Is it unprofessional to report on what an artist wears?

Is it unprofessional to report on what an artist wears?


norman lebrecht

August 08, 2019

I took a bit of stick yesterday for commenting on how Dalia Stasevska’s kimono-like garment got in the way of good conducting at her BBC Proms debut.

One musician wrote:  It’s hard enough to be a woman in a profession where nobody takes you seriously. When you lead off your introductions of both women with how their clothes affected them you continue to put women in the “pretty things obsessed with clothes” category. You may have legitimate complaints about the performance— I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know— but surely someone with as much experience as you can come up with a better way to discuss this situation… I’m quite sure your critiques of her performance would stand had she worn something more acceptable to you. Surely we can all see that commenting on women’s appearances is unprofessional.

My response:

It is not unprofessional to report on an item of clothing – chosen by an artist of either sex – when it gets in the way of what the performer is supposed to be doing, which is communicating with the musicians and the audience. What if she had worn a flashing bow-tie? This is not a comment on her appearance per se: it is on her decision how she wants to appear and be perceived in the public eye. That is the very definition of public domain.


Your thoughts, please?


  • Olev says:

    I am just astounded that you don’t proofread anything before posting it. And I’m not just talking about grammatical mistakes but also names of people being misspelt and incorrect facts which are only fixed once a reader brings it up in the comments.
    At this stage you might as well give us editing capabilities like wikipedia

  • Simon Hall says:

    If what she was wearing got in the way of doing her job properly then yes, perfectly legitimate. She was conducting an orchestra, not leading a fashion parade.

  • Performer says:

    As a performer who was on stage at the concert, I can assure you that her choice of wardrobe did NOT in any way diminish her ability to communicate with the musicians on stage.

    How you could have come up with that ridiculous assumption while sitting what most likely was at least 20-30 meters away would be simply laughable, had it not been your pathétique choice of a click-bait headline.

    What is your aim, Norman? What are you trying to accomplish? A “clever” tongue-in-cheek play on words, one which no decent or half-professional journalist would think is appropriate? One which you would expect to see on the front pages of a cheap tabloid publication?

    Or is your aim to break down a young and talented conductor’s future?

    If what she was wearing disturbed you so much, perhaps you could have found other things to look at in a sea of over 6000 people?

    Would the music have sounded differently to you had Dahlia worn a pantsuit? Or had Sol worn a sweatshirt?

    If you want to call yourself a critic – critique the performance. Talk about the music making, the playing, the choice of phrasing and tempos, but please, leave the wardrobe choices to the fashion editors.

    At least they would most likely have more style and class.

    • HC321 says:

      Here here!

    • Leopold says:

      Agree completely, but your assumption that he is either a critic or a journalist is actually quite generous towards him. To me he is just a mean-spirited deadbeat that vents his frustrations online while consistently showing zero talent as a writer, a journalist or a critic. He has been around forever and he is persistent, so people know him and he knows people and somehow we all end up coming to his sad little blog to see him make a fool of himself. We don’t come out of respect, though. We are moved by the same curiosity of someone that can’t stop staring at a traffic accident and once they move on wishes they hadn’t looked and now desperately needs a shower and a hug.

      I am sure he won’t approve this comment, but at least I made him read it, just to remind him that even though some agents and promoters still kiss his wrinkly behind, those of us who have followed his “career” actually despise him.

      • Norbert says:


        I think you’re missing the point of NL somewhat.

        He is an agent-provocateur. He courts controversy. He WANTS you to bite and leave comment, thus engaging with the issues. (The endless factual errors have been a matter of litigation in the past BTW.)

        He is basically a North London, bearded, German speaking Jew, with an obsession with Nazism and Mahler – and what’s wrong with that if you just bear that in mind when reading the blog, which I find hilarious, and not in the obvious haha sense. His positions are those totally typical of that section of north London cultural society, and not (necessarily) representative of collective opinion from a less self-selecting part of British society.

        I’d rather have it than not have it if you see what I mean.

