Ganging up on Sumi Hahn

A critical brouhaha is developing over Sumi Hahn’s review of Lang Lang and the Seattle Symphony.  In the classical music world that means five comments or so.  Sumi and I have different opinions of the concert; she didn’t like Lang Lang’s performance, while I did.  Nevertheless, what seems to be bothering folks the most is her style and the way she describes music and the performances she heard.  I actually like Sumi’s style quite a bit.  Sometimes it is a little over the top.  Maybe she is too descriptive too often.  But, I can tell you from my own experience that writing about music is one of the hardest things anyone can do.  I blankly stared at my computer monitor on more than one occasion trying to find the right words to describe a piece of music or a performance. I wish I could write with as much color as Sumi does.  Give Sumi a break.  Disagree with her opinion of the performance, but don’t fault her style.  That goes for what is published on TGN as well.  Comments are always welcome, especially if you are challenging our authority as classical music opinion shapers.   

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8 thoughts on “Ganging up on Sumi Hahn

  1. Wow, there really are some vitriolic people out there. They pop up on every article she writes. I’m not sure what they’re looking for – her review was enjoyable to read and fairly well summarized what she found a routine performance of the opening and final works, and a sandblasted-smooth performance of the Beethoven. Which is never what I’ve heard Lang Lang do to any piece of music, but still – what she’s saying is pretty clear to me. I don’t know what these people are used to reading (or, again, what they expect to find) but I read a good number of reviews and hers look like some of the best I’ve seen.

  2. If there is one thing I have learned since keeping this blog is there is no one way to write a review. Some people judge the performance other people write about the experience. Both are valid ways of writing about music. What infuriates me the most about the comments, and frankly classical music discourse in general, is not her opinion of what she heard but how she wrote about the concert experience. The performance was/is irrelevant to her critics. Quibble with her opinion, but leave her personal style alone.

  3. There is a “whoops!” element to the review in question, as published by the Seattle Times. It seems likely to be entirely the fault of the Times’ copy editor; as one of the commenters notes, there was no mention of the conductor or ensemble appearing with the soloist. As a performer myself, however poor/challenging the concert, I only wish my name to be omitted from reviews, bad, true, good, or misleading, about 1% of the time. TGN is, I believe, faultless on this score.

  4. Being a professional pianist, I am very disappointed in Sumi Hahn’s review of Lang Lang’s performance in Seattle on 11/01,09. I was in the audience & found Lang Lang’s pianistic technique to be flawless & mesmerizing! There was no need to compare him to Horowitz or Argerich. He made no claim to be their equal,however,time is on Lang Lang’s side!

  5. I agree A Gradhandt. You know, when he first started out he was saddled with the nickname “Bang Bang.” He wasn’t always the most refined pianist. But lately, critics have been looking at the pianist differently. Which is a good thing.

    Steve I appreciate your kind words about TGN! I personally don’t believe reviews have to mention every piece or every performer. There have been times where I have omitted a piece or performer and I don’t feel like I am not committing a journalistic or critical injustice.

    Since the performer was Lang Lang, and the concert was an add on to the season, focusing on the pianist seems to be okay. I was drawn to the concert for the Sixth Symphony, but most people there came to hear Lang Lang. She did mention the playing of the orchestra in the other two pieces on the program, albeit in a terse sentence or two. Seems to me, the bigger question that hasn’t been asked, is: was the Sixth “soporific” as Sumi alleges? I didn’t think it was. Did you?

    Thank you both for your comments!

  6. Amazing. Apparently Lang Lang fans brook no disagreement. She did a much better job of explaining what she disliked about the performance than they did of explaining what they disliked about her review. I’ve noticed that often when people disagree with a review, they try to rationalize it by inventing arbitrary rules about what reviewers can and can’t mention. We’re not allowed to compare a live performance to recorded ones–in other words, to compare X’s way with a piece to Y’s and Z’s? That’s pretty much the whole point of reviewing, my friends–to describe what and why a musician does what he/she does. Weird.

    Actually, did you know Sumi herself was something of a child prodigy as a pianist?

  7. I read Sumi Hahn’s review but did not attend the concert in question. Perhaps it was that Ms. Hahn’s review played into my own preconceived notions about the works and the performers, but I found her review refreshingly informed, well-written, and insightful. It has been my experience that few reviews (and reviewers, for that matter) demonstrate insight beyond that provided by Wikipedia or program notes, and many fail to elucidate anything other than a vague notion of what the listeners experienced. I recall having felt upon reading the review in question that Sumi Hahn had succeeded at both.

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