- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2000

There is not much harmony between maestro and media these days. There is, however, fortissimo, not to mention agitato and maybe a little Sturm und Drang, too.
The maestro in this case is Leonard Slatkin of the National Symphony Orchestra, whose recent remarks concerning the sartorial demeanor of select musicians have created hubbub, indeed.
In an interview last week with Classic FM, a British music magazine, Mr. Slatkin allowed that female musicians must mind what they wear on stage, lest they distract serious listeners.
"I tend to favor covered arms, especially among the violinists," he said. "You don't want to see too much flapping about. Then there's the problem of women in trousers. If you're slightly heavy in the rear-end department, it does not look too good. Of course, not everyone acknowledges that and no one is going to tell them, which is why we need an across-the-board rule."
Them's fighting words among the ladies of strings and oboes particularly after the Times of London and several other dailies extracted the comments and embellished them with fierce reactions of women who accused the world-class conductor of sexism, among other things.
"Cover up, conductor tells fat fiddlers," was how the Times headline translated it, later noting that "weighty women musicians" were advised not to "show unsightly posteriors in unflattering trousers."
"Female musicians should be heard and not seen," cried the Evening Standard, while the Guardian got downright baroque about it:
"Flabby arms, saggy flesh, trouser seams straining over huge thighs … the world of classical music has been thrown into a spin by Leonard Slatkin."
Mr. Slatkin, however, hopes to bring this symphony of discord to order. In a statement to The Washington Times yesterday, he set things straight.
"In a recent article, some of my views on concert attire for orchestral musicians were somewhat misconstrued," Mr. Slatkin said. "It is true that I favor a more uniform look amongst the players on the platform, but I never said that trousers for women were unacceptable."
Around London, where Mr. Slatkin also conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra, women beg to differ, defending their "dress rights."
"Musicians are athletes, not tailor's dummies," said Jane Glover, also a conductor. "They sweat a lot. They work hard. It is terribly important that they be comfortable."
Mr. Slatkin, however, is politely sticking by his baton.
"Music is a visual art as well as an aural art, and we all must be aware of our appearance both individually as well as collectively," he said.
Things are getting a little personal, though. The Times noted that "the cruel wits of the British orchestral world" now call Mr. Slatkin "Mr. Blobby," observing that he could trim down himself.
"The only posterior that the audience can usually see is the conductor's," the Times said. "Back to you, maestro."
"His remarks prove that in the orchestra pit, as in every walk of life, it is always open season on women," pouted a female reporter at the Guardian, who added that as an American, Mr. Slatkin "comes from the world capital of fat, a country which proves conclusively that excess avoirdupois is not a female monopoly."
Some defend Mr. Slatkin, who has been with the National Symphony Orchestra since 1996, has made 100 recordings and won three Grammys over the years.
The Standard said that "Slatters" is completely justified in his observations, that he is getting "a slating for sexism."
The debate has escalated into a free-for-all among old-school traditionalists who prefer orchestras in uniform black, and modernists who think costumery enhances the esthetic experience.
Orchestras also wrestle with the dichotomy as they look for new ways to engage a disinterested public without compromising the purity of great music. There is a fine line between enhancement and gimmick.
A few organizations dress their members in flashy cummerbunds or even bejeweled jackets. Some soloists are known for their style peculiarities. Violinist Vanessa Mae, for example, wears hot pants and wet T-shirts and another violinist, Sophie Mutter, is known for her decolletage and strapless velvet gowns.
"Men have it easy in orchestra. We wear a tux," said one male violinist from Maryland who has played in several nationally ranked orchestras. "But there really isn't a standard for women who want to look decent but still meet the rigors of playing. Some have a real challenge like if they play a cello."
Mr. Slatkin, meanwhile, is preparing to conduct the BBC orchestra for a mid-September concert series in London. But he remembers his own mother's career advice: Practice the entrance and the bow, she told him.
"I have come to understand why she made me do it," he said. "The first impression an audience has of you comes before one note is sounded. The look you present is an important factor in the concert experience. My comments have to do with making sure all of us remember this and that we never take our appearance for granted."

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