Alex Ross ’90 has been a music critic at The New Yorker since 1996. While at Harvard, Ross DJed his own radio show with WHRB, an experience that later informed his first book: “The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century,” winner of the 2007 National Book Critics’ Circle Award. The following interview has been edited for concision.
How do you think your experience at Harvard had an impact on your trajectory in a way that another school might not have?
It’s hard to picture how my life might have turned out differently if I hadn’t gone to Harvard. It’s one of many great schools in the country, and I could have obtained an equally fine education elsewhere. But I don’t think I would have encountered a place quite like WHRB, which had a huge influence on my future career. Without it, I don’t think I would have become a music critic. The University has not always been strongly supportive of WHRB, which is a terrible mistake. It’s an extraordinary phenomenon on the American college landscape.
What’s your favorite part or the most interesting aspect of your job?
The really wonderful thing about my current job is that The New Yorker gives me time to work on pieces over an extended period. I can immerse myself both in the research process and in the act of writing. So much journalism these days is done in a rush; the gift of time is precious.
What’s your most recent project, or one thing you are looking forward to accomplishing?
I’m currently at work on a book called “Wagnerism,” recounting Wagner’s enormous impact on the art and literature of the late nineteenth century and beyond. It’s like going back to college, in a way: I’m reading or re-reading dozens of books that I skipped over or failed to grasp fully when I was an English major. It won’t be about Wagner per se, but I hope that the reader will emerge with a different view—or many different views—of this widely misunderstood composer.
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