        • Peter says:

          it is absolutely fine to be a North Londoner, or bearded, or German-speaking, or Jewish. Or all of these things. Or for having a Mahler obsession.

      • JC says:

        Your comment is unnecessarily harsh. Instead of “we,” you should use the singular first person.

        Norman is a human being. He keeps us apprised of what’s going on in the music business, which I appreciate. There’s gossip and a fair amount of snarkiness, especially in the comments, but that’s what musicians are like.

        I cut him some slack with typos and errors, because he’s trying to get a lot of information out quickly.

        He’s entitled to his opinion, and this is his blog. Perhaps you shouldn’t keep coming back if you despise him so.

    • Kolb Slaw says:

      Maybe not to you, but to the audience is what matters most!

  • George says:

    Your defence (“when it gets in the way of what the performer is supposed to be doing”) would *almost* work if you hadn’t, in the first article, written “Gabetta, in a show-stealing backless dress…”. What exactly does that have to do with how she was “communicating with the musicians and the audience”. This completely smacks of sexism, I’m afraid…

    • Norbert says:

      Has anyone mentioned Khatia Buniatishvili yet?

      If Carlsberg sold pianos….

      “The breast pianist in the world….probably”

      Much as I am an enormous fan of generous breastage, it is rather distracting for a red-blooded gentleman when tying to listen to great music!

      One wonders what was the purpose of dressing so provocatively – cynically minded peeps might suggest it is precisely to distract from her music…

      • Harpist says:

        So is she supposed to have her breasts surgically removed so you can focus on the . music? You sound like the kind of person that would defend a rapist because the victim “was wearing provocative clothes”.

        • John Rook says:

          I don’t find her physical appearance distracting. She could play without any clothes on, for example; it wouldn’t hinder my perception of her art.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        As a red-blooded gentleman apparently you have no understanding about why women dress provocatively? I find that both astonishing and naive. It is part of ‘raunch’ culture where goods are displayed but definitely not allowed to be touched. It used to be called “teasing” when I was a youngster.

  • Larry Taman says:

    Respectfully, you’re just wrong on this. After so much opportunity lost, for so many women over so many years, let’s just stop all comments about kaftans and backlessness and such. And while we’re at it, how about just forgetting lame quibbles. She wasn’t wearing a flashing bowtie was she. Let’s just enjoy the music.

    • urania says:

      I am afraid that much quality of classical music is lost because of all those ‘suffering’ women who now can show what they have to say. Many just do get in there because of being a women. All mostly heading towards show. Tragic! Men will appear soon also in color and glitter to get even. Why not make them play behind a veil ? 😉 🙂 🙂

    • Gustavo says:

      Hope you don’t mean Dirk Kaftan (who is a conductor)!

  • Karen H says:

    Ah, no. It’s not unprofessional. In fact, when it comes to concert reviews, description of clothing is often the only writing of value that critics offer.

    • Amy says:

      And how often do they talk about how the men’s blacks don’t match, their tuxes weren’t tailored properly, or they tied the wrong kind of tie knot? I can’t think of a single time I read about what a man was wearing at a concert. We can’t all be thatAm violinist in ill-fitting, untucked shirts that could usually use a visit with an iron, yet gets rave reviews.

  • Tyler says:

    Well, never seen you comment on Yannick wearing shorts for concerts…

    • Anson says:

      HAS Unique Nose-Sequin worn shorts at a concert? I missed that, but if he had, I certainly wouldn’t think it inappropriate to comment.

      • Tyler says:

        He has certainly worn shorts at a concert.

        “I certainly wouldn’t think it inappropriate to comment.” My point exactly, where’s the scathing reviews of him wearing something “inappropriate” for him. Oh wait, he’s a man…

  • RW2013 says:

    Definitely in the league of Alondra, Elim and Mirga.
    Read that as you will…

  • Dr Presume says:

    If you’re discussing “functionality” issues (sleeves getting in the way of gestures, etc), that’s perfectly valid, but when you start getting into “look” (peacock design, backless dress etc), it sounds a bit “male gaze”…

  • Minutewaltz says:

    People are always commenting on Yuja Wang’s pussy pelmets.

