The addition of zeros

May 2, 2007 at 01:59 AM · Boris Goldowski had a theorem for careers called the addition of zeros. Take the following categories and mark them x or zero, talent, musicianship, appearance, personality, intangibles. If there is even one zero in the final addition it is questionable whether that person can have a career

Replies (100)

May 2, 2007 at 02:04 AM · that equation is almost worthless because there is no standard for what an "x" or an "0" is.

Also, the whole thing about people crying about soloists having to look great these days is kind of bull... compare classical music to the rest of entertainment. I think classical music is incredibly liberal in comparison.

May 2, 2007 at 03:43 AM · I never heard of Boris Goldowski. Which one was he lacking?

May 2, 2007 at 04:13 AM · Goldowski says "questionable," not "definitely impossible..."

The logical converse is that it is NOT questionable that a person can have a career if they have x's in all categories. The operative word is apparently "can."

May 2, 2007 at 04:40 AM · Sheesh, talk about a lot of undefined terms....

May 2, 2007 at 12:46 PM · Boris Goldowski was a well known operatic conductor of the 40's and 50's. Many people who worked with him went on to major careers. The theorem struck me as equally applicable to the violin since all of the performing arts require that many of the same things be brought to the plate--so to speak. Also the remarks about fat balding old men show up the differences in what is acceptable on the stage now and then.

May 2, 2007 at 12:54 PM · Oistrakh: big, fat, bald...and widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest ever.

Mischa Elman: short, dumpy, also bald....and also acknowledged as a real great.

Bronislaw Huberman...another legend, has anyone noticed he had cross-eyes?!

Szigeti: too tall and skinny as a spaghetti, also bald. And also a legend.

Maybe, for those "in the know", physical appearance really *doesn't * matter quite as much as we all like to say.

May 2, 2007 at 01:30 PM · Maura the people you mentioned played in a different time and place. The appearance quotient is only one part of the measurement. What constitues musicianship has changed greatly. We no longer endure long slow slides into position but they were once part of the violinist's playing palette. EVen repertoire has changed to reflect our changing tastes. What people look like is part of the performing arts. The movie stars of yesteryear would not all be taken seriously today--some yes, all no. Aesthetics change and tastes change.

May 2, 2007 at 02:21 PM · That's true. You're forced to conclude that it was some kind of hip to be short, fat, bald, and old back then. I figure Elvis messed it up. Or fixed it, depending on your point of view.

May 2, 2007 at 01:33 PM · it is one of those things on probability,,,just that someone tried to coin it like a law.

it makes sense to me. we can debate and argue,,,yet we walk around making decisions like such on a daily basis. does this violin seller seem trustworthy? (do you list). does this person walking behind me look like a mugger? (do your list but quick!) we can be wrong, but we never stop doing the lists...check, check, check.

if someone has all those good musician qualities to start, then the chance of making it is higher than someone lacking all those qualities, on the average in the long run. with those qualities, you may or may not succeed. without? we just call you a prodigy so you will go away?:) when in doubt, you should hedge the bet. for those of you that address your own kids as prodigies, hey, may the force be with you:) my kois eat food out of my hand without any instruction. prodigies?

often, you have 5 minutes to make your case and people in the position to judge you has about 5 seconds if not less. kinda unfair but just ask bell about his experience in the subway station. but that is the way it is. people will be treated as numbers until their distinctive voice is heard. actually it is more of a case of "unless" your voice is heard because more often than not, your voice is never heard, however distinctive.

nevertheless, even these days having a bald head and big belly do not suggest a flat out don't-bother, unless as a performing artist you do not have other more welcoming qualities to draw in your audience, or that, your audience cannot find you.

if you are a great musician, your bodily imperfections can look adorable and cute or even sexy! if you are not, hey,,,,disgusting? embarassing? socially unacceptable?

does being good looking help? absolutely but only to certain extent. for instance, a man too good looking or too well groomed often suggests something else.

May 2, 2007 at 03:39 PM · Or maybe our life is getting more stylized. This reminds me of an idle talk we were having among postdocs and grads in a science department a while ago. Two young faculty members' tenure was coming up. Someone remarked that being a good scientist wasn't good enough. Being in an ivy institution, to fit the bill of a high society, the candidate should also look presentable, tall and handsome. I don't know the outcome of tenure decision, if the homey looking candidate was denied tenure. I sure hope that wasn't the case and probably wasn't.


May 2, 2007 at 04:58 PM · ...but Jay, the violinists I mentioned were from the 1930's, '40s, '50s. Isn't that when Goldowski came up with this theorem?

May 2, 2007 at 06:11 PM · Perlman? Stern? You would be hard-pressed to give any of the older Jewish violinists (see Maura's list but I would hardly give Heifetz xs in some of those categories)lots of points in the last three categories, but that hardly stopped them. The people getting xs in those categories are, for the most part, more recent, I think. Thus, the system, to the extent it has any validity, may be more useful today.

May 2, 2007 at 06:23 PM · Exactly my point, Tom.

May 2, 2007 at 06:40 PM · I don't think that violinists like Ehnes, Kavakos or Zimmerman are getting concerts for their looks.

May 2, 2007 at 06:56 PM · I find it fascinating that everyone has concentrated on appearance rather than the other four factors mentioned. I would venture to say that some figures of the past known for their prickly personalities would have a tougher time today than yesteryear when artists were given leeway for being artists

May 2, 2007 at 09:00 PM · Jay, it's probably because we're just so used to vehement debates over marketing/appearance/oversexed cover pics of women violinists. It's a tradition.

