Ross, Alex 1968-

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Ross, Alex 1968-


Born 1968, in Washington, DC; married partner Jonathan Lisecki (an actor and film director), 2005. Education: Harvard University, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1990.


Home—New York, NY. Office—New Yorker, 4 Times Sq., New York, NY, 10036. Agent—Tina Bennett, Janklow & Nesbit Associates, 445 Park Ave., New York, NY 10022.


Writer, journalist, and music critic. New York Times, music critic, 1992-96; New Yorker, music critic, 1996—.


Two-time recipient, ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for music criticism; Holtzbrinck fellowship, American Academy of Berlin; Banff Centre fellowship; National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, 2007, Best Books of 2007 list, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York magazine, Time, Newsweek, and Economist, and Pulitzer Prize finalist for general nonfiction, 2008, all for The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century.


The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals, including the New Republic, Lingua Franca, Slate, London Review of Books, Fanfare, and Feed.

Author of Web blog, The Rest Is Noise.


Alex Ross, music critic for the New Yorker, wrote Jan Swafford in a review for Wilson Quarterly, is "one of our most talented practitioners of the art of the feuilleton, the popular journal piece." Born and raised in Washington, DC, Ross bought his first album, a recording of Anton Bruckner's 9th Symphony, at age ten. From an early age, he had a fondness for classical music; he did not discover the music of Bob Dylan, for example, until he was in his twenties. Ross attended Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, studying music under the composer Peter Lieberson, and was also the classical music disc jockey for the campus radio station. Also majoring in English, Ross graduated summa cum laude in 1990 and began writing freelance music reviews for Fanfare magazine, earning a meager two dollars per review. He did not think of himself as a music critic at this stage, but when he placed a review with the New Republic, editor Leon Wieseltier convinced Ross that he should consider music criticism as a profession. Through the intercession of Wieseltier, Ross was employed by the New York Times as "a stringer writing about classical music for the culture desk," stated Doree Shafrir in a review for the New York Observer Online. Soon, he also began placing articles with the New Yorker, and by 1996 he was hired full time as the magazine's classical music critic. In 2004, Ross wrote an article for the New Yorker that stirred controversy among music critics and musicians alike. He contended that classical music had been in a way "held captive" to an elite group for over a century, and he was determined to demonstrate that classical music could be appreciated by a much wider audience than it had been in the past. Meanwhile, Ross was also gathering notes for a musical tour of the twentieth century. His first book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, was published in the United States in 2007 and in England in 2008. As Swafford noted, "Ross has turned his feuilletonist's sensibility to a longer form, the book, and he's made a terrific debut on the big stage."

Ross's book opens with Salome, by Richard Strauss, and ends with Nixon in China, by John Adams, "emblematic operas from the beginning and the end of a challenging musical epoch," as described by New York Sun Online reviewer Adam Kirsch. In between an analysis of these works, Ross studies composers, from Gustav Mahler and Jean Sibelius to Arnold Schoenberg, Dmitri Shostakovich, Aaron Copland, and George Gershwin; from post-Romanticism to atonality and avant-garde modernism. "Wherever music has flourished or struggled valiantly for survival, over the last hundred years, Mr. Ross is there," observed Kirsch, who also commented, "The result is a massively erudite book that takes care to wear its learning lightly."

Ross divides the twentieth century into three epochs: 1900-33, 1933-45, and 1945-2000. In the first era covered in the book, he includes not only Strauss, Sibelius, and Mahler, but also Claude Debussy, Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, Maurice Ravel, Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, and Carl Orff. In the second era, Ross discusses composers such as Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Paul Hindemith, and Hans Pfitzner. He also includes American composers such as Copland and Gershwin. In the third section, Ross writes about composers including Olivier Messiaen, Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Benjamin Britten, and John Cage. As Shafrir noted, Ross's book offers "a rereading of the conventional wisdom about 20th-century classical music: that avant-garde, atonal music was the important music of the century and that in some ways all modern classical music is derived from it." Instead, Ross attempts to provide, Shafrir added, "a complete reorientation of how classical music is appreciated: as part of culture as a whole, not a hermetically sealed world unto itself."

