Music Critic Stephanie von Buchau Dies at Age 67

Classic Arts News   Music Critic Stephanie von Buchau Dies at Age 67
Stephanie von Buchau, a longtime music and arts critic in the San Francisco Bay area who was known for her frank and opinionated reviews, was found dead on December 19. She was 67 years old.

Von Buchau's feisty classical music and opera reviews ran in Bay Area publications and national magazines for over three decades, including the Pacific Sun (a Marin County weekly), Opera News, San Francisco magazine, the Oakland Tribune, the San Francisco Examiner and the Bay Area Reporter. In recent years, von Buchau often wrote under the pseudonym Tiger Hashimoto. She also wrote, passionately, about film, dance and food.

"The only truly objective critic is a dead critic," she once said, and her reviews were scathing towards those artists she felt missed the mark and lavishly warm towards those she adored.

One musician who felt von Buchau's wrath was cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, whose conducting skills she trashed in a 1975 review of his performance in Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades at San Francisco Opera. The review attracted international attention (Rostropovich and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, had only recently been expelled from the Soviet Union), and Kurt Herbert Adler, then the company's director, was so angry that he refused to give her press tickets for the rest of the season. Von Buchau's colleagues stood up for her, however, and her press seats were soon restored.

Von Buchau was born in San Francisco and attended local public schools. As a child, her parents often took her to performances of the San Francisco Symphony and Opera. She studied journalism at the University of Oregon and at San Francisco State, from which she received her bachelor's degree.

The San Francisco Chronicle quotes veteran Bay Area music and dance critic Allan Ulrich as saying, "Stephanie was blunt, insightful, cranky, outrageous and the voice of sweet reason, sometimes all in the same paragraph. She knew her business. And she was opinionated — she believed things should be a certain way in the arts. Whether you agreed with her or not — and I frequently disagreed violently with her — she stated her case cogently and wittily. She was damned entertaining to read."

Leslie Katz, von Buchau's editor at The Oakland Tribune, wrote in her obituary that "[von Buchau's] witty, take-no-prisoners style appealed to readers of all kinds, both music scholars who admired her seemingly endless knowledge as well as people who wouldn't know the difference between Bach and Beethoven, Wagner and Puccini. As her editor (and a person who falls more toward the latter category), I had the pleasure of reading dozens, if not hundreds, of her reviews. I laughed at something in just about every piece, learned a lot and in the process became a fan of the great artists she liked."

Von Buchau, adds Katz, "never bent in the face of pressure or popular opinion ... Never modest, she always was right and knew it."

But she could be fair: in what might have been her last review, dated December 21 in the Bay Area Reporter, von Buchau writes, "I have one rule about discussing singers, it's that I avoid raving or passing judgments on those I haven't heard live. Recordings are fun and even informative, but one should never substitute them for real life."

Linda Xigues, von Buchau's editor at Marin County's Pacific Sun for 24 years, told the Chronicle, "She had opinions about everything and expressed them very precisely and with a great deal of wit. She could be exasperating. She didn't suffer fools lightly — and she thought almost everybody was a fool."'

When von Buchau missed a deadline, reportedly an unprecedented event, Xigues alerted police, who discovered von Buchau's body in her Marin County home. No exact cause of death has been announced, though she had suffered from diabetes for a number of years.

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