    • YS says:

      Her clothes are disgusting and showing her narcistic personality and her ugly taste as well.

      Plus it does neither show respect to the audience nor to the orchestra, conductor and music itself.

      But if she really wants to show. t h a t kind of clothes resp. of the little clothes left 😉 (I am exclusively speaking of Wang!), let’s invite her to the Reeperbahn….

      • Robert Groen says:

        I don’t know (or want to know) what YS stands for, but you’d probably be more accurate calling yourself Klingsor…

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        I have to agree with most of this. Having lunch on Thursday (my husband our married friends) and discussing Wang we all agreed there isn’t anything she’s doing at the moment which would cause us to focus our attention on her. I guess that’s probably because we’re all over 50 and not into ‘look at me’ culture.

        • Amy says:

          As an under-50 who is tired of the stuffiness of “formal” clothing and the outdated tails and bowties, I’m so glad Wang is shocking people. It’s time someone wore *something* different, or *did* something different. Pushing the envelope to the point where we aren’t in the 1950s anymore what’s needed in the classical scene these days. Let’s see more skin, some type of color, visible tattoos, chunky jewelry, non-standard hair colors. And let Wang wear what she wants. If people have a problem with it, that’s their problem to get over, not hers to change.

  • Una says:

    By the sounds of it, I was lucky not to have seen the concert to witness the conductor’s clothes getting in the way, but I did listen to it on the radio. I thought it was a lovely concert with a fresh interpretation of two often over-played works or ‘it’s only Tchaik Six’ But then I suppose using only my ears and not my eyes doesn’t count – ha!

  • andy lau says:

    Whatever she wears doesn’t make her a good conductor. The concert was horrible.

  • Stephen says:

    Pitiful back-pedalling.

    In what way did the “show-stealing backless dress”, worn by the virtuosic Sol Gabetta, “get in the way of what the performer is supposed to be doing”?

    That is the very definition of sexism.

  • Concert-goer says:

    It is certainly inappropriate to start your comment on a female artist’s performance with a description of what they are wearing. If you were there to review a concert, do that; leave the garments alone. If you do not comment on a male artist’s suit / tuxedo / shoes, then there is no reason to comment on a female artist’s. To do so is sexist and continues to position female artists as objects for the male gaze.

  • 8VA says:

    Everyhing you do on stage is a part of the performance.

    • miles away says:

      Unless you are really a great musician, in which case everyone stops thinking about the packaging,- totally absorbed by a Carlos Kleiber, or a Solti, or a Celibidache, Giulini or dare I say Neemi Jarvi .

      What they are doing to make a truly great interpretation unfold in front of your eyes and ears is part of the mystery.

      If I remember, pretty much all you got in the end with Mravinski were the eyes, and an incredible economy of movement, same with Celibidache.

      Blingy appearances & lack of discipline in movements are in an inverse proportion to efficiency.
      Remember Adrian Boult?

      • Anson says:

        Yes, but if Celibidache dressed like Liberace, I daresay it would be a bit distracting, despite the quality of the performance.

  • HC321 says:

    I have much more of an issue with making such a pointed comment on Sol Gabetta’s “show-stealing backless dress”. Why not “show-stealing cello playing”? Was that not what it was? I’m dismayed that women are being commented on as decorative first and foremost, rather than the focus being on their artistic achievements.

  • Clóvis Marques says:

    I didn’t see it and I don’t believe her clothes could in any way get in the way of her communication and performance

  • Ricardo says:

    Back in the early 80s I worked with a very energetic young conductor (well known these days). He used to point out how anything the conductor does affects the players (if they care to look): sticking out the pinky of the right hand (two points: confusing), rolling up one’s shirt sleeves (brings attention to the wrong place), looking down when giving an upbeat, and many other things. When on stage anything we do (including the way we look) has an impact on the performance. When Nigel Kennedy made a media furore, back in the 90s, by wearing Aston VIlla scarves, cowboy boots and whathaveyou at his concerts and people, understandably, commented on it, he would retort that “if they don’t like the way it looks they can close their eyes”. Works for recordings but not for live performance, regardless of genre. People will look at you and the way you look will have an effect on the way the performance is perceived.