Thus, Ross focuses on music criticism for about a fifth of the book's six-hundred-forty pages. The rest of the book includes biographical profiles and cultural criticism, making it as much a history of the twentieth century as it is a survey of twentieth-century music. Neither does Ross confine himself to the major composers of the twentieth century, but he also introduces readers to the work of Duke Ellington, the Velvet Underground, and Lou Reed, among numerous others. The Rest Is Noise earned critical acclaim both in the United States and England, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism in 2007, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2008. Library Journal contributor Larry Lipkis found the book to be a "rich and engrossing history," while Susan Miron, a reviewer for Christian Science Monitor, called it "a brilliant, hugely enjoyable, cultural history." In a review for the Denver Post, Kyle MacMillan commented that Ross's book was a "towering accomplishment," a "genuine page-turner," and "a fresh, eloquent and superbly researched book." Bryan Appleyard, in a review for the London Sunday Times, termed the work a "marvellous book." Beryl Bainbridge, a contributor to the London Observer, stated that Ross, as a writer, "will fascinate, challenge and delight you, but above all he will never, ever patronise you." His book, Bainbridge added, "is littered with great tales—of scandal, revolution, intrigue, lust, greed, shattered dreams and vaunting ambition and they all give this book its extraordinary zest and fluency." A New Criterion critic also had praise for The Rest Is Noise, and termed it "elegant, witty, often even poetic." The same critic, however, identified numerous editing and spelling errors in the text. Other critics voiced disappointment in the seeming exclusion of some important composers, especially British composers, such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Elgar, and Michael Tippett, while others did not agree with the eminence Ross ascribes to some of his favorites, such as Shostakovich and Britten.

On the whole, however, most critics concurred with Swafford, who concluded that Ross "consistently connects classical music to the life of creators and of cultures, and so conveys as few writers do the human reality of the music." Most reviewers agreed with Opera News writer Jonathan Rabb, who observed: "Ross's achievement is all the more astounding because it makes music essential to the understanding of history beyond the history of the music itself."



Booklist, October 15, 2007, Alan Hirsch, review of The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, p. 18.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, April 1, 2008, J.P. Ambrose, review of The Rest Is Noise, p. 1348.

Christian Science Monitor, October 23, 2007, Susan Miron, "Alex Ross on the Music of an Untamed Era," review of The Rest Is Noise, p. 15.

Commentary, October, 2007, Terry Teachout, review of The Rest Is Noise.

Economist, October 27, 2007, "Music, War and Politics Intertwined; Twentieth-Century Music," review of The Rest Is Noise, p. 98.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2007, review of The Rest Is Noise.

Library Journal, October 1, 2007, Larry Lipkis, review of The Rest Is Noise, p. 74.

Nation, October 29, 2007, David Schiff "Sound Check," review of The Rest Is Noise, p. 25.

National Post, December 8, 2007, Craig Seligman, review of The Rest Is Noise, p. 13.

New Criterion, January 1, 2008, "Play On," review of The Rest Is Noise, p. 72.

New Republic, December 31, 2007, Joseph Kerman, "Sound and Vision," review of The Rest Is Noise, p. 39.

New Statesman, March 24, 2008, Anna Picard, "Sound and Visions," review of The Rest Is Noise, p. 54.

New York Times Book Review, October 28, 2007, Geoff Dyer, "Century's Playlist," review of The Rest Is Noise, p. 1.

Observer (London, England), February 17, 2008, Beryl Bainbridge, review of The Rest Is Noise.

Opera News, November 1, 2007, Jonathan Rabb, review of The Rest Is Noise, p. 76.

Publishers Weekly, July 23, 2007, review of The Rest Is Noise, p. 55.

Reference & Research Book News, February 1, 2008, review of The Rest Is Noise.

Spectator, March 1, 2008, Rupert Christiansen, "Plunging into the Hurly-Burly," review of The Rest Is Noise, p. 31.

Sunday Times (London, England), February 24, 2008, Bryan Appleyard, review of The Rest Is Noise.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), December 29, 2007, James Marcus, "Not So Harmonious: Alex Ross Takes a Look at Contemporary Classical Music and Artists," review of The Rest Is Noise, p. 10.

Wichita Eagle (Wichita, KS), December 16, 2007, "‘Noise’ Brings Harmony to Modern Music," review of The Rest Is Noise.

Wilson Quarterly, September 22, 2007, Jan Swafford, "Music Recital," review of The Rest Is Noise, p. 95.

ONLINE, (June 30, 2008), "2007 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalists," author information.

Denver Post Online, (February 9, 2008), Kyle MacMillan, review of The Rest Is Noise.

High Hat, (June 30, 2008), Steve Hicken, review of The Rest Is Noise.

New York Observer Online, (October 9, 2007), Doree Shafrir, "The Best Listener in America," author interview.

New York Sun Online, (September 26, 2007), Adam Kirsch, review of The Rest Is Noise., (November 2, 2007), Kevin Berger, review of The Rest Is Noise. Living, (March 16, 2008), John Burnside, review of The Rest Is Noise.

Seattle Weekly Online, (October 17, 2007), Gavin Borchert, review of The Rest Is Noise.

Telegraph Online (London, England), (May 23, 2008), Ivan Hewett, review of The Rest Is Noise.

Time Out New York Online, (October 11, 2007), Hank Shteamer, review of The Rest Is Noise.