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Remembering Chicago Music Critic Andrew Patner

The longtime culture writer died Tuesday morning at the age of 55.

Andrew Patner.   Photo: Courtesy of Israel Wright

The last time I saw Andrew Patner—but didn’t even say hello to him, which I regret—was eight days ago, at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s season announcement. It took place in a posh room many stories above Michigan Avenue, with cameras, swag, and a catered lunch. I wore a tie, matching most attendees in formality. Patner wore jeans and a button-down—his signature style.

For most of the event, the CSO’s music director, Riccardo Muti, held court and digressed wildly as he described the orchestra’s 2015–16 season and its goals for the future. He answered most questions with avid good humor and charm, setting a congenial, who’s-having-a-great-time? tone for the conference. The one question that knocked him off balance was Patner’s, about why the new season focused so much on core Austro-German repertoire. I didn’t write down or record Muti’s answer verbatim, but I think it started, slightly pettishly, with “Look, Andrew . . .”

Patner’s question, which not incidentally brought about an interesting answer to the effect that an orchestra that plays Mozart well can play everything well, also gently reasserted the professional dynamic, short-circuiting some of the chumminess that can threaten journalistic objectivity. His unshakable independence, so effortlessly communicated in the spoken and printed word, should teach any aspiring critic to understand the job’s reportorial underpinnings.

Patner died this morning. I heard about it while I was driving my daughter to school, listening to WFMT. As the news unfolded, my mind raced ahead of the words: Bad news? Someone’s dead. Someone in the classical-music community. Someone important or unexpected or both. Not until Carl Grapentine spoke Andrew Patner’s name did it cross my mind it could be him. So much himself eight days ago, gone today.

He not only had the decades of knowledge of the local music scene that an astute reporter would gather over the years; he also had a broad familiarity of more avenues of the arts than most of us can ever hope to, not to mention a mental Rolodex of the network of people who make the arts happen. 

Of all my fellow Chicago classical-music journalists, Patner was the one who showed me the greatest generosity. The first to learn my name (some still don’t know it, after three years on the beat), Patner always made a point to say hello or wave when we saw each other at a concert. He emailed me to let me know he’d read my work—even when it was dining-related instead of classical—and toss me an interesting fact or two I hadn’t known. We planned to have lunch and talk about the beat in the uncertain future.

And suddenly, we won’t. No more updates to his blog, no more radio spots, no more camaraderie at intermissions. Look, Andrew: Did you have to leave so soon?

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