  • SaltyDog says:

    “Flapping sleeves”, “show-stealing backless dress”: not relevant to the musical performance; sexist and unprofessional – unless you can show that you’ve similarly commented on the impact of MTT’s tie-less look on his conducting performance or … Even if you’ve commented of male (and female) sartorial choices in past, I do think such observations are unnecessary and demonstrate some attempt at “para-musical” bias. It’s really about the music, sir, not the theater of conducting.

  • Nicola Hale says:

    Well she didn’t wear a flashing bow tie did she? Comments about the distracting qualities of her kimono might have been reasonable had the lie not been given subsequently about the ‘backless dress’. In fact it wasn’t. There was a mesh back. Surprised you didn’t notice that since your focus was clearly on the women’s clothes rather than the music. I was there, liked both fashion choices and neither got in the way of the music for me. But then I’m quite capable of focussing on several aspects of any performance. The review came over as petty, sexist and dated. Indefensible however hard you try.

  • Ian Pace says:

    Live musical performance is a visual as well as an aural phenomenon. To expect critics to ignore the former dimension is as unreasonable as to expect audiences also to do so.

    • SVM says:

      Within reason, yes. I would argue that choice of attire is fair game for comment, since that is wholly under the flexible control of the artist/ensemble/orchestra, but that comment on visible physical attributes such as height, weight, baldness, &c. are very problematic, even in theatrical genres such as opera (I would much rather hear an opera singer who looks too old/young/tall/short/fat/slim/bald/&c. for the part but who has a suitable voice than an opera singer who looks “right” but whose voice is less suitable).

      Personally, I get very irritated by the many performers, male and female, who choose to dress unduly casually (e.g.: lack of suit; untucked shirt; trainers) or in a way that is unduly distracting from the music (having said that, some works of classical music, especially vocal music, can be enhanced by a certain distinctiveness or subversiveness sartorially). Some attire can actually prove distracting aurally: I remember hearing a concert in a church that required some players to move from one end of the nave to the other *discreetly* during the music, but the manoeuvre was marred by the fact that one of the players was wearing shoes (I am guessing stilettos) that made an almighty clicking sound with every footstep on the stone floor.

  • Ben G. says:

    Let’s not forget that music is an AUDIBLE art.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Yes but when I go to a concert where the conductor is a woman, I go for the dress and the hairdo since that is the only thing that gives some life to the music making, and not like all those white dumb males doing the same acrobatics all the time.


  • Rory Green says:

    say what you want about the kimono, it was an interesting choice, but to say ‘Gabetta, in a show-stealing backless dress’ is objectifying, inappropriate and completely unnecessary.

    Kimonos 0-1 backless dresses.

    • Doug says:

      What one wears communicates part of what one wants noticed about them. Standard and uniform concert dress was recommended and/or required for the purpose of dispelling appearance being noticed. Gabor is elegant no matter what. Yuja needs her body noticed. A kimono is a statement of how you want to be seen. The fact that it is impractical except for being louse fitting is irrelevant to the wearer but not maybe to the concert listener.

      • V.Lind says:

        I went to Yuja Wang concerts several times when she was younger and still wore traditional concert garb, i.e. long evening dresses. Having heard her deliver one of the best Prok 2’s I have ever heard, I can assure you that she does not “need” her body noticed.

        On the other hand, I remember Arild Remmereit conducting once and I could not take my eyes off his hair. It was thick and slightly long and amazingly cut. He was not as bouncy as some of them, but he obviously elevated his heels slightly on occasion. Every move he made caused a different layer of his hair to bounce along with it, and the rare emphatic movement made the top layer at his crown practically stand up straight. Obviously, the musicians could not see this, at least not the same way, but I got the feeling that if he conducted with his back to them, they could have taken their cues from the hair. (It was still a very good concert, and I enjoyed the music as much as if he had been invisible – but I admit noticing, and if I had been reviewing, I fear I would likely have mentioned it).

