Richard Freed: A Classical Music Critic, He Was Widely Regarded as a Writer Many Other Critics Read to Learn From

From a Washington Post obit by Tim Page headlined “Richard Freed, classical music critic, dies at 93”:

Richard Freed, a classical music critic and administrator renowned for the program notes he wrote for the National Symphony Orchestra, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the leading ensembles of Baltimore, Houston and Philadelphia, died at his home in Rockville, Md…

A courtly, soft-spoken man, Mr. Freed was widely regarded as a writer many other critics read to learn from. He was the executive director of the Music Critics Association from 1974 to 1990. He won a Grammy Award for best liner notes on a historical recording in 1995 for his work on “The Heifetz Collection,” a near-complete collection of the recordings of violinist Jascha Heifetz.

Leonard Slatkin, for whom Mr. Freed served as an adviser during his music directorships at the NSO and the St. Louis Symphony, wrote in atribute this week: “There simply was no better program annotator.”

“When the audience arrives for a performance, or these days gets concert information in advance, it is the program book annotator who becomes their guide to the history, content and design of the works that will be performed,” Slatkin added. “Writing for both knowledgeable patrons as well as new comers is not easy, and Richard was one of the very few who could bridge those two worlds with consummate skill.”

Mr. Freed was active for six decades, contributing regularly to The Washington Post, the New York Times and the old Washington Star, among many other publications. He had an extended association with Stereo Review, for which, in addition to monthly reviews and articles, he wrote a generalist introduction to the most familiar classical music in a column called “The Basic Repertoire.”

His tastes varied widely. Mr. Freed was just as likely to address the complicated history of jazz in the Soviet Union or a new edition of an opera by 19th-century composer Jacques Offenbach as he was to write about the classical “hits.” The late Teresa Sterne, who turned the Nonesuch record label into a home for contemporary music in the 1960s and 1970s, revered Mr. Freed and relied on his input for anything she chose to record….

Richard Donald Freed was born in Chicago on Dec. 27, 1928, and grew up in Tulsa, where his Russian immigrant father owned a furniture store. As a young man, he recalled, he always kept by his bedside a copy of “The Victor Book of the Opera” — a lavishly illustrated book that combined instruction in the history of opera and an array of Victor (later RCA Victor) recordings that were for sale. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1947 with a degree in philosophy.

He began publishing articles in the mid-1950s and became a contributing editor to Saturday Review. From 1966 to 1970, he was public relations director of the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music and assistant to the school’s director but resigned amid his increasing freelance obligations. He later served as director of public relations for the St. Louis Symphony and programmed and annotated recordings for the Smithsonian Institution….

For all his gentility, Mr. Freed could be acid in his observations. He complained publicly and privately about the seeming inevitability of standing ovations at Washington performances, which he called “appalling.” “There’s the attitude that if it’s any good at all, there must be a standing ovation” he said….

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