Anthony Tommasini

Anthony Carl Tommasini (born 14 April 1948) is an American music critic and author who specializes in classical music.[1] Described as "a discerning critic, whose taste, knowledge and judgment have made him a must-read",[2] Tommasini was the chief classical music critic for The New York Times from 2000 to 2021. Also a pianist, he has released two CDS and two books on the music of his colleague and mentor Virgil Thomson.

Anthony Tommasini
Born (1948-04-14) 14 April 1948 (age 74)
Brooklyn, New York
Alma mater
Notable credit(s)

A classical music enthusiast since his youth, Tommasini attended both Yale University and Boston University to study piano, and then taught music at Emerson College. In 1986 he left academia to write music criticism for the The Boston Globe. Tommasini joined the Times in 1996 and became their music critic in 2000 for over two decades. He traveled to cover important premieres of contemporary classical music, encouraged diversity in both classical repertoire and ensembles, and wrote books covering influential operas and composers.

Early life and educationEdit

Anthony Carl Tommasini was born in Brooklyn, New York on 14 April 1948.[1][a] He grew up in a family of five in Malverne on Long Island, New York.[3][4] Though his parents were not musically inclined, Tommasini was interested in classical music from a young age.[5] Beginning piano lessons in his youth, at 16 years of age he won a piano competition at The Town Hall in Manhattan, performing a Mozart concerto.[6] From age 15 on, he regularly attended the Metropolitan Opera, with operas by Puccini being particular favorites.[4] Other impressionable performances included Joan Sutherland as Lucia in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor; Birgit Nilsson as the title role of Puccini's Turandot; Renata Tebaldi as Mimì in Puccini's La bohème; and Leontyne Price as the title role of Verdi's Aida.[6] From his teens, Tommasini also cites a performance of Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic in Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring as particularly inspirational.[7] He was a fan of the pianist Rudolf Serkin, whose recitals he frequently attended, and was overwhelmed by Igor Stravinsky conducting the Symphony of Psalms at the Lincoln Center.[8] A graduate of Saint Paul's School in Garden City, New York,[9] Tommasini studied piano with Donald Currier at Yale University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts (1970) and a Master of Music (1972).[1] He subsequently earned a Doctor of Musical Arts (1982) from Boston University, during which he studied with the pianist Leonard Shure.[1] A decade later, he won the 1998 Boston University School of Music Distinguished Alumni Award.[6]


Based in Boston, Tommasini taught music at Emerson College from 1978 to 1986, and also led nonfiction writing workshops at Wesleyan University and Brandeis University.[1] At Emerson, he met the composer Virgil Thomson in 1985, and Thomson became both a friend and mentor.[10] Tommasini published a survey of Thomson's piano music, Virgil Thomson's Musical Portraits (1986),[11] which was a revision and expansion of his 1982 DMA dissertation.[12] He was denied tenure at Emerson College, as the college eliminated his position; Tommasini later noted that although disappointing, "the best thing that ever happened to me was not getting tenure at Emerson, or I might still be there, and none of [my future criticism career] would've happened".[10] In response, Tommasini turned to music criticism.[10] He was a freelancer, and wrote for The Boston Globe for a decade, beginning in 1986.[6]

Tommasini became a staff writer for The New York Times in 1996, and was promoted to chief classical music critic in 2000.[6] In addition to Thomson, his mentors include Richard Dyer, who was chief classical music critic of The Boston Globe for 33 years.[6] At the Times, Tommasini traveled for important premieres of contemporary classical music, including Saariaho's L'Amour de loin (2000), Adès's The Tempest (2004) and Turnage's Anna Nicole (2011).[2] He covered certain musicians particularly often, such as Peter Serkin, Leif Ove Andsnes, Michael Tilson Thomas and Esa-Pekka Salonen.[2] Tommasini often advocated for increased diversity in the classical music world;[2] his comment that "American orchestras should think a little less about how they play and a little more about what they play and why they play it" is often quoted.[7] In this regard, his colleagues at the Times described him as "something of a provocateur: challenging the field to take more risks, embrace new music and rethink old, hidebound habits".[2] Tommasini's 2020 article which suggested blind auditions be abandoned so race can be considered to assist in diversifying ensembles was met with "intense debate".[2][13] Tommasini stepped down from his post in 2021; with a 21 year tenure he has been chief classical music critic of The New York Times for the longest period since Olin Downes.[2][b] In April 2022, music critic Zachary Woolfe was named Tommasini's successor as chief classical music critic for the Times.[15]

Tommasini is the author of Virgil Thomson: Composer on the Aisle,[16] which received the 1998 ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award, and Opera: A Critic's Guide to the 100 Most Important Works and the Best Recordings.[17][12] Also a pianist, Tommasini made two recordings of music by Virgil Thomson for Northeastern Records, Portraits and Self-Portraits and Mostly About Love: Songs and Vocal Works.[12] Both were funded through grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.[12]