Pieter, Kavakos isn't that bad-looking. A good point in general though.

May 2, 2007 at 10:06 PM · None of them are bad looking, but none of them are these hollywood stars either.

May 2, 2007 at 10:17 PM · Vengerov is a very good looking guy and there is at least one video of him with his shirt open down to there which is certainly trying to sell sex.

And as Pieter pointed out he is one of the most individual players of the current group.(I heard a gorgeous Bruch Concerto from him last night--but that a topic for another discussion.)

May 2, 2007 at 10:40 PM · I just looked through 7 pages of YouTube and the only clip of Vengerov I found where he wasn't in normal, respectable concert clothes was a bit of the Mendelssohn concerto in which good Mr. Vengerov was wearing an absolutely hideous bright pink shirt. (*exasperated sigh*.) And I have never seen anywhere any PR pics of him which are "certainly trying to sell sex." I'm not denying that he's good-looking or anything, but he doesn't need to rely on his looks to make such a great career for himself. And he's also not the type who would "sell out', I suspect you may have confused him with someone else.

May 2, 2007 at 10:32 PM · I think there's one thing missing from Goldowski's subjective equation that is crucial - the ability to "project" to or emotionally connect with the audience (mostly the sounds of the music, but it can also be appearance, gesture, charisma, or whatever). Maybe that's what Goldowski meant by "intangibles" (unless he was talking about being lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time).

For Heifetz, I think, it was purely in the music. His stage presence was beautifully professional, but visually he certainly projected an aura of intense concentration but also emotional isolation and occasionally disdain. Would he have made it in today's pop-star world only on his playing? Ysaye got obese, and he was loved all over the world. Huberman was not only wall-eyed, he also gave speeches and had serious lisp, but he was loved all over the world, too (except in Nazi Germany).

Kennedy connects with his audience in extra-musical ways; so does Bell and Vengerev and others. Perlman does, too, even though I find his facial grimaces distracting and unnecessary. I think the violinist today who seems to have the best balance between the playing, stage presence, mannerisms, and connecting with the audience is Hilary Hahn. Is that why she's so famous? Who knows. We know that Tartini and Paganini both used the same publicist - the Devil.

And, by the way, if all those great violinists were bald, how come it's called "long hair music"?

May 2, 2007 at 11:12 PM · >" come it's called "long-hair music"?"

Liszt's influence is still being felt today. :)

May 2, 2007 at 11:22 PM · Looks doesn't bug me. If anything it's the fact that after a certain age, they might as well bury you. That's probably universal really.

But once I was working with a bunch of older people from IBM and they said that in the old days at the initial interview they'd put good-looking people on one track and everybody else on another. That's what I saw too - they were all over 60 then, but the guys who'd been upper-level managers had the jawline and the athletic build, and the guys who were doing the work, usually with more advanced degrees, were the guys with pug noses, still didn't comb their hair or wear clothes that fit. There were one or two exceptions, but minor ones, and they were hustler types.

May 2, 2007 at 11:28 PM · Yeah, Jim, age is an interesting thing. Being over 60 myself, and having provided career counseling and job search coaching to at least a few thousand of my contemporaries, I can tell you that there are workplace advantages and disadvantages to whatever your age is. In terms of stamina (that is, stamina to do the job at work), a strong work ethic, and commitment to the job, and maturity in dealing with personal problems on the job, many older workers (officially defined as anyone over 55) can run circles around younger people.

I don't think the same can be said, however, for any of the concert artists discussed here. They are a special group, and I don't think that any of them got where they are without having stamina, a strong work ethic, and commitment to the job. When it comes to personality, however, as a colleague of mine used to say, pathology is the great leveller.

May 2, 2007 at 11:58 PM · The second thing I mentioned, it might not be fair but there were some business and maybe even human advantages to it. Obviously IBM still benefits from the image that kind of thing helped to create. On the human side, the over-arching management attitude seemed like "there but for the grace of..." So there was a lot of respect from the top and therefore the same going up, and satisfaction all around.

May 3, 2007 at 12:56 AM · I'm thinking of founding the "Hair Club for Violinists". If I own the company, I might get a free toupee like that guy on TV.

Only, a toupee for a violinist must have hair which flops back and forth in the end of the exposition of Tchaikovsky Concerto and somehow comes out in place (except for one strand flowing over the forehead and into our eyes a la Ysaye).Hmmm...have to get to work on it. ;-)

May 3, 2007 at 01:26 AM · Baldness isn't a problem. There are enough bald paragons of maleness; G. Gordon Liddy, Jean Luc Picard, James Taylor. The cure for baldness is psychological. Having a pug nose would kick your ass though.

May 3, 2007 at 03:08 AM ·

May 3, 2007 at 05:13 AM · Define career.

May 3, 2007 at 01:22 PM · Attention: ALL BALD VIOLINISTS. Announcing a new service, THE FULL HEAD OF HAIR CLUB FOR VIOLINISTS. Now you, too, can show your emotion with a full head of flopping hair that jiggles every time you move, thereby showing your inner emotions, and that one hairlock that drops over your right eye during climactic passages. The hair we apply is made out of genuine used bow hair (Just be sure to put rosin on it before concerts). But wait, there's more! Your head of hair will also vibrate in sympathy with a perfectly tuned A-string, thereby assuring that you will always stay in tune. A special section of the hair is made for easy pullaway for those special groupies.

