Church And Patner Memorialized At Critics Gathering


Editor’s note: The following remembrance of critics Francis L. Church and Andrew Patner was written and delivered by Lawrence B. Johnson, editor of, on June 13 at the Music Critics Association of North America convention in San Francisco.

Remembering Francis Church and Andrew PatnerFrancis L. Church, the longtime music critic for the Richmond News Leader, died last August at age 87.

I loved this obit lead from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, or anyway this is my reading of it: As a boy, Francis Church took piano lessons long enough to lose interest.

But then the writer explains that one day Francis picked up a cello, and never put it down.

Francis was a musician-critic. He loved the adventure of contemporary music and, tellingly, spent a stretch of time as second-chair cello with the modernist-oriented Louisville Symphony.

He arrived at The Richmond News Leader in 1976 as classical music critic and multi-tasking editor, roles he continued to play until his retirement in 1991. But even after retirement he basically just kept on keeping on, working as a freelance writer until very near the end of his life.

Francis was an authentic man of parts. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard – in government. But his heart beat for music.

A former editor at the News Leader described Francis’ body of critical work as highly respected throughout the greater Richmond area for its thoughtfulness and craft.

“He strived to increase interest in and appreciation of Richmond’s vibrant and varied classical music offerings while still recognizing the occasional off notes among the many high notes,” the editor said.

Colleagues recalled Francis’s encyclopedic knowledge of classical music, the humor he typically delivered with a deadpan expression, and his heart-on-sleeve caring nature.

I barely knew Francis, except to see him at these conventions and to accept his ever-radiant greeting. But I always enjoyed a chat with him. He was an instantly endearing man.


Andrew Patner was my colleague in Chicago. He died quite suddenly on Feb. 3 of this year at age 55.

To put it too succinctly, Andrew was critic at large for WFMT radio and contributing music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. It is more expressive of the achievement and import of this native Chicagoan that his passing was mourned by the city’s entire classical music community. Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra dedicated performances of the Mozart Requiem to his memory. The Lyric Opera of Chicago hosted a memorial celebration of Andrew’s life.

Andrew was known for his intellectual range and curiosity. His critical realm extended well beyond classical music to theater and dance, art and architecture, cabaret, books and film.

With his love of the arts came very strong opinions, and great enthusiasm for engaging his many followers in discourse about anything and everything.

As John von Rhein wrote in the Chicago Tribune:

“Patner regarded his radio, print and Internet following rather as an extended family of friends (and even foes) with whom he could trade opinions and stir up discussion of just about any hot-button issue in the arts world. He relished the role of cultural arbiter, the voice of taste and experience at the center of the fray. And he played that role to the hilt.”

But it took a Brit to capture Andrew with precise brevity: Anthony Freud, the Lyric Opera’s general director, said: “He was a profoundly intelligent man of great wisdom.”

(A moment of silence followed this reading.)