        Not having been at the Prom, but previously having read some good reviews, I was surprised by SD’s, but everyone has the right to an opinion if they have the knowledge upon which to base it. So with hesitancy, I am prepared to come down with VERY qualified support of NL’s comment on the sleeves (though others clearly did not find them deleterious to her work) but utterly opposed to the comment on the cellist’s dress, as I am to comments on the clothes of Yuja Wang or any other extraneous fashion statements.

        • M. L. Liu says:

          I reckon your devotion to Ms. Wang, but it grates on me to read your replendless defense of her whenever this subject comes up. I am Chinese American, and I find her attire grossly distasteful. In my humble opinion, her stage appearance is disrespectful to classical music, to the composer and to those in the audience like me. Some pianists perform for the audience, some — Wang for example — for self aggrandisement. Wang may be virtuosic on the keyboard — but I have NO RESPECT for someone who debases herself on stage and does not seem to have the sense to be aware of it, at the age of 30+.

          • Sue Sonata Form says:

            I’ve thought about this in relation to Ms. Wang. I think the garb is a distraction and I’m willing to bet she’s playing for the same team.

          • Amy says:

            Wow. That was pretty inappropriate, also, the “playing for the same team” comment.

            As for showing “respect” to the composer and the orchestra etc, how exactly is Wang disrespecting anyone?

            I am far more distracted and repulsed by the men who make the most atrocious faces, and move so much it makes one quite motion sick. Unnecessary motions that likely hinder just how well you can play. Imagine how much better they’d be if they’d just move rationally. And we’d enjoy watching them much better, even if they wore a crop top sweatshirt and cutoff jeans.

    • Norbert says:

      Would you eat gourmet food from a plastic dog bowl?

      Being well dressed is a sign of respect to your audience.

  • Andreas C. says:

    There is definitely a gender angle to this. As an extreme case (a particularly jarring one for me personally, so I mention him by name), the violinist Pekka Kuusisto has been dressing in what looks like ragged pajamas and oversized sweaters for years, and male conductors have worn their share of Mao and Nehru jackets, sometimes embroidered, silk turtlenecks, comically mis-sized tailcoats and other ridiculous show-stealing garb without a single critique mentioning a word about them.

  • Marioara says:

    The point here is that wide sleeves get in the way of clear conducting. I once wore a dashiki to conducting class and my professor called me out on it. It has nothing to do with fashion or sexism. Those sleeves flapping about can be a serious distraction on the podium or in the pit, and I was always grateful that he pointed it out to me. There is no need to extend the conversation beyond’s simple common sense.

    • Novagerio says:

      Prof.Jorma Panula would have agreed with you Marioara!

    • bratschegirl says:

      But as far as I’ve seen, there has been no evidence provided that the musicians of the orchestra found the wide sleeves distracting or an interference in any way, only that NL found them visually distracting and therefore assumed that of course everyone else would feel the same way.

  • Antonia Azoitei says:

    I understood the sleeve report. It was the “showstopping backless dress” remark that made my stomach turn. She’s a cellist. Her back would have been to the orchestra and I doubt her choice of concert gown stopped the show. If it did, people are there for the wrong reasons. And frankly, unless you are reporting the colour of tie the male solo performers are wearing in your similar reviews it’s dubious to mention her attire at all. A soloist wears customary attire for a solo appearance. That’s not news. If we wanted to know what she wore we would come to the hall. We read reviews to know about her playing.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      If I went backless in a public place, I would be making a statement and I would not be surprised if people commented on it. These are personal choices, designed to catch the eye. She played well by the way, as I reported.

      • Antonia Azoitei says:

        Backless dresses first appeared in the 1930s. Not exactly a shocking choice for 2019. It hasn’t been newsworthy really since Princess Diana wore one with pearls down her back to the Royal Ballet. And again, with Sol being a cellist with her back to the orchestra in a hot hall it seems to me like a sensible and glamorous choice!

