How to Write a Review of a Classical Concert You Didn’t Attend

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009 by Keven

Staying late at the office one Friday night, you take a casual look at the list of quarterly deliverables your boss is expecting from you.

  • Produce a new 500-page microsite. Check. (Thanks, Content Bureau!)
  • Update all marketing collateral with screen shots of a yet-to-be-built middleware platform. Check. (Thanks, summer intern!)
  • Write a 400-word review of the April 9, 1997 Wichita Symphony concert.


Don’t worry. You can still write that review and get your bonus. Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Use Google to find out what the symphony played that night. No, seriously. Everything is on the Internet now.
  2. Begin your review with a one-sentence paragraph that makes an unexpected connection or asks a probing question. This will distract the reader from your total lack of subject knowledge by paradoxically establishing you as their intellectual superior.
    Example: “One wonders whether Music herself will soon tighten her belt in our profoundly sluggish economy – or whether she will continue to lavish her friends every Saturday evening.”
    Whatever that means.
  3. I’ll assume the concert program followed the standard order:
    1) Weird modern piece
    2) Well-known concerto
    3) Intermission
    4) Well-known symphony
    Tackle the modern piece first. It probably has a one-word title taken from a foreign language. Find out which language.
    If it’s the composer’s native language, point out that this makes sense, and toss in a few facts about his vibrant culture. If it’s not, mention how this is a result of the composer’s extensive travels and eclectic tastes (all contemporary composers are like that).
    There. That’s a paragraph.
  4. In the second paragraph, you’ll have to describe the modern piece itself. Write that it “evoked images” of something. Mention that some sections were “angular,” “rhythmic,” or “tersely dissonant,” while others, by contrast, were “lush” or “supple.” Compliment the symphony’s “deft” handling of the obvious technical challenges that the composer presented.
    Just avoid mentioning “oaky overtones”—that’s wine.
  5. On to the concerto. If the soloist was female and under 40, classify her appearance as “stylish” or “garish.” (Flip a coin.) Female and over 40? Stick with “elegant.”
    If the soloist was a male of any age, make no comment on his appearance. It will be less awkward for everyone.
  6. Mention how the soloist “maneuvered gracefully” through the faster passages, “made time stand still” during the slow movement, and “ended with a flourish.” Who’s gonna argue?
  7. There’s no need to write about the intermission, but if you do, don’t comment that there were Rice Krispies treats and orange drink for sale. That only happens at middle school band concerts.
  8. Now, the well-known symphony. This is the easy part. Just say the orchestra “brought new life to an old chestnut,” but that some of the conductor’s tempos “bordered on ambitious” at times. Perhaps throw in a kind remark about the principal bassoonist, who probably never gets any credit.
  9. For a closing anecdote, toss in something you allegedly overheard a middle-aged lady say in the parking lot—a comment that perfectly sums up the evening’s program. Technically, you’re not lying here. Middle-aged ladies who attend the symphony always talk excitedly on their way back to the car.

See how easy? It’s almost as if you had attended the concert. If your boss is a skimmer, she won’t suspect a thing. Even if she’s a classical aficionado, she’ll hardly raise an eyebrow.

But don’t try this with marketing copy. If your readers sense a formulaic setup and vague benefit statements, they won’t read on to the mushy ending. They’ll stick your brochure in a desk drawer—allegro molto—and move on to a competitor that’s singing a different tune.

is a member of the Content Bureau editorial team.


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