There is a lot of fussing going on in the Internet Cello Society Cello Chat forum, regarding Sara Sant’Ambrogio’s somewhat erotic “Summertime” video. A lot of classical musicians and music lovers are genuinely offended when a classical artist’s performance becomes focused on the person of the performer.
I have mixed feelings. So much of success, especially in classical music, is happenstance and luck. There are lots and lots of wonderful classical performers. Incredible players living musical lives onscure to public at large. Many of the “successful” performers happen to have come under the wing of the right powerful and/or rich people at the right time. Others have to do whatever they can to get noticed. If a good-looking woman (or man) wants to use her looks as a marketing tool, why not?
Sara, the cellist of the Eroica Trio, has helped pioneer this approach. The Eroica Trio has long marketed itself using photos with its members provacatively dressed in suggestive poses. While they are rather modestly dressed in the current photo on the trio’s entry page, the pose would be appropriate in an ad for “The L Word.” They deny they do this, of course, and as individuals may well resent the need to do it, and they may be trying to get away from it. But it’s how they made their name, and I’ve never met anyone who thought the Eroica would have had anything like the success they’ve had if they had been three fat women.
I admire the Eroica’s playing, and like Sara’s cello playing. They are fine players. And if it took using their looks to get concerts, I say good for them. Classical performers have always used attractive photos; there’s nothing wrong with that. And in today’s classical marketplace, there’s almost nothing a classical group can do to stand out. Emphasizing their looks, using provacative poses–they (and/or their managers and promoters) are playing the system.
In today’s hypersexualized popular culture, they are quite tame.
It does bother me, though, at the same time. The use of entertainment-industry techniques to market classical artists offends and worries some of us. Art is art, not entertainment. Or so we want to think. And so even more worrisome than the use of this sort of marketing is its success. Especially when performers are presented not just as good looking, but quite blatantly as objects for sexual fantasy.
Hey, if I was lean and muscular, I probably would not be above playing that up if it would get me concerts. I’d be happy to be a cello-playing sexual fantasy for millions of women and gay men! But since I’m middle-aged and overweight it’s not an issue that I’m going to have to face.