        • norman lebrecht says:

          If you’d heard the audience gasp as she entered, you’d know why she wore it – and how it worked.

      • Antonia Azoitei says:

        Would you be shocked at a cocktail or dinner party if the hostess was in a so-called backless dress (which I anyway now read actually wasn’t backless)? I doubt it. If you are, you need to get out more or perhaps consider an internship at a fashion magazine to gain some proper perspective. And if not, you ought not to be stunned by it on a concert stage where etiquette dictates a similar level of elegance and sartorial effort is required.

      • Bruce says:

        If you appeared in public in a ball gown with a high neck and full back, that might cause some comment too.

      • Brettermeier says:

        “If I went backless in a public place, I would be making a statement and I would not be surprised if people commented on it.”

        You’d make a statement in any dress. And I think I speak for all of us when I say: You’d look stunning in a dress! 😉 (And you are comparing apples and oranges.)

    • Anson says:

      “We read reviews to know about her playing.”

      I disagree somewhat. We read *record* reviews to hear about the playing. Concert reviews should let you know what the concert was like, and that includes the ambience. If all of the orchestra members wore polka-dot socks for a performance of Mozart’s Requiem, I don’t think it would be unreasonable for a reviewer to note the distraction. If Daniel Barenboim took the podium in a tank top and flip flops, I’d expect at least a passing mention.

      For that matter, imagine hearing a radio broadcast of Sarah Connolly’s 2009 Last Night of the Proms without a mention by the presenters that she was dressed like Admiral Nelson. Sure, she was in “costume,” but ALL of the performer’s choices are relevant to the performance. It’s not necessarily unfair to note them. (Of course, it’s also possible to comment on them in an unwarranted or sexist manner, but merely noting non-aural aspects of a performance shouldn’t be verboten.)

  • Antonia Azoitei says:

    Sorry, show-stealing… not show-stopping. My point remains. Also, just as the conductor’s sleeve may distract from her handiwork, your comments on people’s garb (in the case of Sol at least) onstage detract from the point of your review… the music.

  • MusicBear88 says:

    The soprano Gillian Keith has been subject to critique of wardrobe rather than of performance on multiple occasions in Boston and her attitude on it is that if somebody has nothing better to carp on than not liking her dress then she must have given an otherwise perfect performance.

  • John Borstlap says:

    In contrast with the peacock, in the human species it is the females who have license to show-off their eye-catching diversions. Once I attended the premiere of one of Messiaen’s late voliere pieces where his wife operated the piano; she appeared on stage in a golden gown reaching to the ground, with a train attached to her shoulders 15 m long, in all the bright colours of the rainbow, which had to be attended to by staff to get it arranged around the piano seat. It goes without saying that nobody listened any longer to the piece, the taste of which was – unsurprisingly – in harmony with the visual spectacle.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      “operated the piano”. LOL

      And the difference between the peacock and the modern female is that the peacock wants a mate; the modern female wants to display for its own sake.

  • Mock Mahler says:

    I attended a recital where Conrad Tao played barefoot, and it distracted me, somewhat, for a while. (The one review I read did mention the bare feet.) I have been distracted by Yuja Wang’s high-heel shoes, wondering why they don’t slide on the wood flooring while she pedals. (I occasionally also start wondering how the endpins of cellos stay put on the floor.) Tao and Wang were both excellent. You just learn to put up with the visuals (sigh).

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed they can be quite distracting.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        I’ll never know why people laughed at Danny Kay; he was one of the unfunniest individuals to ever appear on screen. He thought he was great though (just like Mel Brooks!).

    • Brettermeier says:

      “I have been distracted by Yuja Wang’s high-heel shoes, wondering why they don’t slide on the wood flooring while she pedals. (I occasionally also start wondering how the endpins of cellos stay put on the floor.)”

      So you’re saying you are distracted by (in this case your lack of knowledge of) physics? Maybe you should focus on learning physics instead of learning “to put up with the visuals”.