By the way, Boris Goldovsky (or Goldowsky) was apparently one of the early and influencial teachers of Mario Lanza. And to the many who may be unfamiliar with this famous singer and movie star (who died tragically at 38), Maria Callas considered him the true successor to Caruso. Check out his recordings (which are continual sellers); he had an incredible voice and sang everything with unbelievable passion and focus. It's a lesson for any performing artist.

May 3, 2007 at 02:01 PM · The follicle-challenged might want to take inspiration from cellists. It has long been my theory that in order to be a great (male) cellist, the hair must be either thinning or vanished.

May 3, 2007 at 04:01 PM · I think Emmanuel Feuermann, who many thought was the greatest cellist ever, had a full head of hair until his untimely death at age 39. Then, there is always Jacqueline Du Pre.

May 3, 2007 at 05:11 PM · Tom, I agree about Feuermann being one of the greats. There is a wonderful biography by Annette Morreau. In photo # 24, there is a picture of Feuermann, cigarette dangling from his mouth (!), taken in 1939 that shows a "lingering" hair line.

And of course Jackie had great hair. She had enough hair for five or six cellists. That's why I said "male". Isserlis seems to have lovely locks, but there is still time...

May 3, 2007 at 05:56 PM · Funny -- I think some of the more important categories are missing...

ability (different from talent)


personal drive/motivation

business savvy

Perhaps those are too "intangible" ...

May 3, 2007 at 05:59 PM · Anne - I have read the Moreau biography and agree that it is very good. My father worshipped Feuermann and once told me how devastated he was when, during WWII, he was overseas and learned of Feuermann's death.

His daughter was my brother's 5th grade teacher, and he remained friendly with her and her mother until they died, the daughter in 1993 and the mother last year. He went to the mother's memorial service.

May 9, 2007 at 02:52 AM · Hummmmm......I guess women get all 0's?

Also, Mario Lanza must have belonged to that Hair Club because I recall being distracted by his "crown" in the Caruso-ish movie.

Back in the "olden days," thank goodness looks weren't a criteria for filming the greats; I've just seen the Oistrakhs, Menuhin and Rostropovich and never gave their looks a thought.

May 12, 2007 at 10:48 AM · If one needs "personality" to have a carreer, how do you explain all the conductors and concertmasters in the world? (g)

Oh yeah, he didn't specify what TYPE of personality.

Too silly for further comment.

May 13, 2007 at 05:25 AM · Lol Allan...not to mention many soloists, eh?

May 13, 2007 at 11:14 PM · About all the hype on looks and marketability; Is it real or imagined by players and engineered by managers and self-enforcing?

A excert from the Philadelphia Inquirer, review of a recital by Mattias Goerne and Eschenbach;

"Though a handsome man, he hardly presented himself as such on Monday in an ill-fitting gray suit, white open-neck shirt, and patchy few days' growth of beard."

I tried in vain to get a ticket for the recital tomorrow. It's sold out. Does this make a point that looks may not be that important?


May 13, 2007 at 11:26 PM · He's still a handsome man. He just "didn't present himself as such." THat's hip as Hollywood :)

I think it's on Lara St. John's website, maybe, the critic rants for the whole column about her dress, how it was wrinkled, and so on. She posts a funny and angry response that includes stuff about problems getting the dress cleaned in that town and so on.

May 14, 2007 at 12:30 AM · Thanks, Jim for pointing out Lara St Johns website. Her reply was pretty funny. By the way Mattias Goerne was at Carnegie Hall when he was unshaven and in an ill-fitting suit.


May 14, 2007 at 01:00 AM · Funny you mention Lara St. John, I just found an article from her website today too (can't remember how I got there.) It's on the same topic of appearance, marketing and everything, but one of her interesting points was--if a good violinist also happens to be a beautiful woman (or a handsome man for that matter), why SHOULDN'T he/she look his/her best for concerts? Should they all shave their heads and wear burlap sacks, so no-one can accuse them of not being "serious?" Food for thought anyway....

May 14, 2007 at 01:36 AM · They can if they want to. But they are there to share the music they worked so hard to master with the audience. Why would they want to distract the audience from it by offering another attraction? In my opinion, their visual presentation should be as predictable as possible so as not to have it noticed by the audience. Shaven heads and potato sacks would be almost as distracting as a low-cut dress.


May 14, 2007 at 01:21 PM · The silliness I have encountered here since putting up this subject has only proved to me the level of discourse here. Goldowsky was responsible for many more careers than any of the resident experts and even those in the midst of careers do not know how they got there. If talent and ability were the only arbiters please explain why Boris Goldstein or Tretyakov never had great glorious solo careers. Clearly there is more at play than obvious things like playing well. That you choose not to acknowledge it does not change that. Surely I ought to be able to find another group of people with whom to speak about violin--you have proven yourselves less than enlightening. With any luck I'll be booted from the site!!

May 14, 2007 at 04:46 PM · Now now, Jay, just because not everyone agrees with you is no reason to fly into such a snit. If you'd rather find a group of people to discuss with who will all agree with you, I suggest the Hall of Mirrors.

Anyhoo, it seems fairly obvious to me that there are other factors besides playing well that figure into the making of a career. Luck is one, in some cases apparently looks are another. One thing I don't think we've considered yet is the political conditions that an artist is trying to get started in. For one example, wasn't Boris Goldstein's international career nipped off at the bud by the Soviet authorities?

May 14, 2007 at 10:04 PM · I literally just finished writing a term paper on this very topic. It was entitled;

Sex and Sensuality in Classical Music: Clever Marketing or Careless Ploy?

