Former Pioneer Press classical music critic Michael Fleming dies – Twin Cities


Michael Fleming, classical music critic and columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press from 1988 to 2000, died May 2 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

A Pioneer Press promotional ad for Michael Fleming.

Fleming, 71, was an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota and graduated from William Mitchell College of Law in 1996. In an email, his husband of 43 years, Michael Wegs, described Fleming as “a Renaissance man of letters, a scholar of the Baroque, and an incisive newspaperman and interviewer.”

Fleming also wrote for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram and the St. Petersburg Times. His work appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, Boston Globe and New Grove Dictionary of Music in the United States.  The St. Petersburg Times nominated his commentary for the 1986 Pulitzer Prize.

Wegs said Fleming once coaxed renowned pianist Van Cliburn to discuss his career for the first time in 25 years for the New York  Times.

“He also interviewed arts luminaries such as Luciano Pavarotti (on two occasions in his native tongue); Elizabeth Schwarzkopf (in German); the Danish danseur noble and choreographer, Eric Bruhn,” Wegs said in an email.

Fleming was born in Cincinnati on May 15, 1949. During his time in the Twin Cities, he was awarded study and travel grants from the Center for Arts Criticism in St. Paul. Following his graduation from law school, he specialized in wills and trusts as a lawyer in the Twin Cities.

An archive search finds more than 1,250 reviews and pieces written by Fleming for the Pioneer Press during his years with the newspaper.

Former Pioneer Press music writer Jim Tarbox covered pop and country music when Fleming was at the paper and said he wasn’t very well versed in classical, but Fleming “was always pretty charming helping me with classical music.”

Roy Close had been the classical music critic for about five years in the early 1980s and hired Fleming after Close became the entertainment editor. “I was looking for a good writer,” Close said. “One who could write concisely, clearly and who could write fast.”

Music writers usually had less than an hour to file a review to make deadline for the next day’s paper.

“Michael was very professional, very skilled,” Close said. “He had a tendency to be thorny and was a bit of a prima donna,” he added. “He had high standards. It wasn’t all about his ego.

“He was a good writer and a thoughtful critic,” Close said. “I liked working with him a lot.”

Fleming retired to Cedar Rapids in 2007 to be near family.

A private memorial service was held May 4 in Cedar Rapids.

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