The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Female classical musicians are coerced to sex up their image, says star violinist Nicola Benedetti | July 27, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear loves all the talk about female equality happening at the Democratic National Convention this week.

It seems only fitting, after all, given that Hillary Rodham Clinton last night became the first female presidential nominee of a major political party in the U.S.

Now, you might think that culture and especially the arts lead the way in such progressive matters.

And sometimes they do.

But not always.

In a story in the newspaper The Daily Mail, published in the United Kingdom, Scottish star violinist Nicola Benedetti (below) says that female classical musicians are still coerced to “sex it up” to have major careers. (Y0u can hear another interview with her in the YouTube video at the bottom. She seems both charming and candid.)

NIcola Benedetti PIcture:- Decca/Simon Fowler

NIcola Benedetti
PIcture:- Decca/Simon Fowler

Hmmm. Sounds almost like an appropriate story at a time when conservative political genius and news director Roger Ailes was forced to leave his Fox News job because of multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

Benedetti cites her own career as an example, and also the case of singer Charlotte Church (below), who had to wear sexy lingerie in a crossover video.

Charlotte Church

It sure sounds like sexism is alive and well in the world of classical music.

Here is a link to a story with Benedetti’s charges.

Read it and see what you think:

Then tell the rest of us what your opinion is.

And if you know of other examples.

The Ear recalls a sexed up album cover for American violinist Lara St. John (below) who, on a recording of solo works by Johann Sebastian Bach, used her instrument to conceal her bare breasts.

Lara St. John Bach breasts

Let us know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. Timely and well said. To the extent that sex appeal is more a part of the package for female versus male performers, it seems there may be a subtle message that their artistry per se matters less. If female performers have to work harder to have their music taken seriously, this may be a contributing factor.

    Comment by Ed Haertel — July 27, 2016 @ 10:20 am

  2. If we define sexism broadly it isn’t only the women who are sexed-up.
    What about some of the album covers for Jonas Kaufmann or Dmitri Hvorostovsky? Sex sells, and it ain’t confined to the women! Although
    it’s more commonly used when marketing female artists.

    Comment by Ann Boyer — July 27, 2016 @ 8:18 am

  3. Lest anyone think this article (and issue) pertains to females alone, here’s a story with a list of 21 “sexy males” in classical music. Included are the tenor Jonas Kaufmann, violinists Charlie Siem and Ray Chen, cellist Luka Šulić and others.


    I also recall when I was growing up that much of Leonard Bernstein’s appeal (in addition to his terrific skills in music and in musical education) was his sensual appeal. It certainly helped his career; he was “sexy and he knew it”.

    Comment by fflambeau — July 27, 2016 @ 5:58 am

  4. Good column that asks tough questions.

    I have a couple related questions too: do not the performers who acquiesce to the ‘sexing it up’ agenda, also have to bear (pardon the bad pun) some of the responsibility? Are some not cashing in on sexiness and their own pretty images? And doesn’t this apply to some men as well as women? (like the conductor of the L.A. Philharmonic)?

    I believe that there should be none of this in classical music but as Madison Ave. knows, sex sells. I think that the series “Mozart in the Jungle” has taken this on as one of its central themes and recall that some people seemed to bash it for doing just that. Note too that there is a not too subtle criticism of the real life conductor, Gustavo Adolfo Dudamel Ramírez, in that series with wonderful acting coming from the person who plays the fictitious conductor, “Rodrigo.”

    Comment by fflambeau — July 27, 2016 @ 3:58 am

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