‘Classical music, kiss my ass’

‘Classical music, kiss my ass’


norman lebrecht

January 05, 2014

The world’s most followed cellist has given a forthright interview to The Strad, explaining why she does it her way.


zoe keating strad


Zoe Keating, with 1.2 million Twitter fans, wanted a classical career. Moving to California two decades ago, she set about practising the Shostakovich cello sonata for six months before presenting herself for audition at the San Francisco Conservatory. The panel immediately asked, ‘who’s your teacher?’

‘I don’t have one,’ said the applicant, her hands shaking at the looks of disapproval.

‘Maybe you should come back when you’re ready,’ they said.

After that, says Keating, ‘I figured that classical music could just kiss my ass. I was so angry, I couldn’t even bear to set foot in a concert hall.’

The magazine is not online. You’ll have to buy a print copy to read the full, abrasive interview.



The audition attitude will strike many readers as dauntingly familiar. Has anything changed since then at San Francisco Conservatory?


  • ALBERT LANDA says:

    I simply do not believe this story. Just more manipulation,more promotion, more hype, more bullshit! AAAGGGGGHHHHHH!

  • R. James Tobin says:

    Does this mean they didn’t even listen to her play?

  • Ralph says:

    Not knowing how well she did in that audition, one should keep in mind that the vast majority of students tend to audition with pieces that are far above their current level, capabilities. It’s better to play Mozart really well even if not technically as challenging than to play Liszt and miss 50% of the notes.

  • David H. says:

    It’s a bit incomprehensible what the story here is. She went to an audition, after practicing Shosta concerto (which one, probably the 1st?) without a teacher for half a year and threw a tantrum when she was rejected, probably for a reason? Hmmm, “most followed cellist”… followed by whom and for what?

    Good for her that she apparently now found her individual way to express herself. But the bashing of the classical world seems just like a cheap attempt at pulling the “cinderella” cliché for self marketing.

  • I haven’t read the Strad Article, so I can’t comment if her bad-ass remarks fit the bill. Zoe, if you’re reading this, maybe Joan Jeanrenaud can invite you over for tea and give you a few tips on how to bring more class and less flash into your act.

  • David H. says:

    In a former NPR interview Keating told a very different story, that she had performance anxiety early on [redacted]:

    “CASTRO: Keating didn’t always play this style of music. She started playing the cello classically when she was eight, but when she reached her teens, something weird started happening during her performances.

    KEATING: Suddenly I’m like, how am I doing this? This seems really difficult. How am I doing it? And then, soon enough, you wouldn’t be able to play the cello and I would, like, falter. You know, your fingers would make it screw up or your bow, you do a wrong thing. Like, your brain works against you.

    CASTRO: This turned into paralyzing stage fright that led Keating to give up pursing a classical career. But in college, she continued to play.

    KEATING: So I started improvising. And I found that when I improvised, I wasn’t nervous.

  • Ralph says:

    It was an example not necessarily geared towards cellists.

  • May says:

    “Lost” is an apt title, as her music goes nowhere. 25 Years ago people were informed enough to file her music in the New Age bin, not classical.

    • Carmen says:

      Also my opinion, May! 🙂

    • Glenn Hardy says:

      Yeah, and 25 years ago Gorecki and Arvo Part were also thrown into the New Age bin by the academic fascists because both composers had abandoned serialism. Oh yes, we must preserve what we think of as “classical” against all posers and those who might be stepping out of line. If it doesn’t meet our current professional standards and criteria, it must be “New Age,” the kiss of death in the snooty little classical world.

      I don’t know the specifics about the original topic of this thread, other than what I read here and it may well be that this particular story is overstated or amplified. But I do know that in the corporate academic culture industry, if you can’t show a proper pedigree or instructional lineage, you could be the next Isaac Stern, or Shostakovich, or have written Brahms’ 5th Symphony, and you’d still get squat. These days, If you haven’t “paid your dues” in the form of at least high five figures, if not low six, into some institution, you don’t get to join the club. Just like doctors and lawyers…we’re “professionals” now!

      Shame on Zoe for not lining up her ducks properly so she could fit into the industry’s wonderful “emerging” artist category.

      • John Hames says:

        I enjoy a rant as much as anyone else, but this one is just too scattergun. We should all support Zoe Keating’s pouting because there may be some snooty closed-minded people in academe and in some orchestras? I think not. I have passed auditions, and I have failed auditions: when I failed them, I didn’t get “angry” and lash out at the rottenness of the system. If you go for an audition, you need to have thought about what you need to do, and to be, to pass it, not just go in and blast out what you believe to be your brilliance and wait for the adulation. There may have been all sorts of reasons, personal and musical: they may have thought she wouldn’t fit in, they may simply have thought she was crap, I don’t know. But no one likes a whinger. If Zoe Keating is more comfortable for whatever reason arsing about with tape loops etc., than playing in an orchestra, fine: everyone’s happy. This all looks like publicity seeking, and The Strad going in for a bit of diversity. Not a big deal.

  • Doug says:

    All I can say is, she’s pretty amazing at PUBLICITY

    The Strad, Slipped Disc….what’s next?

    Is everyone out to merely get attention these days? Seems so.

    • Chris Walsh says:

      Since she doesn’t have the backing of a record company, she has to be good at publicity. The only publicity/marketing she’s going to get is whatever she can generate herself. Self-promotion isn’t a sin, particularly if no one else is going to do it for you.

      Personally, I admire her playing. Instead of being another assembly-line churner-out of the standard repertoire, she’s making her own music (which you may not care for, but that’s another post entirely).

    • Alan Penner says:

      My thoughts exactly. It’s rather easy to impress the masses with stringed instruments since most are tuned in 5ths – giving that ‘rock ‘n roll’ sound. The internet is littered with cellist videos with rock songs “…played on the cello!!” Viewers may be impressed with the occasional word of praise, but they quickly forget and move on because that’s about all it deserves.

      I haven’t read the article, but if the interview is true to the spoken words it appears to be just another musician who grossly underestimated the amount of work needed for long-term consideration within the orchestral genre.

      • David H. says:

        “…It’s rather easy to impress the masses with stringed instruments since most are tuned in 5ths – giving that ‘rock ‘n roll’ sound…”

        Isn’t that an actual quote from Mozart?

  • M.A. Steinberger says:

    I don’t know what Ms. Keating has in the way of classical chops, but to play with your own loops this way does require self-consistent intonation and accurate timing. She exhibits a high level at both.

    This music may not be the taste of most of the comment posters here, (nor mine), but she is undeniably skilled.

  • Mrs. Keating is a very talented cellist. But talking about working with own loops, take a view on the Steve Sharp Nelson suite. Not only a single cellist but with an orchestra and loops in realtime too: http://youtu.be/Go3dHPeNaIc

    Of course not in classical taste…

  • archer says:

    i heard zoë perform in a very intimate setting. she told essentially the same story quoted by david h in his first comment above. she struck me as very intelligent, independent, and as not at all the course and vulgar woman that the quote from the strad piece would suggest as a stand-alone comment.

    i have huge respect for her. she does her thing in her way in everything from performance, to fashion, to marketing and publishing, to being a dedicated wife and mother. when i saw her, her then infant son was with her, and her manner of interacting with members of the audience before, during, and after her performance, was relaxed, warm, and natural. i fell in love a little.

  • JMW says:

    Whatever her story, who is the audience for this music?