      Tackle the problem! 😀

  • Jon H says:

    If anything is distracting, even in the audience in front of me, I just shut my eyes. Then we’re just going on how it sounds, so it has to be good. Conductors’ movements can also be distracting, but the sonic result is what matters.
    When it’s a singer, I go back and forth between watching their expressions, and listening to their sound.

  • Anson says:

    Norman, it’s not *necessarily* problematic to note sartorial choices, especially if you as the critic believe they impacted the performance. You clearly thought that both the sartorial choices in question here did have an impact on how the audience received them, so it’s not unfair to mention them.

    One does have to be careful not to slide into unwarranted sexism. Your comment about Sol arguably got close, but I understand your point that it had an impact on the audience. And it’s certainly a far cry from the lechery that I’ve heard whispered among creepy old men in Yuja concerts I’ve attended.

  • Andrew T says:

    NL do keep it coming. The storm following your varied insights covers a lot of ground and the angles give perspective. Healthy debates, open and free. Love it.

  • DennisW says:

    Agree with your response. If the conductor is wearing something that arguably affects his or her ability to conduct well, and affects the players’ ability to play well and follow that conductor, then what the conductor is wearing is certainly fair game for comment.

  • Rob says:

    Nobody at the Proms would bat an eyelid if Mahler’s 8th was conducted in bra and bikini considering how dumb down the festival has become.

  • SteelTownRunner says:

    The conductor’s job to is to lead and specifically not be seen in any sort of distracting way (Bernstein, Karajan, etc of course disagreed). I find most colorful attire to work against this tenet. This is exacerbated when it actually interferes with his/ her work.

  • Richard ross says:

    It was crass.

  • Bruce says:

    It’s fair to comment on a conductor’s (or soloist’s) garb if it’s unusual, or if it hampers them somehow. Comments from a musician onstage notwithstanding, Norman’s impression was that the conductor’s sleeves hindered her conducting. (BTW, not all musicians on the stage might agree with the one who commented.)

    I remember Seiji Ozawa used to get comments in Boston about his turtlenecks and “love beads” back in the 70’s. It eventually became a non-issue: he kept wearing them, and after a while people stopped talking about them.

    Backless dresses are well within the standard range for female solo performers. As an orchestra musician, I have sat behind many soloists in backless dresses — everything from lithe young things where you can count their ribs, to fleshy matrons who look like the dress was painted on and then shrank as it dried. For some reason I never saw a review where the critic mentioned it. (Perhaps our local critic was nearsighted.)

    • Brettermeier says:

      “It’s fair to comment on a conductor’s (or soloist’s) garb if it’s unusual, or if it hampers them somehow.”

      Like the buttons on a jacket’s sleeve. I’m sure it was a nice string quartet, but all I could hear were these buttons banging against the instruments.

      Or that opera, where one of the counters wore squeaking shoes. You always knew when he was about to enter the stage. But that was somehow funny, too.

      “Backless dresses are well within the standard range for female solo performers.”


  • Edgar says:

    It is vital that the conductor not get in the way of the colleagues in front of her/him.

    It is equally vital that the conductor’s garments not get into the way of the conductor’s conducting.

    Hans Knappertsbusch comes to mind, who reportedly spoke thus of the intstumentalists playing in Bayreuth’s pit: “Von mir aus können sie in ihrer Badehose kommen” – “as far as I am concerned they can come and play in their swimsuits”

    Of course, watching an orchestra and a conductor perform at a concert hall in beach gear might be a bit over the top.

    My thought: keep things as simple and functional as possible. Anything that gets in the way of music making is to be prudently avoided.

    After all, it is first and foremost about the beauty of the music, not about wardrobe.

    Unfortunately, some performing artists’ choice of wardrobe IS the performance, never mind the music they play….

