There’s much sturm und drang in the classical musical world right now, and all about a little red dress a pianist wore at a concert at the Hollywood Bowl earlier this month. It was short, so short; tight, so tight; and, yes, red. I’ll let Mark Swed, the chief music critic of the Los Angeles Times describe it:
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.
Swed’s description caught the eye of Post music critic Anne Midgette, who all but called him a dirty old man and suggested it’s sexist that female musicians like the pianist, Yuja Wang, get criticised for revealing sartorial choices. It’s since sparked a whole host of commentary (here and here and here), debating, among other items, the aforementioned double standard, possibly lascivious critics, and whether the concert stage should be rightly compared to a red carpet.
Look, I know nothing about classical music, so I can’t comment on concepts like “psycho-acoustics.” And it doesn’t matter what I think of the dress. (For the record, it’s horrible. Tacky. A complete misstep. And don’t even get me started on the shoes.) Really, though, what amazes me is the sense that talking about a performer’s clothes is out-of-bounds in the cloistered, serious world of classical music.
Come on! Starlets get talked about for their appearance, yes, but so do news anchors, professional football players, future queens, and politicians. Hell, Midgette’s own publication printed a take-down of a then-Supreme Court candidate’s style.
Is it superficial? Yes. Might we better spend our time talking about something more substantive. Sure, but the Internet ate all our big ideas. Reality is, for performers like Wang and for others in the public eye, people are as likely to comment on the Rodarte gown (if only!) as the Rachmaninoff concerto.