Apr 28, 2010

The Man Who Wouldn't Clap


Photo by Alex Ross

Critic Alan Rich was from the old school. The sad news of his death on Monday brought back a few warm memories: of his gracious befriending of me at the Ojai Music Festival (I think it was this extraordinary year), even though I was more general arts critic than music specialist (many forget he also wrote some theater criticism, alongside his prodigious output on music); of his kindly indulging a hearing of some of my compositions at his piano, and later his giving a once-over of some of my critical clips (he was polite about the former, encouraging of the latter); of his avuncular disapproval of my then-regular intermission cigarette ("Ah, the last of the red hot smokers," he once bellowed at me).

What I remember that's worth reporting here, though, is that Alan had a rule about not applauding. I don't recall him explaining why for me, but I understood it implicitly: People could wait for his applause, or his boo, in the form of his review; he wasn't going to tip his hand. Myself, I still avoid joining a standing ovation when I review a show, but I'm not averse to applauding, laughing, and otherwise expressing my apprecation. Alan, though, was a purist--so much so that when I took him to see L.A. Opera mezzo Stephanie Vlahos do one of her simmering Weill cabarets at the tiny Gardenia club in Hollywood, he not only abstained from clapping, he studiously avoided returning her eye contact when she sidled up to him seductively. I can still see Alan sitting there in the booth, looking stone-faced at me, while Stephanie, in fishnets and some kind of bustier, attempted to draw him out (and I still can hear her purring "J'attends un navire" inches from my ear). It turns out that Alan liked her interpretations of Weill plenty, but I guess he figured we'd all have to wait to read that in the LA Weekly the next week, not on his face.

For that combination of graciousness and stubbornness (some might say cussedness), he will be missed. Obits from those who knew him far better than I here, here, and here, and a blog/aggregator of Rich's writing is here.

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