Can I post documents on here somehow? I'll post it if anyone is interested in reading it.

May 15, 2007 at 12:47 AM · Would you post it? I am quite interested in reading it. Thank you.


May 15, 2007 at 01:46 AM · I'm not sure how. I'll email it to you if you want. Just message me your email...

May 15, 2007 at 02:31 AM · You could copy-paste the text into a blog, then we could all read it and fight about it. :)

May 15, 2007 at 06:56 AM · Ooooh, good idea. I have some quotes in it that may not be desired to be I'll check that out first.

May 15, 2007 at 09:54 AM · If I was a professor at Yale I'd conjure up my John Houseman voice and say "Young Mr. Hawes, are clever marketing and careless ploy our only possibilities?" But hey, it's not even up yet.

May 15, 2007 at 08:28 PM · Preston - If you fail to post it in public, my email address, Thanks.

Shall we warm up for the fight while we wait for Preston to put it up in the blog?

I don't agree with Lara St John's remark that her Bach CD sold many more to those who otherwise wouldn't listen to claasical music and made them converts. Unless they listened to the CD they bought and loved its music and hopefully went out to buy anther classical CD, they can't be called converts. what are the chances of that happening if they bought the CD because of the cover? More likely they threw out the CD when they got home and pinned the cover on the wall? I don't object to the cover. I hardly noticed that she was nude. I do, however, object to her claim.

Her remark about shaving head and putting on burlap sacks if people object to low-cut dresses is simply manipulative. It's what immature kids do. Even my 13 year old has stopped acting that way a few years ago.


May 15, 2007 at 12:59 PM · IT's amazing to me that people in the business recognise Goldowsky's theorem as an accurate representation of the music world--those who are trying to enter into it understandably resent that intangibles could derail them in their quest for a career.

May 15, 2007 at 02:01 PM · Ihnsouk,

The burlap-sack thing was a reductio ad absurdum, and although it is a logical fallacy, a skillfully used reductio can deflate even the most pompous and pervasive stupid ideas by pointing out their very stupidity in large-scale. I leave it up to you do decide whether this was an effective application of that tactic....

I'm really short. Is that a knock against me in the appearance department?

May 15, 2007 at 03:09 PM · Random thoughts (for what it's worth):

- Some people look pretty good in a burlap sack.

- Maybe there should be a new TV program called "Violin Idol."

- Anonymous: "Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone."

- Anonymous: "Beauty is the eye of the beer holder."

- Seems to me that society is obsessed with physical appearance. It ain't what you've got, it's what you do with what you've got that counts.

- What is virtue, anyway? And what earthly good is it to ask questions?

:) Sandy

May 15, 2007 at 08:16 PM · I don't see anything pompous in Janos Starker's argument on why he thought classical musicians can stay dressed. Most eloquent, no name calling or bigotry as far as I understand, which I admit may be limited. There was nothing to deflate in his writing. It read objective and fair in my opinion. St John's reply to that was her picture that seems to suggest she is naked and potato sack. A bit too smarty for my taste and intellectually not stimulating.


May 15, 2007 at 09:02 PM · .....first of all, I was speaking in general terms about the skillful use of the reductio ad absurdum, I was not saying that Lara St. John had done an exemplary job of said skillful reductio. Moreover, I was not even talking specifically about the concert wear controversy--again, general terms.

The problem is, most formal dresses for women leave the arms, the neck and sometimes a good bit of the back bare. It seems like any time a woman violinist wears a formal dress, she gets accused of cheap marketing and selling sex. Remember the storm of criticism Anne-Sophie Mutter used to stir up for her trademark strapless dresses? For heaven's sake, she looks gorgeous in them, not provocative. (It's not as if you can actually see anything.) There's a difference between tastefully showing the beauty of the female form and using sex appeal to sell stuff.

(That reminds me of a story--my quartet last year consisted of two girls and two guys. When we went to the Fischoff competition, the other girl and I both wore strapless dresses and at one point during all the hair-fixing, makeup-putting-on and (for the guys) tie-tying and tuxedo-buttoning, she and I got very giggly and girly and squealed, "OMG!! we look like Anne-Sophie Mutter!!" which the guys responded, right on cue, "Eww, does that make us Andre Previn?")

May 16, 2007 at 01:47 PM · Great story Maura!

May 16, 2007 at 02:59 PM · Oh, I've got a million quartet stories--I almost started telling another one here but it was absurdly off-topic. ;-)

May 16, 2007 at 03:01 PM · Ha ha, Maura.

Caeli Smith's front page blog and all this talk about what to wear or not wear at all sent me to Fischoff website. I love pictures of last year's winning groups. Their outfit look quite sophisticated without drawing attention to it. I can imagine chamber music coming out of these groups in good taste.


May 16, 2007 at 03:06 PM · Hi,

Sander, I need to respond to that. Most people are superficial and appearances seem to count for a whole lot. It's good to say all the usual stuff about profundity but unfortunately time and time again, life shows us that this simply is not true. It is great to be idealistic but reality is something else. I respectfully have to disagree.


P.S. I really think that in the end, it has something to do with the human perversion that the more something is unavailable or unnatainable the more valuable it seems.

May 16, 2007 at 03:26 PM · Hi, Christian: Actually, I agree with you. But along with a lot of us (I hope), I don't think that's the way it should be in an ideal world. That's what I was trying to say.

