CLEVELAND (CN) – The Plain Dealer’s longtime music critic Donald Rosenberg sued the newspaper and the manager of the Cleveland Orchestra for defamation, claiming The Musical Arts Association Severance Hall pressured the newspaper to pull him from the classical music beat, and the newspaper caved. The quarrel started when Rosenberg cited a Swiss magazine that quoted the symphony’s conductor, Franz Welser-Most, calling Cleveland “an inflated farmer’s village,” and many of its donors “blue hair ladies.”
Rosenberg often irked the symphony for criticizing what he felt were mediocre performances from the world-class orchestra. He claims the newspaper finally pulled the trigger after the Musical Arts Association and some major donors objected to his quoting from an article in the Zurich magazine, “Die Weltwoche.”
Rosenberg points out in his claim in Cuyahoga County Court that he didn’t make up these statements: he quoted the Swiss magazine.
Rosenberg’s complaint adds: “Welser-Most’s statements included the necessity in the United States of finding ‘rich widows’ to obtain private funding for culture.”
The three-way tiff between the critic, the newspaper and the symphony has made national news, with feature stories in The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Baltimore Sun and elsewhere.
Rosenberg’s complaint continues: “Welser-Most was reported to have stated that Friday matinee audiences of The Cleveland Orchestra performing in Severance Hall are filled with ‘”Blue Hair Ladies” because of the coloring of their hair’ and, further, that these ‘so-called “Blue Hair Audiences” largely comprise retirees who are too tired to attend performances at night.’ Welser-Most also reportedly said that to meet him personally, the ladies must donate and, further, that for $500, or even $5,000, ‘you don’t get a handshake from the music director.’ With a person who donated $10 million, ‘of course, you go to dinner.’ When asked how he liked Cleveland, Welser-Most described Cleveland as an ‘island’ with a world-class orchestra, further describing Cleveland as ‘an inflated farmer’s village.'”
Rosenberg says he “accurately reported the aforementioned quoted statements of Welser-Most in a reasonable and good faith effort to report the news”.
After the article came out, he says, the Cleveland Orchestra barred him from going backstage, from riding on the bus with the musicians, and from other access and privileges he had enjoyed for his 15 years covering the band.
In April, he says, the Plain Dealer shifted some of his duties to a stringer.
Rosenberg maintains that he was just doing his job. He points out that he wrote a book, ‘The Cleveland Orchestra Story: Second to None,” which he calls “the definitive, comprehensive account of the remarkable history of The Cleveland Orchestra.”
He demands damages for tortious interference, defamation and other charges. He is represented by Steven Sindell.