In 2010, I wrote a review of a recital at the Kennedy Center by the pianist Dejan Lazic. In 2014, he wrote the Washington Post and asked us to take it down.

Neither of us expected that our words would have the effect they did.

My review was mixed. I was underwhelmed by the recital but bent over backwards to find the good in it. Washington Performing Arts’s Hayes Piano Series features “emerging pianists,” often already established in international careers, and the audience is enthusiastic but discriminating; still, it’s rare that a performer isn’t called back for even one encore. Lazic wasn’t, in spite of his striking technical ability, and I tried, in the review, to address some of the reasons why, praising what I liked, and calling out what I didn’t.

It wasn’t until this September that Lazic wrote a letter to the Washington Post requesting that the review be taken down. Since he has noted in recent days that his letter has yet to be reprinted in full, I see no reason not to let him speak for himself, in his own, unedited words:

Dear Madam/Sir,

It is hard to believe that almost four years after this article was published in your newspaper the contents of it still appear amongst top ten topics on google search engine when one looks up my name…!

As a pianist and composer celebrating this season 25 years of stage presence I have encountered a vast number of articles and reviews on my way: from very good ones through to, well, not so good ones and have never commented on them on any occasion as every artist must be aware of the fact that this is part of our profession and we have to simply live with it.

We artists simply do our thing and create and some others have the right (not always the necessary qualification however) to write about it, good or bad, true or false, right or wrong, mostly somewhere in between. Although it has been proven throughout centuries that sometimes even the best of works have been criticized harshly and have still prevailed nevertheless (one of the most prominent examples was that infamously bad review by Eduard Hanslick of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto upon its premiere in Vienna in 1881) one can claim with certainty that so long one writes, comments, discusses and polemicizes about music and art in general — and does not create conflict nor make war! — we are better off as a society after all.

However, one should also understand that a single article like this one, being not only of a rather negative or even toxic connotation, but also in my opinion coming from a rather uninformed source and therefore being pretty much single-sided, highly emotional and rooted in a judging criteria driven by one’s own personal “contemporary” taste, all of which nobody would expect to be reading in such a prestigious quality newspaper as the Washington Post (f.e. section commenting my arrangement of Brahms Violin Concerto that since its premiere and CD-recording in Atlanta had many highly successful performances a.o. BBC Proms in London, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Easter Festival Hamburg, and Chopin Festival Warsaw to delight of both audiences and musicians); all of that appearing so prominently on google search engines for years now can be only misleading and misinforming to my wider audiences, fans and supporters in this internet era we all live in.

Therefore, as a still active pianist and composer in my 30s who just premiered my first very own Piano Concerto in Istrian Style, op. 18 at the Aspen Music Festival and with concert plans in the next few seasons on all six continents, may I hereby – and that for the very first time in my career (sic!) – kindly ask you to take this very article off the internet?

With many thanks in advance for your reaction and/or cooperation!

Best wishes,

Dejan Lazic

The letter was routed into a queue and cc’d to me, and I set out to respond. I failed, however, to put it at the top of my priority list (which was definitely a black mark against me), and before I answered, Lazic wrote again. This time, he cited the “Right to be forgotten” law which was passed in May, 2014, in the EU, stating that under certain conditions, if the information in question were “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive,” the affected individual would have the right to ask to have it taken down.
Lazic didn’t actually invoke this law (which wouldn’t have applied in this American case), nor did he apply to Google. However, his mention of it caught the eye of a Post editor who suggested that Caitlin Dewey, who writes about digital and Internet culture for the Post, might want to examine this as an example of the possible ramifications of the “Right to be Forgotten.”

Thanks to Dewey’s article, and the ensuing cloud of on-line and media attention that it sparked, neither Lazic nor my review of him will be lost to Google for years to come. Some people have reacted as if Lazic were threatening something fundamental to our society. Some have reacted with humor; I’ve heard a lot about the “Streisand Effect.” (“Maybe @classicalbeat should just let artists write her reviews of them. For ‘truth,’” said @JenWang, a composer, on Twitter; the blogger Jay Harvey wrote a long parody about an artist consumed with his own image control.) And some have agreed with the gist of what Lazic said in a subsequent post on his Website, that part of the issue is a reviewer who is known for tough reviews and is running roughshod over the music world with her uninformed, one-sided opinions. “Anne Midgette is really mean, and lots of musicians don’t like the reviews she writes about them,” as the website Techdirt summed it up.

I have three main thoughts about what I have been jokingly calling “The Lazic affair.” The first is sympathy for artists who have to deal with reviews. A number of musicians have pointed out, since Lazic’s letter, that you have to learn to take it on the chin as they have, and I agree and admire them for doing it, but that doesn’t mean that it’s an easy thing to do. I write for the audience, not for the artist, and I always encourage artists to do their best not to read reviews at all, since even the most kindly-meant write-up may contain a line or two that can lodge in the subject’s brain and fester. (I once praised a singer’s “beautifully acted” performance, and got yelled at for the tacit criticism of his singing.).

The second is surprise at the degree of attention Lazic’s letter has gotten, given that it did not have, and never could have had, any actual consequences. All he did was write two letters to the Washington Post, stating a request that the Post never remotely considered granting. I’m sure that in the days when George Clooney was single, many women wrote him stating their desire to marry him, yet no one seriously thought Clooney was at risk of succumbing. Obviously, Lazic’s request has struck a nerve, touching on our basic uncertainty about Google, the internet, journalism, and the rules that govern them all.

Which leads to my third thought: that Lazic has a point. I don’t agree that the review should be taken down. But I do think it’s worth discussing, in this evolving internet climate, the way that decisions are effectively made about what information clings to you and what falls away. Lazic didn’t like the review, and he doesn’t like me, but his main point all along has been that he is tired of being dogged by this single review after all this time. There are a lot of factors involved in how prominently something appears in a Google search, including how many hits it has and your own search history; furthermore, my review is also almost certainly one of the longest devoted exclusively to Lazic in a major newspaper. But perhaps there’s another way to present the information. Google already has search categories for news, images, videos, shopping, etc; perhaps it could create a separate category for opinion pieces? It’s a pipe dream, but there may be other, better ideas.

The internet has not entirely hurt Lazic. He hasn’t come off too well in the public eye, but he feels he’s had his say, and been heard. Today, he and I talked on WQXR’s podcast “Conducting Business.”

As for me, I think the ultimate purpose of a music review has been upheld: not to impose my opinion on a bunch of people who will blindly agree with it; not, heaven forfend, to provoke artists to retaliation; but to put out one opinion in the knowledge that there are others, in the hopes that this will lead to continuing dialogues about the art form.

My reputation as a tough reviewer seems to be here to stay, regardless of how many rave reviews I write of performances by Matthias Goerne, the Takacs Quartet, Evgeny Kissin, Julia Bullock, Jamie Barton, Nico Muhly and Pekka Kuusisto, WNO’s Siegfried and Goetterdaemmerung. But a label, once applied, is hard to lose. Which is exactly what Lazic is complaining about. I guess, thanks to my review, he’ll have to put up with being known as “a pianist of prodigious gifts” forever.

Was my review wrong? At least one reader thinks so. Caitlin Dewey, after her article ran, got an e-mail from someone who was at that 2010 concert, and who said my review had been too kind.