James Inverne, editor of Gramophone magazine talks to Elizabeth Davis about how criticism is changing and why his magazine is going to survive the storm.
I think the rise in celebrity critics is a total disaster. I’m very idealistic about the role of critics, and the choice of critics is absolutely key. When I was a kid – admittedly a geeky kid – I had a quote by the great tenor John Vicars stuck on my pin board: “all art is an elaboration of life and it represents the very greatest that humanity can achieve.”
So if that’s true then you have to pursue excellence in art – it can be a pantomime but whatever the hell it is, it’s got to be the best you can do it. And critics are there as Guardians of the Flame – they’re there to make sure that the forces of commercialism don’t drag standards down, to make sure that we keep pursing those goals because it’s the best of ourselves. When you look at critics who’ve been drafted in just because they’re big names it rarely works, because criticism is a really difficult craft.
I’ve always thought that great criticism makes you feel like you were there. It gives you something of the experience. It’s not just a school report saying this is good and this is bad. The reader should have a sense that they’ve vicariously listened to the recordings, through reading the reviews.
Social networking has an impact on the arts in general but across the media it’s the same people calling the tune. While everyone’s going on about the power of the citizen journalists – and undoubtedly they’re incredibly powerful – I don’t think we’ve really seen it in criticism. It’s a good way of getting enthusiasm and generalised feelings about things but I still think that the tradition of the professional critic is an important one. What you get in Gramophone is a kind of running relationship with the critics and even a sort of dialogue.
I think “magazine” has become a more generic term for a kind of experience you can have in different formats. We see ourselves as a – dreadfully dull term – content provider. It’s there if people want to see it on the web and it’s there if they want to see it on their phones. I tend to feel that there always will be people who love to feel the paper who love to smell the print and love to have control over the journey through a magazine. You get other excitements from the web so I don’t think magazines are going to disappear.