Meet the naked orchestra … and vote for the next

Meet the naked orchestra … and vote for the next


norman lebrecht

June 16, 2011

Rumours have been flying all week around Valladolid that the radical director Calixto Bieito was going to require the orchestra to play naked through Carmen. I have a friend or two in that orchestra and was worried they might catch a chill.

Fortunately, Calixto has other things on his mind – he needs two understudies on hand for Magdalena Kozena in case her voice gets a recurrence of the Aldeburgh curse – and the idea has been quietly forgotten.

Not that it would have been hugely original. Here is a short history of the naked orchestra.

In April 2008, members of the Orchestra of the Swan from Stratford-upon-Avon stripped off on national television in protest against losing their Arts Council grant. Pictured below are artsitic director David Curtis with percussionist Tim Farmer, french horn player Kai Hoffman, oboist Louise Braithwaite and violist Vanessa Murby (the source is MusoLife).

Later that year the Royal Opera House, more decorously as you’d expect, had members of its orchestra and cast pose unclothed for a chairty calendar that earned the world of opera unlimited tabloid space (this, from the Daily Mail).

Emma Granger and Caroline Clarke of the Royal Opera House orchestra pose with their instruments


So nudity in orchestras and opera companies is nothing new under the sun. This is a Japanese rehearsal


… and you will find plenty more to amuse you on google. The thing is, though, nobody has yet tried it on with a major, world-class orchestra.

I mean, would you want to see the New York Philharmonic as nature intended? Right, then. Me neither.

But which top orchestra in any major city would you really like to see in an organic Garden of Eden performance? I can think of two or three. Send your nominations in below, and let’s see if we can’t put together a charity gala at the Musikvereinsaal…


  • If instrumentalists are part of the whole spectacle, then various options become available . . . One thing here, however, needs elaboration. Whether or not one would “want” to see someone or a group without clothes may be irrelevant. There are many purposes and connections to nudity in the arts, stereotypical physical sexual attraction being far from the only one.

    That said, the connection of the clothesless state to playing an instrument, especially in the pit, is normally rather elusive, even far-fetched. Relating nudity to charity calendars makes more sense, although the knockoffs of the original Rylstone Women’s Institute Calendar from more than ten years ago may be tiresome.

    Using nudity as a protest, however, such as in one of the illustrations above, perhaps as a contemporary take on Haydn’s Farewell Symphony, makes more sense. But the coy attitude that certain body parts must always be covered in a sort of false or tease nudity is often a poor idea, despite arguments in favour of it, all of which I’ve heard repeatedly over the past decades.

  • Brian says:

    I can’t come up with three but the YouTube Symphony probably has some potential there. The NY Phil (mostly) makes me shudder.

  • Doug says:

    I would suggest an orchestra made up of recent female graduates of the most prominent eastern European conservatories, starting with Hungary. Then the Maestro (male, of course, I’ll suggest an Italian) has to step off the podium for one on one tutoring, and an occasional sectional. I Think I may have just given away a story line for the next money making classical music video!

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Kremerata Baltica, without it’s leader of course, would do quite well. Then again, they are so damn good musically, that I am perfectly happy to listen to them in any attire.

  • I know times are difficult. Can they not afford clothing?

  • Kenneth Burward-Hoy says:

    If the naked orchestra has only nudity to offer for funding, I strongly suggest they pack it in and look for a real job. somewhere.There are too many musicians in the market and too many orchestras to meet the demand from a dimiinshing public audience. It also happened years ago when silent movies became history along with thousands of musicians who lost work from the” talkies.”
    Kenneth Burward-Hoy.
    Former Associate violist with Dallas Symphony,
    Principal violist with Hollywood Film Studios and Hollywood bowl Orchestra.

  • Len Nissenson says:

    What is the real story behind the Japanese stark naked orchestra?