Keith Powers has covered classical music, dance, theater and the visual arts for the Boston Herald, WBUR’s ARTery, New Bedford Standard-Times, Cape Cod Times, Cape Ann Beacon, Providence Journal, Quincy Patriot-Ledger, MetroWest Daily News, the GateHouse newspaper chain, and others. Online his reviews have appeared at Classical Voice North America, San Francisco Classical Voice, Boston Classical Review, South Florida Classical Review, and the Chicago Classical Review. His features have appeared in Chamber Music America, Quarterly Review of Wines, Improper Bostonian, Bolshoi Magazine, Museums, and many other magazines.
He contributed liner notes to the Grammy Award–nominated works of Arthur Berger, as well as the recordings of the music of Karel Husa and others, for Bridge, New World and Albany Records. He has written program notes for many performing arts organizations, including the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra.
His features on music education and teacher’s guides appear regularly in Music Alive! and Teaching Music, both NAfME publications. He is a contributor to Talk About Dance, a Cambridge-based initiative that explores the intersection of dance and social advocacy under the guidance of José Mateo of the José Mateo Ballet Theatre. He is a member of the Music Critic’s Association of North America, and was an NEA Fellow at the Music Critic’s Institute at Columbia University in 2005.
He previously served as managing editor of Musician, Fast Company, the Improper Bostonian, Cook’s Illustrated, Natural Health, and for the member’s magazine at the Peabody Essex Museum. He wrote the brief history of the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, Making Music Matter, in 2003.
His reviews and features are collected at Leonore Overture (keithpowers.net), where he also blogs regularly on classical music issues. Features and reviews are also posted on Twitter @PowersKeith.
This site creates two distinct Leonore Overtures: one as an archive for arts journalism, another for a collection of essays. Read more on that ongoing collection under Essays.
The journalism archives include music criticism, dance reviews, some art and theater commentaries, educational writing, and liner/program notes. Stories archived here were originally published in many different books, newspapers and magazines, or online.
No attempt has been made to make these archives comprehensive. Most of the material was published years ago, and was relevant only to certain performances or exhibitions. Recent work has also been available on Twitter for the past few years.
These stories fall into two main categories—reviews and features. Although I had written many recorded music reviews, I did not start reviewing live performances until I was lucky enough to begin working for the Boston Herald, around 1998.
Working for the chief critic, Ted Medrek (byline, T.J. Medrek, Jr.), we would meet a couple times a year and draw up a general plan. Adjusting this during the season, we made sure the Herald had a presence at nearly every major musical event in Boston.
The Herald had many talented arts journalists. Tedd Bale was an insightful dance critic, from whom I learned much. Mary Jo Palumbo and Mary Sherman, with others, wrote about the visual arts. Terry Byrne was the chief theater critic. We worked for editors that had a great sense for building informative sections—Paul McLean, Jim Kiley, and especially Joel Brown. And we were following some deeply respected writers who had built the Herald’s arts pages—Elliot Norton (drama), Josiah Fisk and Ellen Pfeiffer (music), among others.
Writing reviews can be a rush—at least it was during the days when they were published on edition (overnight). Going to a performance, filing a story by 11 or 11:30, then waking up to find it printed and on the doorstep—those days are gone. Late night copy desks are entirely dedicated to sports and news now, and online outlets have diluted the need for overnight coverage anyway.
After writing many reviews of recorded music, reviewing performances seemed relatively straightforward. Things happen in performance. And the sense of whether a performer has successfully communicated to an audience or not, along with the notion that the artist really has something to say—these aspects are hard to miss.
Writing features brings a different kind of pleasure. Interviewing can be tricky business, depending on the writer’s preparation, and on the subject’s willingness, personality and schedule. Given only five or six hundred words, material for an interesting story can be acquired in just a few minutes conversation. It rarely works that way, thank goodness.
Spending forty-five minutes talking about music with Garrick Ohlsson, Yo-Yo Ma or Andrew Norman can be a lifetime thrill. Thousands of these conversations have greatly improved my understanding of the lifestyle and dedication required of a successful performing artist.
But occasionally, brief interviews under trying circumstances can lead unexpectedly to good stories. A much delayed conversation with Midori, finally conducted while she was racing through some airport to make a connection, lasted only five minutes or so. But hearing her open up not only about what it took to fulfill her dreams of playing in major concert halls, but what it took to deal with the challenges of being offstage, with too much time and too many available temptations—that was revealing, and surprisingly honest.
It’s not always a joy. Some artists, too familiar with the sound of ovations, have decided they are greater than the process, and conversations with these performers have been a chore. Mark Morris, Jeremy Denk and others may simply have difficult personalities, been tired from travel, or (perhaps rightly) thought interviews beneath their station—it happens.
But most discussions have been pleasant and intriguing. Some have been unforgettable. Sitting in Seiji Ozawa’s office at Symphony Hall in Boston when the score of a new commission arrived, and turning the pages for him at the piano bench as he looked through it—that I’ll never forget. Talking with the normally reserved BSO concertmaster Malcolm Lowe, soon after the passing of maestro Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, and hearing his voice break with emotion over the phone. Speaking with Jung-Ho Pak, conductor of the Cape Symphony Orchestra, for more than two hours, discussing everything from music to life to the afterlife, left me covered with sweat and exhilarated.
Thoughtful conversations were the norm, and I remember with fondness interviews with Elena Ruehr, David Deveau, Robert Pinsky (then poet laureate, about his musical collaborations), Marc-André Hamelin, Judith Gordon, Richard Pittman, Sarah Heaton, Renée Fleming, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Gunther Schuller and many others.
And those times when I’ve been able to work more closely with subjects—like the multiple interviews and give-and-take with Boston Baroque’s Martin Pearlman, for a story about his ensemble’s 40th anniversary season in Early Music America, or the many discussions with the late composer Lee Hyla, traveling on Amtrak between Boston and New York, about his music, and about challenging works by composers like Wallingford Riegger and Osvaldo Golijov as well—those conversations were a rich source of professional development.