Saturday, December 8, 2007

Prioritizing Death

The composer Andrew Imbrie died on Wednesday. Six of his compositions received their world premiere by the San Francisco Symphony, and his opera based on Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose was commissioned by the San Francisco Opera. Nevertheless, he never had much of a reputation beyond the Bay Area; and, as a result, I never knew much of him other than his name. Why it took the San Francisco Chronicle until this morning's issue to run an obituary for him is a mystery to me, as much a mystery as my scanning the paper and finding no account at all of the death of Karlheinz Stockhausen, after reading a veritable abundance of Stockhausen articles in the Telegraph alone. Apparently the only thing the Chronicle felt worth offering was the Associated Press report on their Web site.

This is not to belittle Imbrie's memory but to comment on what has happened to arts reporting in San Francisco. We are used to expecting that reviews will not appear the morning after the performance, but it had not occurred to me that the scope of the Chronicle would be quite so provincial in a city where there is such a high level of interest in the performing arts. On the other hand in this age of RSS feeds, the Chronicle is not much of a news source either; so this incident is probably just another datum to consider in addressing the question of what role the physical newspaper now plays. From that point of view, a more relevant question may be what I got from Google News from typing only "Imbrie." The answer is that I got a whopping total of ten hits, only one of which had to do with Andrew Imbrie; and that hit was today's Chronicle obituary! So perhaps the Chronicle really best serves the world at large as a local newspaper for the San Francisco Bay Area, and we can rely on any number of other sources for news about composers with a much greater global reputation.

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