A friend of mine at an afternoon work break mentioned how she’s been swooning over Joshua Bell recently. She read the Washington Post article where Bell busked at subway station and looked up his photo when the article mentioned he’s one of the babes of classical music. She said he’s got the Captain Jack thing going for him, referring to the gorgeous John Barrowman, who, by the way, has a new album out. My friend and I rarely ever agree on hot men, which surprised the rest of our friends.
So when we all went back to our desks, I continued the conversation in e-mail, directing said friends to Nathan Gunn, a favorite of the opera blog The Standing Room. Someone asked whether he poses for romance novel covers. Of course, I also had to point them to other "barihunks."
I mentioned my fondness for Kronos Quartet’s cellist, Jeffrey Ziegler. Another friend kind of thought David Harrington wasn’t bad looking. It’s too bad I forgot to mention Nico Muhly, who was featured in the Out 100.
In all the dire reports of classical music’s impending death, a lot of excuses seem to be bandied about the genre’s perception — it’s effite and elitist, saddled with a museum mentality, et cetera, ad nauseum. One thing that doesn’t seem to be mentioned is how sexless classical music can seem. My friend under the spell of Bell summed it up: "When I think of classical music, I don’t think of hotness."
Major labels have tried to leverage sex appeal in an attempt to win over new listeners, but those attempts usually draw the scorn of the listeners they already have. The attempts themselves just seem clumsy. Putting a scantily-clad Vanessa Mae on a cover doesn’t mean the straight teenage male won’t notice the Vivaldi in the track listing.
Will my friend start squeezing in Tchaikovsky and Corigliano in between her Mogwai and Death Cab for Cutie? She might if she’s smitten enough with Bell, but I doubt she’ll turn into, well, me. That kind of short-term thinking might put a few more pennies in the bottom line of the quarterly report, but it’s not much of a solution to finding long-term fans.
At the same time, the sexless image of classical music is somewhat disturbing. Classical music is incredibly human in so many ways, but when it comes to sex, it’s oddly abstract. It’s called "longing" or "passion" or something euphemistically poetic. It’s not sweat and body parts. It’s not anything really physical. So to call Joshua Bell or Jeffrey Zeigler or Vanessa Mae or Maya Beiser teh hawt is unseemly. And prudish.
It all boils down to that nebulous balance that dictates many facets of life. But I’m not expert enough to posit how that balance ought to be achieved.