Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Glitz, Celebrity & Sex Appeal in Classical Music

Written by: Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

One of my musical heroes, Gidon Kremer, recently cancelled out of playing in the Verbier Festival in Switzerland. In a, public letter to the director Mr. Kremer decries a classical music world "in which 'stars' count more than creativity, ratings more than genuine talent, numbers more than...sounds." He also points out a "misguided fixation with glamour and sex appeal."
By extension then, should the classical music world be reserved for talented, creative, great sounding people that are unknown, underrated, sell poorly, and are dull and unappealing? Would it be better if they were downright ugly?

If the classical music genre was cruising at the top of the world in terms of recorded music sales and ticket sales, I would concede that Mr. Kremer has a point. Unfortunately, a cold look at the statistics shows that pop and rock make up more than 50% of global sales, classical about 5%. In the last decade, all recorded music sales have dropped substantially, but the classical music genre has dropped about twice as much as rock and pop. Several orchestras in the U.S. are in financial difficulty and it's not because their halls can't hold the crowds that are trying to get into the concerts.

I think there needs to be a balance.

World famous cellist Janos Starker strongly dislikes theatrics with music performance. He feels that the music will speak for itself, and the musicians task is simply that of an interpreter. I would guess that Gidon Kremer would be in agreement. Both of these men are musical geniuses that I greatly admire, however, throughout the history of classical music there has always been room for the dramatic and appealing interpreter. Many of these "stars" have introduced classical music to new generations.

Let's start with Paganini. He was a tall, slim and very elegant man. He was known as much for his gambling and womanizing as he was for his prodigious violin talents. He would have the chandeliers snuffed out at just the right moment in his performances, causing the beautiful ladies in attendance to swoon and faint. He was known for cutting three of the four strings on his violin and then playing "Witches Dance" on the remaining string. Was he a star? Definitely. Highly rated? He had to work to get there, but yes he was. Sex appeal? A ton of it. Glamorous? Yes! He was also talented and creative. And his pieces still wow audiences today.

Ole Bull, the great Norwegian violinist, is another of my favorite examples of glitz, glamour, talent and sex appeal. He was a tall and very handsome interpreter and creator. After achieving widespread success in Europe, he was sponsored on a tour of the U.S. by the Sons Of Norway. Ole was a master of marketing. Before ever leaving for America, he had soaps, perfume bottles, and cosmetics made with his picture on them. These were shipped and sold in America long before he himself ever arrived, making his name and face already recognizable. He played and wrote both serious works and lighter, flashier pieces. He knew how to keep his audience engaged.

Gregor Piatigorsky was a giant of a cellist with huge hands, a broad smile and a very elegant demeanor. He would sometimes hoist his Stradivarius cello over his head in an easy triumphal salute at the end of a concert. Simply put, women loved him!

One of the common criticisms of the very beautiful and talented Jacqueline du Pre' was that she moved around too much. She would sway and almost dance with her cello and the music. It was very beautiful to see and helped the audience understand what Jacqueline was trying to express. She was immensely popular.

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photo by Allan Warren
For pianists, the art of flamboyance did not start with Liberace and his candelabra. Many other serious classical pianists dressed lavishly and gave their concerts in very elegant settings. During the 1950s and 1960s, Liberace was the world's highest paid entertainer. He introduced millions of people to Classical music. He loved his audience and they loved him!

Today there are many active performers that are able to use their looks and talents towards creative and financial success. Anne-Sophie Mutter has been appearing in strapless evening gowns for years. She looks mah-vah-luss in them, dahling. And she plays like a dream. She is successful enough to own not one but two Stradivarius violins!

I rarely run across a female classical music fan that doesn't think that Joshua Bell is incredibly handsome and sexy. Joshua Bell plays and owns the 1713 Gibson ex Huberman Stradivarius violin. The purchase price was a bit under $4,000,000. It would be hard to afford a violin of that quality without a lot of money from ticket sales and recordings.

Anne Akiko Meyers is a beautiful, talented and a very successful violinist. Her recordings and concerts range from the serious to the light and beautiful. Anne's version of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" is intensely beautiful. She owns two Stradivarius violins as well. One of her Stradivarius violins, the ex-Napoleon/Molitor of 1697, is one of the most valuable violins in the world. Personally, I like her "sound" better than any other violinist today.

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Andre Rieu

Photo by Karl-Heinz Meurer
Andre Rieu is not my favorite musician on earth, but I'll give him credit for drawing in huge numbers of people that might not ordinarily listen to classical music. I like his eye contact with the audience, his stage presence, and all the eye candy that is on the stage with him. Good hair too!

There are many, many other examples of good looking Classical music stars. Is that so bad?

Obviously, not all of us can be a great combination of looks and talent. And even if we are, time will take its toll on the looks part. But not all classical music has to be deadly serious, intellectual and dowdy. There should be room for fun, sex appeal and glamour.

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1 comment:

  1. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.