artists, and all the other people whose efforts he wanted to share. His reviews led us to treasures, or alerted us to indulgence; rewarded originality and wit, condemned compromise and conceit.

The list of Alan’s beneficiaries is long, but the ones I remember best – the most recent ones – are the enthusiastic support he gave to the extraordinary concert series called Jacaranda, and his fearless defense of the tiny radio station whose programming I struggled eight years to protect, humble KCSN.

I had met Alan at KFAC where we shared a mail cubby in the 80s, then years of 30-second chats at concerts around LA.

By the time I came back to radio, Alan had pretty much given up on local stations I think. He as much as told me so one night at Zipper Hall in 2002, I think it was. I stopped at his seat to tell him about KCSN, he told me he had just gotten satellite radio and challenged “They had a Maxwell-Davies opera this morning. Could you play that?”

I said something lame, like “I’d have to hear it first,” and turned to find a seat.

But I knew he wanted to help. He was writing for the LA Weekly then and drove all the way to Northridge to interview my Dean for his column. KCSN had been named “Best of LA” by Los Angeles Magazine, and he wanted to spread the word. But a few years later – he had left the Weekly, and we faced extinction from a new dean with a plan to replace our adventuresome little format, Alan posted not one but a series of blistering pieces on his brand new blog “So I’ve Heard” in KCSN’s defense.

The station failed, as these things do. But the endorsement of Alan Rich – vigorous, full-bodied and complete – told me we must have been doing something right.

Richard Houdek

Long had I admired Alan’s writing style and clear and wise grasp of music, so when, in 1972, in inaugurating plans for an opera symposium as part of San Francisco Opera’s 50th season, I first placed the name Alan Rich at the top of the list of dream participants. I wrote to Alan, relating my admiration for his work in the New York Herald-Tribune, later in New York magazine, and inviting him to travel to the City by the Bay to share his thoughts with others on the present and future of the lyric theater.

Happily, he accepted, joining Bernheimer, Porter and other luminaries of the press who included our local scribes Commanday, Fried, Bloomfield and Von Buchau to help celebrate a season that include three Wagner “Ring” Cycles, “Norma” with Joan Sutherland and the rest of the Sutherland-Bonynge Rat Pack, “Lucia” with Sills and Pavarotti, “L’Africain” boasting Verrett and Domingo who also was our Cavaradossi in the opening “Tosca,” a string of “Aida’s” with myriad debacles and a few triumphs, a “Figaro” glowing with Evans in the title role and colleagues on the cusp of world fame – Te Kanawa, Blegen, Von Stade and Wixell, and finally the American. premiere von Einem’s “Visit of the Old Lady” with that grand dame of the opera stage, Regina Resnick as that lady, in a production staged by Francis Ford Coppola.

Alan was brilliant, as expected and I was thrilled to have him and kept in touch thereafter. A few years later, after I migrated from the public relations department of the opera and landed at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, near Los Angeles, I found myself involved with a music festival. And since CalArts was thoroughly committed to contemporary arts, I was drawn again to Alan, knowing of his deep interest in the music of our time. This time I called him on the phone, and the invitation was accepted eagerly – the festival was in January when Southern California is temperate, especially compared to the frigidity of New York.

Once there, gleefully surrounded by the au courant efforts of Subotnick, Powell, Cage, Feldman and the others, Alan also took a shine to the rest of the Southland climate. “Ah,” he said, one balmy night over al fresco drinks, this is the way life should be.”

“Well, it’s not impossible,” I replied. “You know, we have this magazine, New West. It’s owned by the same people who have New York, but I don’t believe they’ve discovered the music scene here, or for that matter, music itself. Why, you could be the first bi-coastal critic.”

Alan gave me one of his characteristic long, thoughtful looks, suggesting that it probably was not all that possible, but inwardly suspecting, hoping, otherwise. And indeed, the publishing business was more expansive in those days – it was 1977 – and budgets were more adventurous and flexible.

Sooner than expected, Alan was one of those jet-setters, much like many of the conductors and other musical artists he was covering, and Los Angeles inaugurated one of its great critical eras – Bernheimer on one side of town, Rich on the other, to match the flexing of its artistic muscles with a succession of stimulating conductors on the Philharmonic podium, the eventual emergence of the fourth largest opera company in America and a concert hall that became the envy of the nation. Through CalArts’ REDCAT downtown, the late Betty Freeman’s salons, a major effort by Esa Pekka Salonen, Ernest Fleischman and the Philharmonic and other platforms, the city became a major bastion of 20th- and 21st-century music to, mirroring its esteemed reputation in contemporary art.
After we left L.A., in 1980, My wife, Peggy, and I greeted Alan, once more in 1989 at our inn, Walker House in Lenox, Mass., where Alan, in addition to marking his 65th birthday with us, displayed his new laptop computer and relished several visits to Tanglewood – of course, to the Festival of Contemporary Music. The post-concert sessions in our parlor, and the breakfast discussions, were memorable to our guests, as well as to us, as Alan placed the music, the composers and the players in perspective. Nevertheless, after the excitement of Tanglewood, Alan was looking forward to returning to Los Angeles, where so much, he believed, was happening, and yet to happen.

