A Dyer Conversation: The music critic and Mark Morris

by Alicia Anstead


As music critic for more than 30 years at the Boston Globe, Richard Dyer '64 attended 300 concerts a year. Now, among other pursuits, he writes the weekly podcasts for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Dyer will join choreographer and Boston dance darling Mark Morris 7 p.m. Wednesday Jan. 27, onstage at Sanders Theatre for a conversation about the Celebrity Series presentation of "Mozart Dances," which the Mark Morris Dance Group, with the Orchestra of Emmanuel Music, will perform Jan. 29-31 at The Opera House in Boston. Here's a teaser for "Mozart Dances" but the bigger teaser is Wednesday's FREE event at Sanders, presented by the Harvard Office for the Arts, Celebrity Series and the Mark Morris Dance Group. The Harvard Arts Beat caught up with Dyer on Sunday, when he was, naturally, heading to a concert at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

How did your time as a graduate student at Harvard influence your sense of the arts?

It was a time when I went to as many concerts and operatic performances as I could afford. But it wasn't something I was studying. What Harvard did do was put me in the company of more kindred spirits than I had ever been in growing up in Oklahoma and Ohio. Suddenly to be in a world where nearly everybody I knew was interested in the same things was a very affirming experience. Many people I knew at Harvard are friends to this day.

What thoughts can you share with other students who come to Harvard from the heartland of the country?

What I would say to anybody from the Midwest is not to be afraid, which is what I was. I was terrified. I still remember one of my first classes on Spenser's "The Faerie Queene" with Douglas Bush. In the first lecture he said something about the influence of Plotinus on the text, and somebody in the room cried out, "Yes! Plotinus!" And I was terrorized because I had never heard of Plotinus at that point. The fact is, I wound up doing pretty well. I would say to anyone coming in on the side road rather than the main avenue at Harvard: You all end up at the same place. Your own experience has given you a set of tools that are equally useful.

What kind of day-to-day life do you have with music now that you're no longer on the music beat for the Boston Globe?

My relationship to music is no less intense or extensive than it was when I was going to 300 concerts a year, which I did for more than 30 years. I don't go to as many concerts, but I think about music all the time, I write about it all the time, I enjoy it all the time -- although I enjoy somewhat different things. It is a matter of some regret to me that Brahms wrote only four symphonies, as opposed to 41 like Mozart, because you hear them as a part of daily life more often perhaps than you should. What interests me more than anything now is hearing things I haven't heard before.

How should we listen to and watch Mark Morris' choreography?

When you're watching Mark's best pieces you're watching deeds of music made visible. What he gives the eye is what the music is giving to the ear. So it's a wonderful way of entering into the music more deeply, just as the music enables us to look into the bodies and the movements more deeply.

A group of professional and aspiring journalists will be tweeting during your conversation with Mark Morris. What do you think about the new media techniques for covering the arts?

I have a mixed opinion of it. The positive side is that it's now democratic. There is no distinction between the professional and the amateur. There's an opera chat room which discusses a broadcast in progress, and I find that a little disturbing. In the case of a panel, that's perfectly all right because the shape of it is not predetermined. But I think it's terrible in the course of a performance because what every great artist has in mind is not just the moment-to-moment effect but what Heinrich Neuhaus called the aerial view. That is, the sense of the piece as a whole. I learned this myself as a journalist, that it is irresponsible to comment on something until you've seen the whole thing. I really do deplore the emphasis on the moment as opposed to the arc. There are many issues with this, and I think people are still finding their footing in this brave new world. It's exciting, and it's full of potential we can't even begin to imagine.

Here's information about the FREE Richard Dyer/Mark Morris conversation 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27 at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge.

Here's more information about Celebrity Series and the Mark Morris Dance Group performance January 29-31 at The Opera House in Boston.

In addition to his work at the Boston Globe, Richard Dyer has written for the New York Times, the New Grove Dictionary of American Music, The Nation, Opera News and Harvard Magazine.

[Caption: "Mozart Dances"]

[Caption: Richard Dyer]

[Caption: Mark Morris]