Regards, Sandy

May 16, 2007 at 03:08 PM · Maura, I agree with your point above and I'm generally of the "they should be able to wear what they want" school, but I admit I personally find much of women's formal wear distracting. The reasons have almost nothing to do with sex and a lot do with basic comfort. I think the endless focus on sex is a bit of a red herring.

I get cold with that much skin exposed, and I find that without straps the whole thing either rides up or rides down or jabs me in the underarms, if there are straps, they fall down; it just generally doesn't stay put, and then I'm always fiddling with my clothes in an awkward, embarrassing, mother-would-tell-you-to-put-your-hands-down-already kind of way. And so when I see someone else wearing something that would make me that uncomfortable, I just have an automatic physical "yuck" reaction. I really can't imagine performing the violin in what many female concert artists wear. I'd be so distracted and uncomfortable I wouldn't be able to think about the music.

But, I also think that as a listener and member of an audience, I should be able to put that reaction aside, and for the most part, I do. I expect the same from others. When I perform, I'll wear what feels comfortable to me and not feel pressured into a low-cut strapless whatever.

May 16, 2007 at 09:25 PM · Karen - Funny you say the audience should try to put what they see out of their minds. As a member of audience, I usually don't remember what they wear except a few occasions when performers seem to ask "Look at me." It becomes a little hard to ignore when they are there to be seen.

As everyone else, I put on an outfit to suit a social function. When I am out for no particular reason, I put on whatever feels fun for me. When it is not the time to call attention to my person, I try to blend in. Wouldn't a serious artist want to do the same? The artist is there to present her/his artistic self. Why would anyone wish to distract that by also emphasizing physical self? For a gorgeous female or male form, I go to a fashion show. Unfortunately for me, I can't enjoy both simultaneously.


May 16, 2007 at 05:25 PM · Ihnsouk, I only say that because it's what seems to be expected of me and what I've had to do myself in order to enjoy some performances. The fact that I've been successful in doing it (despite being a generally very distractable person) suggests to me that others might be able to do it too, and that the responsibility is not really overly burdensome.

I always wore a black satin tunic with (black) embroidery and a Mandarin collar, with black satin pants, when I was performing in an orchestra. I wasn't the soloist, so I realize that's somewhat different. Still, it's a kind of unusual outfit, I've never seen anyone else in one like it, and it completely covers my shoulders, decolletage, and back, but it looks good on me, I feel comfortable in it, and I can move in any way I want to while playing without fearing a wardrobe malfunction. I've always expected to be able to wear it at concerts without getting snide comments, and those expectations have been met.

I guess that's the other thing that motivates me to put my own judgements of others' clothing aside: I want tolerance, so I treat others the way I want to be treated. Other people wear a lot of stuff I would never wear--so what? I wear stuff they wouldn't wear, too.

May 16, 2007 at 05:35 PM · Dammit! I just spent fifteen minutes typing a huge long response to this whole discussion, then something went kaput in the system and it vanished. I'll repeat myself later!!

May 16, 2007 at 05:32 PM · Karen, It may amount to the same, but I didn't think I was being intolerant by questioning the wardrobe choices of artists.

When I used to teach, I was very keen on holding my students' attention and avoided individualistic outfit. It may or may not have done any good. But after preparing the lecture, laboring over all the fine points of rather complex concepts, I wanted to be understood and avoided any remote possibility that may get in the way. I am probably more visual than an average person. I find it hard to ignore visual effects.


May 16, 2007 at 06:56 PM ·, to the best of my memory, is what I typed earlier that got torpedoed by a system glitch:

1. This discussion has taken a rather different turn than our usual debates about "sexing up" classical music. I have always been and still am quite opposed to the blatant sexualization of women violinists one often sees, but now it seems like some are suggesting that formal, attractive concert dresses that bare the arms, shoulders or back are just as bad. I saw someone's publicity photo once (forgot whose) and the woman was stark naked, seen from (thank goodness) the waist up, with a coy and suggestive look on her face and holding her violin up to barely conceal her breasts. Are Anne-Sophie Mutter's bare shoulders really the philosophical/artistic/moral/whatever equivalent of that violin-as-lingerie?

2. Are we forgetting (or choosing to ignore) the simple fact that a live concert performance *is* a visual experience as well as an aural one? If you don't want the distraction of seeing the musicians, stay at home and listen to CDs all the time. I really don't see the problem with a soloist wanting to look her best for a big concert.

3. Another important point is, even an arm-, shoulder- or back-baring concert dress is not necessarily indecent or provocative, and it's entirely possible to look beautiful without looking inappropriately sexual. Really, we've come a long way since the Victorian era where the scandalous sight of a lady's ankle could set people fainting, right? So what's so scandalous about bare shoulders?

4. Not to go all radical-feminist on you guys, but have you noticed that these discussions of "what not to wear" invariably involve only women violinists? (Is it perhaps an unconcious remnant of the old stereotype that beautiful women are airheads?) The same questions of looking good vs. being "artistically pure" can apply to guys as well...right?

Back in January, when Sydney and I went to hear Barnabas Kelemen at the KC symphony, he was wearing what amounted to an updated version of the 19th-century formal Hungarian national costume--long black ribbon-trimmed dress coat, red satin cummerbund and matching collar, smartly polished black leather shoes--and, if I may be so blunt, he looked absolutely gorgeous. Was he selling out, being artistically dishonest, distracting people with his irresponsible wardrobe choices? I sure didn't think so; the fact that he looked great did nothing whatsoever to detract from the fact that he played like a god. All it meant was the inescapable visual aspect of the live concert performance was just as top-notch as the musical aspect.

