While newspapers seem to be going under left & right, Toronto continues to be a multi-paper town. Loyalties to a particular paper are funny things, or at least they look that way now. However you slice it –changing media landscape, evolving information technologies– we’re seeing the slow death of anything requiring hard copy in favour of the virtual, and of course I’m having the tiniest most infinitesimal impact on this on my blog.
When I was a wee lad I remember how a paper could be a matter for loyalties. Gordon P and his family loved the Telegram, a paper I recall even then as being somewhat stuffy & conservative. I lived in a household getting the Globe & Mail and the Toronto Star, which felt a bit like being loyal to another sports team. We had lots of kids and so one paper wasn’t enough. The Globe came in the morning, the Star in the afternoon.
Their basic character, if one can generalize something from a large group of writers, is largely the same, decades later. The Star was more of the liberal paper, and that really meant upper case L Liberal as well: in their support for Pearson & Trudeau. The Globe, like the Telegram, was conservative but better written than the Telegram (as i recall) . The Globe had a good arts section at least, so there was always something to read.
I recall as I grew up that some writers were so negative in their criticism as to be positively scary. I met Herbert Whitaker in my 20s, a charming man, who seemed more tempered in his writing even if the body of his work was really before my time. Both he and Nathan Cohen (who had a scary rep), were before my time. Later, came Gina Mallett, whose direct critiques scared me, possibly because they felt so arbitrary. But these writers were very powerful in determining the fate of shows.
As I grew up I do recall reading two people religiously. John Kraglund and William Littler were the two critics for music & opera in my formative years. While the names might suggest who was the tougher one –after all, surely someone who is a B Littler must know from an early age what his calling must be, no?– Kraglund was the one who I recall as being arbitrary and difficult. I remember him disliking voices with too much vibrato, indeed I think he wrote as though he hated vibrato altogether. Can a critic be influential? I have to wonder, given that Toronto seems so geared towards historically informed performance using gentle vibrato-less voices. Did Kraglund get his wish? Speaking of getting his wish, Kraglund’s most infamous moment, if something reported in discreet conversation can make you famous or infamous– was in describing Jon Vickers as a “fat and balding tenor”. The way I’ve heard the legend go, Kraglund was told by the tenor that this was why Vickers wouldn’t come to Toronto anymore. In –I think– 1972 or so he partnered with Birgit Nilsson in what was billed as the concert of the century, Act I of Walkure plus…. I can’t remember what else. So Kraglund could proudly say that for a long time (Vickers’ prime), Toronto wasn’t besmirched by his presence. Littler was gentler on the whole, although that‘s not saying much, particularly considering what was understood to be the norm for critics of the time.
Littler’s successor is an even gentler man, a gentle giant in fact. John Terauds who was until recently the voice behind Musicaltoronto.org succeeded Littler at the Star, at least on the classical music / opera beat (NB Littler also reviewed ballet & dance). He stands out in a landscape where other critics, thinking especially of Arthur Kaptainis, have engaged in some very pointed commentary. I can’t forget the time he said that someone at the COC should be embarrassed or perhaps resign over something or other. No wait I guess I have forgotten because the only part of the story I can remember is the ad hominem, not the particulars. As far as I know neither the Star nor Globe has a full-time classical music critic any longer, Kaptainis being the last man standing (or if it’s a concert hall, probably sitting…).
I have history with two people at the Star.
1) John Cruickshank, the editor of this wonderful paper, was the director of a production of Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera back in (blush) 1975, when we were a bit (?) younger. I adapted it for woodwind quintet + harpsichord, but John made it happen with a fabulous team back at Trinity College Dramatic Society, aka TCDS. It’s still one of my fondest memories, particularly because it was like my loss of (music theatre) virginity.
2) Robert Prichard, former President of the University of Toronto, was a key figure at the Star (chairman of the board?) . I remember the time he came into the mailroom where I worked, met each of us… and then years later, when I ran into him waiting for an elevator, he greeted me by name. I’d heard this before, that he has the ability to remember almost everyone he’s met. Amazing, especially because he seems to sincerely care and to connect.
So you see I was already a partisan fan of the Star long ago. But now, looking back at the Ford era (which haha may not be over: especially if he’s re-elected in the fall), I am feeling very grateful for their bravery. Sure, they made money. But they endured extraordinary criticism. I wonder if people remember how the Fords singled this paper out, refusing to talk to the Star at a time before anyone knew that the mayor was drinking or smoking up.
I have a subscription to the Toronto Star both online and in hard copy form. Main reason? Because they’ve spoken truth to power, in daring to hold Rob Ford to account since the very beginning of his time as mayor. It’s an important principle that the press needs to ensure due process, that the high and mighty answer questions. Politicians don’t always like that. Ask Steven Harper or for that matter, any politician caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
Hopefully their current revenue model will keep them in business.