Joyfully, Alan Rich was witness to the maturation of a great city of the arts on the move, and will be remembered as part of its greatness.

Sasha Anawalt

On Missing Alan Rich (1924-2010)

There is going to be a great, big hollowness in the concert hall. Walt Disney Concert Hall, REDCAT, the church where Jacaranda plays in Santa Monica, wherever E.A.R. unit is, in short, wherever music is in Los Angeles. It’s going to be harder to listen without Alan Rich, because when he was there – and he was always there – I partially listened through him. He and Mark Swed helped many in L.A. fall in love with listening. Alan’s writing is what done it. A colleague of mine at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and at the LA Weekly, he wrote fast; that’s because he loved writing as much as he loved listening, which I have to say I envied. “However often my ears are blessed by Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, I am stirred every time by new things discovered and an uncontrollable urge to write about them,” he wrote. Alan reveled in discovering new things, including new things in old things. He was never too old for any new thing. And, you know, one of the things I will miss most about him is how he would always treat me like a sweet, new young thing and ask me to sit on his lap.

I’ll miss the flirtation. And the reading. And him.

Deborah Harkins
(colleague New York Magazine)

He was decidedly non-cranky, our beloved colleague, New York’s music critic back in the magazine’s exhilarating early days. Genial, rather—and agreeably quirky. I never knew why, whenever assistant editor Marion Donnelly came up to our crowded fourth-floor quarters on some earnest mission, he’d rise from his desk, walk over to her, and silently wrestle her to the floor. Or why he’d never give you a back rub (the best ever) if you asked—only if you didn’t ask. Or why he was so generously inclusive: He made me, a strait-laced copy editor, feel not simply comfortable in this officeful of wits, but as if I belonged. (He did love to tease: He’d turn to me whenever anyone said something salty and inquire, affectionately, “Should we read Revelation?” Once, when he was going out to get lunch for several of us, he dramatically refused to order me an American cheese on white, snorting that he’d be ashamed to ask a New York deli man for that abomination. And for many years he loved to pretend that he hated the name I’d bestowed on his historic house—Entwistle—though I knew he was routinely calling it that when he talked with his friends.)

Amiable Alan! It was he who named our office cat Randolf (after, he claimed, a soap-opera actor called Randolph Mantooth; he pointedly changed the ph to an f to preserve Randolf’s pride); he was the one who created the cat’s sleeping quarters, Randolf Park, in a terrarium. (NO Spitting, NO Swearing, went the sign he made for it.) Every day, he’d post a sly Poem of the Day on the blackboard (political rants, puns on office rumors, playful birthday commemorations). He loved to launch into the occasional verse from Gilbert & Sullivan or re-enact the “You can take a seat, Mr. Worthing” scene from The Importance of Being Earnest. If you were lucky, he’d invite you for the weekend to Entwistle, where he was the avuncular host, spending all his time in the kitchen making his famous onion soup and something elaborate from Julia Child while you stayed upstairs listening to Rosenkavalier. Sometimes he’d plunk away at the harpsichord, which he’d built himself from a kit.

He wasn’t cantankerous even on the day he came in after posting what he loved to call “My 95 Theses” on the door of the Village Hall in Grand View-on-Hudson, the river town where Entwistle backed up into a hillside. The document bore his strenuous complaints about town problems that he was urging the mayor to address. I don’t remember whether they provoked any fixes, but he was delighted with his contrarian action, and frequently found a way to grinningly bring those Theses into his conversations.

To work with Alan! What a privilege, what a delight! He stayed bonded to us old colleagues, even though he left us for the West three decades ago. We miss him already.

Maya Gingery:

Alan loved music. I think it can be lonely to love music the way he did, because who or what could ever replace such a lover? But Alan was one of the best friends you could ever have had, if you were so blessed to have known him as I was. The last time I saw him, he looked up and said my name and there was that familiar sparkle in his eye. Alan loved music and he loved the written word, and you knew it if he made room in his heart for you too.

Richard Mitnick:

I am just a simple music lover in New Jersey. But, for a while, I belonged to KUSC in Los Angeles, after our own station, WNYC, tossed out day time Classical music on the FM station in favor of talk.

In one monthly news letter from KUSC, Alan had written the main piece. I was never happy with the lack of more modern works at KUSC. I wrote to Alan via the L.A. Weekly, asking him to try to use his good influence to get more modern music on the station. That got me nothing for KUSC; but it did get me onto Alan’s email list. I got Alan’s emails and then switched over to SoIveHeard.

I would comment once in a while. Alan would often respond. So, we built up a wee relationship, this great critic and me, the Sensei and the grasshopper. The last thing we did, Alan asked me for two copies of the Great Performances piece on the Gustavo Dudamel premier, one for him and one for his housekeeper who adored “The Dude”. I sent them, and commented that the next time I was in L.A. to visit my daughter, it might be nice if we could meet. Alan responded with his telephone number and said that he would “keep a candle burning in the window”.