Anyway, I could go on (again) for pages about this, but I have to go practice.

May 16, 2007 at 07:57 PM · Maura's points are interesting. Until recently, orchestra/musician dress has tended to be quite formal, which looks very uncomfortable to me. Lately (last 20 years) it has certainly been getting less formal for the men. I have always thought less formal made a lot of sense. I suppose that Mutter's attire, and she seems to have been in the forefront of the revolution, is technically probably more formal than what Bell normally wears. However, in terms of what shows, Mutter is showing more than Bell. While I do not care particularly as long as the violinist plays well, it may be that, given the kind of gender discrmination that historically has plagued women in music, this sort of thing helps draw attention to them that they should be getting but would not otherwise get. So, I am not has troubled by it as some so long as it is tasteful. My problems with Mutter go to interpretation rather than her sartorial choices.

May 16, 2007 at 07:57 PM · Maura, I don't think they are "just as bad" in a sexual way, and I wasn't intending to imply that.

However, I do personally find such attire to be horribly uncomfortable to wear (as well as not all that attractive), and I do somewhat resent that having become the standard of "attractiveness" if such means that I will be held to that particular standard, should I ever be fortunate enough to play a solo on a stage other than church.

But I recognize this is a largely personal issue, and I don't expect others to feel or behave the way I do. As long as nobody minds or comments on my non-arm-, non-back-, non-shoulder-bearing attire, I won't mind or comment on their strapless monstrosities. And this hasn't always been the case for me: I've actually been told I'd look better if I wore something more revealing in certain (public) situations. I do resent that and think it's at least as bad as being criticized for wearing something "too" revealing.

And I would find a man on stage playing the violin with a bare chest, shoulders, arms, and/or back pretty darn distracting. But, lucky for them, they don't have to do that in order to be considered attractive!

May 16, 2007 at 08:06 PM · I suppose it can also be looked at this way:

The standard "uniform" of concert dress (white tie/tails for men, something subdued and elegant for a woman, acts as a neutral statement, so the music is the thing focused on--not the performer. Might it be true that more of the performer's intangible qualities would be better seen with no distractions from "costuming" which focuses on the player?

MUST a female playing Carmen Fantasy always wear red? (Sometimes nice, but--within reason. Let the music speak first, in my opinion).

I've known Lara St. John since she was five years old. Frankly, the controvercial cover was no surprise to me. I think Lara always had an "off-beat" way of attracting attention! It goes with her personality. I just think such stunts work well only once. After that... its always a weakened copycat effort. So...

Perhaps we can put our old concert clothes back on for the time being? :-)

May 16, 2007 at 08:57 PM · Well, I obviously didn't make myself very clear, since this discussion is just going around in circles now. Oh, and for my upcoming recital I guess the strapless dress I was planning on wearing is going back into the closet so I won't become a pawn in this weird war.

Whichever of you mentioned how unattractive a male violinist would be in a strapless dress--well, duh. That is a logical fallacy and a false comparison.

Tom, as regards your comment about gender discrimination against women musicians--I know this sounds reactionary, but what will be solved by making women dress more like men? That's hardly womens' liberation if both sexes are held to male ideals and standards. Frankly, the fact that people fly into a tizzy about how inappropriate and unprofessional strapless concert dresses are just shows how very, very far women still have to go.

May 16, 2007 at 09:48 PM · Maura,

I mean this sincerely:

Having just completed my teaching at Oberlin this year, getting to know the place and the people and the students...

You have made the right choice. You seem to me a perfect match with Oberlin thinking. I think you will thrive there! Good luck with everything next year!

May 16, 2007 at 09:37 PM · I like that phrase, "act as neutral statement". That's really what I am hoping for male or female. After a beautiful concert, I hear the music for a few days in my head making me quite happy. When performers' outfit also registers in my head, I don't just hear the music. I find that annoying.

I also object people wearing red when they play Carmen. In my opinion, garment red is pale next to red in music. Also, it is static red while music moves from gray to red to blood. To me, red garments are in fact limiting the musical impressions instead of enriching them.


May 16, 2007 at 10:35 PM · Mr. Russell,

Thanks...I think. ;-)


I guess it's just a difference in modes of perception then. You find a snazzy outfit (male or female) distracting and detrimental to your musical experience, and I don't. For me it's just a nice added bonus when the musicians (male or female) look good in addition to sounding good.

May 16, 2007 at 10:18 PM · Yeah, I like the idea of a "neutral statement" too in many contexts, often including music concerts. I *can* put these opinions about clothes aside if I have to, but sometimes it's nice not to have to. The idea that "neutral" dress is somehow code for "dressing like a man" can get really tiresome after a while.

And expressing dislike for current women's formal fashion trends--which, frankly, I think have gotten pretty boring in the rush to bare as much skin as possible--doesn't automatically turn one a Victorian prude in a tizzy. Like great music, the best outfits leave some mystery, something for the audience's imagination.

May 17, 2007 at 12:32 AM · If the visuals are too distracting, one can always wear a blindfold right before the performer gets on the stage.

May 17, 2007 at 11:37 AM · Hi,

Sander - you are right! And if the ideal won over many a times there would far less problems and B.S..

Women wear dresses, men don't. Big deal. I don't get the point. If the dress is nice and flattering great. So what. I still go to HEAR concerts.