  • Stephanie Stephanie says:

    I am a conductor and realize the importance (whether male or female) of distractions, anything that takes away from a player’s ability to see a clear beat, phrase shape, cue, etc…. Choice of clothing IS important for both men and women. I prefer to wear sleeves that have no motion, and I keep the jewelry on the hand and arm to an absolute minimum – perhaps a ring on my left hand and my watch. The same holds true for the gents: Choose your clothing carefully – no flashing bow-ties, no big ID bracelets, no ruffles on cuffs, etc. The players and audience, for that matter, should ONLY be aware of those gestures important to the music. Do NOT wear flashy colors – save them for the soloist. The conductor is NOT a soloist but part of the ensemble. Bottom line: If orchestra musicians have a dress code, so should the conductor.

  • Truewit says:

    Could it be that conductor’s sleeves were more distracting to someone in the audience than to someone in the orchestra? The sleeves might have obscured her hands if you were seated behind her, but I would not expect them to block the view of a musician seated in front of her or to her side.

  • Kolb Slaw says:

    Of course you were right. And any woman who has no sense enough to dress properly for conducting, ie. a tuxedo, SAME AS A MAN, does not belong on the podium. Seeking to draw attention to her appearance with loose hair, showy clothing, betrays a lack of standards. The purpose of a tuxedo is to allow one to focus only on the music, and to demonstrate servitude to the music, not fashion, not attractiveness. This is a major reason why women can not be conductors. If they cannot eschew the attachments of their gender, they cannot serve the music. Granted, men can overdo the macho-ness, but leadership requires it, most often.

  • PL says:

    nothing could be worse than when Andris Nelsons did Mahler 2 in Bmham and his trendy short jacket rode up to reveal what the Americans call ‘plumber’s crack’ (bb in UK); tail coats are dignified and even portly conductors can get on with music without audiences being distracted by their rear view

  • Chris C says:

    I photographed the concert and if you look at the 400+ images which I took during the concert you will clearly see that Maestro Stasevska was in no way impeded by her outfit. In fact it was refreshing to see a lady conductor not trying to dress like a man.

  • Gustavo says:

    No problem. I would also find it interesting to discuss conductors’ hair cuts.

    Rattle, Muti, Young, Mirga, myself versus Paavo, Haitink, Solti (screeming scull)

    • Karl says:

      Nagano – don’t forget him. A few years ago he cut his hair too short and lost much of his conducting power.

  • MWnyc says:

    When female classical musicians dress as boringly as male classical musicians do, no one will comment on what they choose to wear.

  • Karl says:

    It’s a microaggression. Microsoft should invent a microaggression checked similar to spell check. Until then I suggest finding a microaggression coach to help out.

  • Emil says:

    You lost that argument when you mentioned Gabetta’s “show-stealing” dress.

    And you’ve been running with this on Yuja Wang for ages, ignoring her musicianship to only focus on her clothes. Yes, highly inappropriate.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Cultural appropriation!! I thought that was a sin. Oh, wait…

  • Saxon Broken says:

    Actually, people do sometimes comment on the dress of male conductors in reviews.

    Personally, one of the more memorable attires was when Nezet-Seguin came “mincing” onto the stage in an all-white jump suit looking like Dr Evil in ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me’. Just bizarre. But when he started conducting the music it was soon forgotten and I enjoyed the performance: in the end it didn’t really matter.

    Rattle always seems to look slightly scruffy, in ill-fitting clothes; as if he is a bit overweight and out-of-shape for the clothes he is wearing. And he always looks rather smug and insincere in a way I find irritating.

    Gergiev looks like he hasn’t washed, and has been wearing his clothes overnight and hasn’t changed (perhaps he has just come off the plane on an overnight flight). And his baton is ridiculous.

    Last time I saw Lupu he looked almost like a tramp. While Keenleyside looked downright scruffy (like he got into the clothes he had thrown onto the floor the previous month after his last performance), as well as gurning at the other performers whenever it wasn’t he turn to sing in a way that was downright annoying.

  • Gustavo says:

    Do beards get in the way?

    Well, why are there so few Rip-van-Winkle-style conductors nowadays?

    I have leifly memories of only one. The beard didn’t get in the way.

    Are male conductors perhaps forced to remove their secondary sexual ornaments for socio-cultural reasons?