Alas, he passed a few weeks after that last message, which I have kept.

Mark Marcus:

I remember seeing Alan Rich at the Ojai Music Festival a number of years back. At the entrance to Libby Park just a few minutes earlier I had seen Huell Hauser, whose PBS program California Gold I’ve always enjoyed. I greeted Alan and causually mentioned seeing Huell Hauser. I wondered aloud if Mr. Hauser was preparing a California Gold program on the Ojai Festival. Alan, mimicking the enthusiastic voice of Huell Hauser said “Wow, so this is a violin!” A little sarcastic, but I did laugh.

Marc Geelhoed:

Alan Rich was a music critic, and the last American critic to have heard Artur Schnabel, and who attended the premiere of Bela Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1945, when he was a student at Harvard. The passing of that musical knowledge marks something in our nation’s musical life. There was no middle ground with Alan—a performance either moved him, or left him cold, and it was the same with performers, composers and their works. Music mattered deeply to him, and his standards for the writing about it were entirely as high, if not even more stringent, than what he expected of the people onstage.

Alan’s journalistic career serves as a convenient guide to the journalism profession in the back half of the twentieth century to the present. He moved to Los Angeles in the ’70s after writing for years in New York for the New York Herald-Examiner and then New York magazine. The original plan, as he told me one pre-concert evening, was that he was going out there to cover the city for a magazine to be spun off from New York. So he went west, liked it, and decided to stay. I’m pulling this all from the memory banks, so it may not be entirely accurate. But Alan did grow to love Los Angeles, and its people. With his black leather jacket, though, he never really left the pugnacious world of New York.

The magazine folded, Rich moved on to other publications, which folded, and the final blow was when he was fired in 2008 from his LA Weekly column, “A Lot of Night Music,” which summarized a week’s worth of concert activity. He started his blog So I’ve Heard, which took its name from a 2006 collection of his columns, and wrote the occasional piece for Variety. It couldn’t have been an easy existence, but he seemed to love it.

I think Alan exemplified more than any other critic, certainly any classical-music critic, Kenneth Tynan’s dictum that a critic’s job consists of “destroying the bad to make way for the good.” Alan could destroy a performer on the page, ditto a composer or a work. He had no patience at all for Sibelius’s Violin Concerto (“[t]hat wispy gray nagging tune for solo violin…awash in a thin orchestral gruel”), or for showboating stars. The negative opinions gave teeth to the positive notices, proof that this wasn’t someone who handed out gold stars week after week.

Just as he could be negative, so he could write a rave like few others. Los Angeles’ series of contemporary piano music, Piano Spheres, received immense support from him, and it’s partially due to Alan’s support that Gloria Cheng is now rightly viewed as a leading American pianist. Few were also as pleased as Alan with the announcement and appointment of Gustavo Dudamel to the head job with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (“He’s real; he’s ours”). You come with integrity and a good head on your shoulders; you’ll do ok by Alan.

Alan’s savagery found an unfortunate outlet through attacks on his colleagues in print, though. These were always younger writers, and he’d leap on the slightest misstep as proof of their not deserving to be in print. This pushed one of them to quit writing about classical music, and the others simply keep going and ignore him. Classical music operates on society’s margins, classical-music journalism is even farther afield, and these attacks served no real purpose, censuring people publicly in ways that would have been vastly more helpful done in private. Eisenhower’s injunction to “Praise in public; criticize in private,” seems especially relevant here.

We had a major falling out, he and I. I met Alan in 2005, when the Music Critics Association had its annual meeting in Los Angeles. I remember a fine Chinatown dinner with Alan and Russell Platt from the New Yorker, and Alan mentioned later on that he’d looked up some of my reviews and enjoyed them. I passed, I was in. This night was also notable for Alan nearly killing the three of us when he made a left turn into oncoming traffic. His blog says he passed the vision portion of the test just last year, and that seems frankly impossible.

We hung out again the next year when I was out there on vacation, and traded various war stories about colleagues. We shared a pleasant lunch with a record-industry friend at LA MOCA, who was worried that he would pick up the check if she wasn’t quick enough. He did excuse himself at one point, and we found out shortly after that he’d done just that. He could be very generous.

Then a couple months later I reviewed an opera for the Financial Times, and Alan wrote back one of his all-caps emails deriding it. Puzzled, I tweaked part of it and sent it back, since he was someone whose opinion I actually valued, and an even longer all-caps email came back that proved that obscenity can exist without profanity. It would’ve taken the paint off the walls if email had walls. The sign-off was that there was basically no future for classical criticism when people like me were allowed to write about it. Which seemed a tad harsh.

I never heard from Alan after that. I’d read his blog every now and then, and it took a while before that didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth. Despite all that, it’s a loss he won’t be writing anymore. Sibelius said no one ever built a statue to a critic, but a small memorial near that beautiful fountain outside Disney Hall wouldn’t be too much to ask. Los Angeles couldn’t have asked for a stronger partisan.

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