You know, there is a great quote that pops to mind right at this moment and I will quote part of it. It is from Shakespeare's Othello - "The world is stage where everyone must play a part!" How this is relevant, I don't know, but it just popped in my head as the instinctive thought after reading the above posts.


May 17, 2007 at 01:11 PM · Maura - I do not think the solution is to make women dress like men, and I did not mean to imply that in my post. I would hope that both sexes would dress comfortably with some deocorum. My point was a concern that Mutter's use of the strapless dress (whether I think it acceptable or not and frankly I don't much care) was perhaps an attempt to attract the kind of attention that men normally get simply through their talent as musicians. I agree with you that it shows we have a long way to go. Blind auditions have allowed women to make some progress, but we are not there yet.

May 17, 2007 at 04:23 PM · Tom, sorry for jumping all over you yesterday--I was in a foul mood to begin with and this discussion got me way more excited than it ordinarily would.

I don't think Anne-Sophie wears strapless dresses to attract the kind of attention men get just through their playing, that's a pretty unfair thing to say IMHO. I always figured she wears those dresses because she likes them and they look good on her.

May 18, 2007 at 11:39 AM · Hi,

Ms. Mutter's dresses (at least many of the famous ones we have seen) were personal creations by Christian Dior who was her couturier at the time. So, Maura's comment about her liking the beauty of them is probably quite accurate.


May 19, 2007 at 05:22 AM · Hey all,

I had the paper ready to post, but the performer in question sent me this email...

"Hey Preston,

I'll trust you not to make me look like a jackass (please!) if you quote me.

Good luck with the project."

I'm not sure if I should post the paper since it does have "insider" opinions regarding marketing and the naming of specific performers. Though there's nothing damaging said or implied in the quotes, putting myself in his shoes, I'm not quite comfortable posting it on a public forum.

sorry... :(


May 19, 2007 at 06:19 AM · Just change the names to protect the guilty and post it. What is this, secret college fraternity knowledge?

May 19, 2007 at 11:39 AM · Hi,

Preston, I agree with your decision. I find that out of integrity for those who did volunteer help it would be best not to post anything concrete.

However, that said, is it possible for you to give some general ideas on various views and perspectives listed in your paper,that would obviously not "implicate" anyone?

Thanks and Cheers!

May 19, 2007 at 01:41 PM · hey you vain classical people:)

as we debate the acceptability of beautiful music and hideous looking performers (ouch), there is a little essay on the last page of May 7th Times mag titled The Last Taboo in which there is a hilarious discussion of people hooking up couple "degrees up or down the hotness scale", "refusing to stay within your cute-gory"...

go read it:)

May 19, 2007 at 03:02 PM · Preston, you could post some interesting excerpts, either changing names or calling them all "Anonymous".

May 19, 2007 at 10:15 PM · Hi,

Al, I don't think that the debate is so much about musical integrity vs. physical beauty as much as a question of importance. We cannot underestimate the importance of attractiveness in general. After all, first impressions and nature put it at the forefront. That said, the problem raised I think is one where the absence of utmost musical accomplishment remains OK because of outstanding physical appearance. I don't think it is a question of jealousy (Believe me, I don't think anyone would want to see me on a stage even if I played like Heifetz nor should they have to put up with it...). I think that the point is that the package should be complete and that physical beauty should not exclude but in fact come complete with the utmost musical and violinistic personality.


May 19, 2007 at 11:27 PM · christian, for some reason i have never paid attention to male performers' looks, but for female performers, i have! :)

i think the intangibles play a big role in the staying power of people like perlman, ma, etc. i feel i know them well even though i do not. i for one do not consider vengerov as good looking, just average, not sure if females go to his concert with that in mind,,,but he is undoubtedly charismatic. bell is better looking than vengerov, but i am not sure if history will judge him with his looks as asset. if it is up to me, i would think having a very influential mentor is probably the most important factor to determine your level of "success".

now, if you want to cross over to the popular side, then having good looks will certainly help. still, you need to deliver your goods beyond the looks. if you can't be george clooney, you can still be tom hanks.

that time article asks jokingly: shall we raise our kids as good looking, or hideous or just sorta cute?

survey time, heheh.

May 20, 2007 at 06:10 AM · Goldowski's nuts. Just look at all of the fat and/or ugly violinists out there forging international careers today.

May 20, 2007 at 01:29 PM · Somehow, just came to this thread and could only skim the many posts. I knew Boris Goldovsky personally. I went on three national tours with him, and attended three of his summer festivals where I sat in on a number of his lectures. (BTW, this was in the 80's - I'm not THAT old! ;-) I've also read his most intersting memoir, "My Road to Opera". He was a first-rate musician, and one of the best coductors I ever worked with. He was brilliant, creative, and imaginative. He was one of these people who seemed to know everything!

I don't remember hearing him give the X and O talk - which doesn't mean that he didn't. If he did, I suspect that he was refering to Opera singers. He was influenced by Stanislovsky in the theatre, and one of his great innovations - since followed by almost everyone - was to try to bring greater dramatic life and realism to Opera performance. No more standing stiffly and singing, no matter how well you sing. One thing I did hear him emphasize was a character's physical believeability. Thus, he would reject an otherwise good, late middle-age, overweight, not pretty soprano for the role of Rosina in "The Barber of Seville", since Rosina is supposed to be a young, coquettish, sexy ingenue for whom two of the leading male characters have the hots. Is this sexist and un-PC? Perhaps. But what if this were casting for a play or a movie? Opera is theatre as much as music. And, btw, he'd also reject a candidate for a leading male role who wasn't convincing in that way. If you sang well, but looked and acted like George Costanza, he would not have cast you as Don Giovonni. And he certainly wouldn't accept anyone who didn't sing well enough. This is the sense in which he insisted on the whole package.

