Fashion, sexism and classical music

0 Posted by - August 10, 2011 - Blog, Sound

It’s rare that we cover the classical music world on Art Threat, but the recent spat over pianist Yuja Wang‘s wardrobe is worth mentioning.

As the story goes, the 24-year-old Chinese prodigy delivered a magnificent performance at the Hollywood Bowl on August 2. It was her hemline, however, that seemed to dominate the column inches of some reviewers.

Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Mark Swed should likely be credited for sparking the controversy.

Her dress Tuesday was so short and tight that had there been any less of it, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict admission to any music lover under 18 not accompanied by an adult. Had her heels been any higher, walking, to say nothing of her sensitive pedaling, would have been unfeasible. The infernal helicopters that brazenly buzz the Bowl seemed, on this night, like long-necked paparazzi wanting a good look.


Rising to Wang’s defense, however, was blogger Anne Midgette. She calls reviews like these what they are — sexist.

The criticism of women’s clothing on stage has been a red flag for me ever since Eve Queler said that when she started conducting in the late 1960s, her clothing so dominated her reviews that one critic complained that a zipper glinting on the back of her evening gown was distracting. This is obvious sexism. Unfortunately, the tenor of the discussion of women’s attire in this field has retained more than a hint of this sexist tone ever since. What “should” women wear on the concert stage? What is “appropriate”? A general rule of thumb appears to be that if it’s sexy, it’s probably not good — indeed, it almost automatically falls into the realm of cheesy pop-style classical crossover. And if it’s revealing, it’s worthy of a lot of comment.

What do you think? Should classical performers be held to an arbitrary sense of staid decorum? Are performers like Yuja Wang bravely blazing new trails and chipping away at sexist traditions? Is the disproportionate focus on her clothing much different than the similar treatment of women in other professions (e.g. politics, sports, television)?

Yuja Wang

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