Episode: As Soloists Aim For Glamour, Is Classical Music Going the Way of Pop?

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As Soloists Aim For Glamour, Is Classical Music Going the Way of Pop?

Scan through the websites and social media feeds of many orchestras, music festivals and concert halls and you'll notice a common theme: youth and sex appeal, especially when it comes to soloists. But it's more specific than that: Alluring young female violinists are everywhere – and brooding male conductors (or guitarists) with artfully-groomed stubble aren't far behind.

These musicians may well be talented and accomplished but their prominence also raises some questions: Is there room for less attractive soloists? And, as with Hollywood, do older women get shut out of opportunities?

Jessica Duchen, a classical music & dance journalist for The Independent newspaper and other publications, tells host Naomi Lewin: "I've heard some fantastic female pianists who might be overweight or they don't happen to look like supermodels, and they don't have the careers that they could. They literally do not."

Duchen recently interviewed a cellist who said that colleges and conservatories are favoring attractive performers in the admissions process. "I find this quite a disturbing thought," Duchen said.

Andrew Ousley, the head of the classical marketing and promotion company Unison Media (and formerly of Warner Classics), doesn't believe there's an epidemic of style trumping substance. While he admits that "sex appeal certainly can allow success to be amplified to a greater scale, it might be an oversimplification to say it's one of the main marketing tools that promoters use."

But Jessica Hadler, director of artist programs at Concert Artists Guild, which manages and promotes rising classical performers, says that if an orchestra is presented with two equally accomplished soloists, it will likely hire the more attractive of the two. She frequently coaches artists on matters of wardrobe and styling – and fields occasional complaints from venues about artists' choice of attire.

Whether attractive soloists' presence in concert halls is by design or happenstance – and whether it's a good or bad thing for the future of classical music – is an ongoing debate. But a question emerges: How many of them will have the sticking power of Martha Argerich and Mitsuko Uchida?

Duchen notes that "what somebody does at 50 or 60 is probably going to be a lot more interesting and mature and insightful than what somebody does at 22. It does seem to me that weeds out the sheep and the goats, if you like."

Listen to the segment above, look at the slideshow below, and tell us what you think in the comments: are standards of style changing on concert stages?

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