Tommasini lives on Central Park West in Manhattan, New York City with his husband Ben McCommon, who is a psychiatrist.[6][8] After his leave from the Times at the end of 2021, Tommasini said he might return to teaching, and that he has two further book ideas.[7]

Selected publicationsEdit

  • Tommasini, Anthony (1986). Virgil Thomson's Musical Portraits. New York: Pendragon Press.[18][19]
  • —— (1997). Virgil Thomson: Composer on the Aisle. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.[20][21]
  • —— (2004). The New York Times Essential Library: Opera: A Critic's Guide to the 100 Most Important Works and the Best Recordings. New York: Times Books.
  • —— (2018). The Indispensable Composers: A Personal Guide. New York: Penguin Press.[22][23][24]


Recordings by Anthony Tommasini[12]
Year Album Performers Label
1990 Portraits and Self Portraits
Works by Virgil Thomson
Anthony Tommasini, piano; and Sharan Leventhal violin Northeastern Records[25][26]
1994 Mostly about Love: Songs and Vocal Works
Works by Virgil Thomson
Anthony Tommasini, piano; various others[c] Northeastern Records[27][28]


  1. ^ See Tommasini's full name, Anthony Carl Tommasini, in Tommasini (1984, p. 234)
  2. ^ Olin Downes was chief classical music critic for 31 years, from 1924 to 1955.[14]
  3. ^ Nancy Armstrong, soprano; D'Anna Fortunato, mezzo-soprano; Frank Kelley and Paul Kirby tenor; Sanford Sylvan, baritone; David Ripley, bass; James Russell Smith, percussion.[27]


  1. ^ a b c d e Ceriani 2016, para. 1.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Cruz, Gilbert; Cooper, Michael (15 November 2021). "A Coda, and Many Bravos, for Anthony Tommasini". The New York Times Company. Retrieved 4 December 2021.
  3. ^ Peterson, Tyler (4 October 2013). "NY Times' Anthony Tommasini, Director Tony Palmer Set for CCM's Richard Wagner Celebration this Month". BroadwayWorld. Retrieved 1 February 2022.
  4. ^ a b Seligson 2011, p. 22.
  5. ^ Seligson 2011, pp. 22–24.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Seligson 2011, p. 24.
  7. ^ a b c Tommasini, Anthony (18 December 2021). "Anthony Tommasini, classical critic for the Times, looks back ahead of retirement" (Interview). Interviewed by Scott Simon. National Public Radio. Retrieved 25 January 2022.
  8. ^ a b "Talk to the Newsroom: Chief Classical Music Critic". The New York Times. 8 February 2009. Retrieved 2 February 2022.
  9. ^ Seligson 2011, p. 25.
  10. ^ a b c Seligson 2011, p. 26.
  11. ^ Tommasini 1986.
  12. ^ a b c d e Ceriani 2016, para. 2.
  13. ^ Tommasini 2020.
  14. ^ Newsom, Jon (2001). "Downes, (Edwin) Olin". Grove Music Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.08109. Retrieved 1 February 2022. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  15. ^ Cruz, Gilbert; Michel, Sia (5 April 2022). "Zachary Woolfe Named Classical Music Critic". The New York Times Company. Retrieved 5 April 2022.
  16. ^ Tommasini 1997.
  17. ^ Tommasini 2004.
  18. ^ McCarthy, S. Margaret William (Spring 1988). "Reviewed Works: Virgil Thomson's Musical Portraits by Anthony Tommasini; Virgil Thomson: A Bio-Bibliography by Michael Meckna". American Music. 6 (1): 106–108. doi:10.2307/3448356. JSTOR 3448356.
  19. ^ Meckna, Michael (1989). "Reviewed Work: Virgil Thomson's Musical Portraits by Anthony Tommasini". The Musical Quarterly. 73 (1): 144–146. JSTOR 741863.
  20. ^ Dickinson, Peter (August 1999). "Reviewed Work: Virgil Thomson: Composer on the Aisle by Anthony Tommasini". Music & Letters. 80 (3). JSTOR 855054.
  21. ^ Croan, Robert (5 October 1997). "'Virgil Thomson: Composer On The Aisle' by Anthony Tommasini". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Archived from the original on 5 December 2004. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  22. ^ Lopate, Phillip (29 November 2018). "The Greatest Composers Ever". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  23. ^ Croan, Robert (13 January 2019). "'Indispensable Composers': Anthony Tommasini's opinionated guide to classical composers". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  24. ^ "Anthony Tommasini". Harvard Book Store. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  25. ^ "Portraits and Self Portraits". WorldCat. Retrieved 1 February 2022.
  26. ^ Virgil Thomson: Portraits and Self Portraits at AllMusic
  27. ^ a b "Mostly about Love: Songs and Vocal Works". WorldCat. Retrieved 1 February 2022.
  28. ^ Mostly about Love: Songs and Vocal Works at AllMusic


External linksEdit