It’s rare to see a truly bad review in the major papers of record around the world, but this is one of the most scathing review I’ve seen of an individual performance in recent memory. It is a review of a recital given at Le Poisson Rouge in New York (one of the most famous of the alt-venues) by the young British violinist Charlie Siem:

There’s nothing wrong with marketing, or with building bridges between classical music and broader culture. But a musician needs to back up his promotional prowess with skill, and at Mr. Siem’s recital on Monday at Le Poisson Rouge with the pianist Kyoung Im Kim, there was a dumbfounding gap between his retro suavity and the ineptitude of his playing.

His intonation, passagework and tone were simply ugly in two works that are stale enough when played well. The first movement of Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 2 features flowing arpeggios that Mr. Siem labored over; in the elegiac second movement he lacked any discernible emotion at all. In the third movement, a folksy Sarabande, Mr. Siem teetered on the edge of charm but saved himself with the frigid calculation of his phrasing.

Oof! Read the entire review here.

7 Replies to “ouch”

  1. how come there wasn’t more said about this fellow’s fine head of hair?

    i know of a few conductors that would likely trade in their brazilian rosewood batons for such a vital tool of their trade . . .

  2. That is so harsh! He looks really sad in his picture too. The comments from the critic reminded me of high school competitions when someone would totally choke. The first thing out of the judges mouth would always be: “You look really nice.” Hearing that was probably worse than what followed.

  3. The review deserves more comment than Ouf! We need to find a few people who were there. Such an excessive flame in the Times suggests that the writer is immature, trying to make a name for himself, but on the other hand, the Times must trust him. At the very least he should not lambast a performer in such an excoriating review, since after all the poor man has surely earned a good reputation of some kind and this particular night may have been suffering jet lag, a severe family setback or other personal catastrophe, which just might have thrown him off. Who knows? However seasoned a critic listening has to be a subjective experience and not to allow for unknown factors or the variables that affect us all is just silly. I wonder whether it is such an excessive pan that no one takes it seriously.

    1. Is it excessive? Neither of us was at the performance, so we have to take the critic’s word for it. I think that what is more interesting is how few bad reviews there really are in the realm of classical music. Critics often seem to merely be an extension of the performers’ PR machinery, so having such a negative review is unusual in its very unusualness.

      1. Yeah you’re right it could be accurate, but even so it seems vicious in being 100% negative. Certainly one for the record books! Which may be what Wolfe is specializing in, Need to read his stuff for the NYObserver. Actually I wrote a blog post at http://www.textgenie.com/?p=332 and found that Siem is Eton Oxford and well equipped to slide past it without it touching him. He boasts of a “watertight mind.” Even so the inhumane level of Wolfe’s comments suggest he is not a listener on the communicative emotional level so much as a technical purist. Siem is a rock violinist as well it turns out so maybe his “theatrical” style will rub Wolfe the wrong way inevitably after he long studies in theory at Yale or wherever (I am making that up). But whatever the truth there is the impression that an inappropriate war has been declared. As if Siem rejected Wolfe’s advances! (Making that up too sorry).

      2. personally, i believe MORE negative reviews are often called for – especially if they focus on specific, CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. who “needs” all the sis-boom-bah bs that is the majority norm? such blinded by the career light capitulation does NO good for the performer, the audience or review readers. i say, lay it all out there in an even-handed way. if someone stinks in up, maybe they oughta change hair products & or upgrade the armani camouflage.

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