Well, I have to go practice for my own Opera performance today!

May 22, 2007 at 02:37 PM · OK...I'll see what I can do...though the performer in question is responding directly to an article in the New York Times that specifically mentions him. LOL!


Alright, I've posted the paper. I did some more editing on it. (James, if you read it and don't like it, email me and I'll remove it. I did my best to edit appropriately, and no, you don't look like a "jackass". It was a difficult task to avoid that, but.....HA! j/k.)

I hope the coherency and flow is still decent. I'm no writer, to be sure, but it's something I guess. (how passive was that?)

May 22, 2007 at 04:07 PM · Excellent paper, Preston. I'll read it in greater detail when I have more time. I especially liked this paragraph:

“…there is, and will be for years to come, a double standard when considering women in classical music. Some are shocked when violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter wears a strapless gown on an album cover, yet the baritone Dimitri Hvorostovksy can go topless and no one blinks an eye. What are the female musicians of this world expected to do—wear potato sacks? There is no reason why the Leilas [Josefowicz], Anne-Sophies and Eroica Trios of the world should have to hide the fact that, along with being superb musicians, they happen to be good-looking…The traditionalists of the music world who have a problem with such marketing efforts should probably just point that gun downwards and shoot themselves in the foot now. As all musicians know—there is no point in being creative if no one hears it”. (No Sex, Please—We’re Classical, The Strad, March, 2006).

...which is pretty much what I was trying (unsuccessfully) to say earlier. This paragraph sums it up quite nicely. (One question remains, though--when and where did Dmitri Hvorostovsky go topless?!) ;-)

May 22, 2007 at 04:22 PM · To me, perhaps the most interesting case is Hilary Hahn. She is arguably the most popular female classical musician and probably has the widest audience. She clearly does not rely on this sort of thing to get an audience, and while some would say she is pretty (at least IMHO), most people would not describe her as either "hot" or trying to portray that image. Is she the exception that proves the rule or . . . ?

May 22, 2007 at 04:58 PM · Thanks Maura!

Tom, regarding Hahn:

Interestingly enough her album covers too have shown a progression of sorts... From the long sleeve, long coat, high collar to the smokey eyed, yet serious musician, smoldering behind her fiddle in a very low cut top.

However, typically speaking, she does not predictably portray any image other than someone who perhaps is a little too old for her age. As she no doubt could have ascended the concert stage successfully much earlier in her life, I have a feeling her carefully controlled image might have to do with the desire to NOT be seen as a prodigy, but to have her musicianship taken very seriously from the beginning. Hilary and I have many close mutual friends (her ex "boyfriend" even is a friend of mine) and hearing from them about her and how her career is managed also helps lead me to such a conclusion.

May 22, 2007 at 04:53 PM · In this day and age, when everyone lives in a fishbowl and marketing has become so necessary, you can't fault anyone in the public eye for getting at least some kind of professional advice (if not management) regarding their public image. Nobody can be faulted for trying to make the most of their unique physical and personality strengths. I think the problems occur when the marketing becomes more important than the talent and all you see is the marketing.

May 22, 2007 at 05:01 PM · Agreed.

May 22, 2007 at 06:24 PM · Preston - thanks for the information. I noticed the progression also. It seems to me, however, that the image she tries to project, to a limited extent, does not rely on projecting sexiness but perhaps a more diffuse sensuality which is evident in the photo progression. However, it is clear that her career is very independent of this image. While she is not my favorite current violinist (I certainly like her), I respect her ability to get the audience she does without resorting to gimmicks.

May 23, 2007 at 12:39 AM · Just glanced at the article. Superb. I like that it points out the reality while addressing genuine concerns. If what one sees sells, I don't see how anyone can stop the trend even if looks take over the artistry. For me, it's the opposite. I would buy more for "neutral" looks, clearly a minority on the way to extiction.

They say until Elvis Presley came on the scene, the popular music side was also quite studgy with buttoned up shirts and all. When Elvis Presley opened up his shirt accompanied by suggestive gestures, things went wild in the fair gender segment of population. If true, sexuality seems to work on both camps.

Tom - I hope she sticks to it to show it can be done.

Preston - Thanks for posting it. Could you also add "add comment" to it? By the way, James Ehnes sounds so sensible. He goes another notch up in my esteem.


May 23, 2007 at 12:09 AM · I just watched a DVD of the Amadeus quartet, with various performances stretching from the late 50's through to the early 70's. None of the performers look glamorous or photogenic. They all look like nerds. I actually like this. I find that Venus and Adonis looking performers often simply look boring. I have another DVD of a modern quartet where the leader looks like a male model, with chiselled features and immaculate grooming. Norbert Brainin looks like a guy you might see (or might once have seen) leaning up against the bar at the local pub, having a beer and a smoke, yet he plays fantastically. I like performers who look like normal people. They just seem more interesting to me. I must be a nerd, too.

May 23, 2007 at 10:57 AM · I also have to point out that unlike popular music classical music is directly or indirectly subsidized by tax payers and private donations. Needless to say, we were assuming classical music world stays on a higher ground. One can't have it both ways; cry foul when funding cuts and go after sexuality to sell.


May 23, 2007 at 02:37 AM · Jon, I see your point, but...."normal" people? What does that make Sarah Chang, a Martian?

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