Arts Management 101 « PREV | NEXT »: On Missing Alan Rich (1924-2010)

April 24, 2010

Alan Rich

Saddened to hear from Mark Swed of the death, Friday afternoon, of Alan Rich. Alan could be cranky, eccentric and needlessly ad hominem. But many of his targets were dead on, and he was always an impassioned critic with wonderfully intense, personal tastes -- many of which I shared.

I always felt a certain parallelism with him, sometimes in reverse and 15 years younger. We both went to Harvard College and Berkeley for grad school, and felt at home on both coasts. His progression was bolder, though, in that having established himself in New York, he went back out to California and became a champion of west coast music, new and otherwise, when it wasn't yet fashionable to do so.  When I lived in LA in the early 70's, I was bemused at how the locals were constantly proclaiming LA the new, happening arts city. They were premature then, but it all came true eventually, and Alan had a good deal to do with that, reaffirming the easily overlooked role of sympathetic criticism to the nurturing of a local scene.

Alan had ears. The first time I ever heard of Philip Glass was as an eager reader in California in the late 60's or very early 70's and Alan was still the critic for New York Magazine. Then, when I was in New York and he in LA, I was constantly enlivened and informed by his reports from the west. While his long career might be seen unsympathetically as a downward slide, in terms of the declining prominence of his outlets, he kept on listening and writing. His reviews were sometimes provincial and full of special pleading for his adopted home. But they were always lively and acute, right to the end. I will miss him, and so should American music.
April 24, 2010 10:22 AM | | Comments (9)


Marvelous tribute, John. Thank you.

I am just a music listener in New Jersey, lucky enough to strike up an email exchange relationship with "His Eminence", or "The Dean", or what ever little funny I could make in our exchanges.

First I was lucky enough to get on Alan's email list, maybe during his L.A. Weekly time, and of course I read SoIveHeard. I told Alan he wrote not with a pen, rather with a stiletto, not in its weaponry sense; rather in the specificity of his vocabulary. There was never ever as sharp a writer.

I mean, I could not even attend the concerts about which he wrote. I still loved reading his prose.

Our last exchanges were about a couple of DVD's I made for him of the Great Performances piece on the Dudamel premier.

My daughter lives in Los Angeles. I agreed with Alan that we would meet on my next trip out. He wrote "I will keep a lamp in the window".

What has failed to be mentioned, so far, in all the conversation regarding the loss of Alan is the role the decline of arts journalism played in his own decline— being released (fired, laid off, whatever) from the LA Weekly left Alan without a significant voice (forget blogs). His career sailed on the sea of the printed word. And when that once-mighty ship began to sink it took Alan down with it. Unfortunately, all of us that are committed to arts journalism find ourselves like Alan, struggling to survive.

As a scholar, I'm most familiar with Rich's writings in the New York Magazine, many of which are accessible now through Google Books. However, I also read and appreciated his column in the LA Weekly for years. A sad loss.

Alan was an important voice in Los Angeles all the way back when I was a music critic at the Los Angeles Times (1985-91). He used to call my employer "Brand X," since he wrote for just about every other newspaper in town. I loved to kid him about his being a graduate of Boston Latin School, just like Leonard Bernstein. He was also instrumental in supporting my career as a composer, allowing me to step in at the last minute to present my music for a musicale at the famous Betty Freeman's mansion, when Andre Previn suddenly bowed out. It was simply sad when he lost his last real position at the L.A. Weekly, but it goes to show that music critics are a dying breed. It's admirable that Alan lasted much longer at it than most of us put together.

There have been very few in a class with him. His critical career was launched on Berkeley's then egg-head FM station KPFA; back in 1994 we spent a happy hour talking about it:

Thank you John. Along with you, Tim Page, and Mark Swed, Alan materialized for me what it meant to live a listening life.

In his later years, he came to Amsterdam a few times. For the music, of course. But he had a great time here in ways non-musical as well.
That is how I remember him, smiling, happy to be here, ready for the next adventure.

R.I.P. Alan Rich, a mentor, teacher, and friend. What a lively spirit, and what memorable times, at New York Magazine. I was fortunate to be his assistant for four years in the mid-70s and received an invaluable education, including an introduction to Mozart's music.

Lucky for me I sat next to Alan at a picnic concert last summer and was treated to a lively conversation. I was telling him about how I was able to train the snails in my front yard to stay away from my favorite flowers nearby by feeding them scraps of food from dinner each night. He then added, "you can actually eat them, I have, just be sure you feed them for 2 weeks straight and then they will be delicious!" I appreciated his inside tip on this sunny afternoon in Pacific Palisades, a suburb of Los Angeles. He was a lift. Although, I won't be eating my snails out front.

Alan is somewhere in hand heaven.

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