Baltimore Symphony Joins Parsons School for Concert Attire Makeover

Thursday, September 13, 2012 - 05:00 PM

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is partnering with Parsons The New School for Design to re-imagine traditional concert dress for musicians.

The orchestra announced Thursday that 16 students from Parsons in New York City will spend this semester working to create new concepts for fashionable attire. Concert black has been the status quo for hundreds of years.

On Friday, Parsons students will travel to Baltimore’s Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to observe musicians and analyze their motions. They will eventually create five to 10 prototypes of new attire for men and women.

Music Director Marin Alsop is funding the pilot partnership. She says it’s time to “reinvent the modern orchestra.”

Alsop says the goal is to erase preconceived notions about what a concert should look like and create a more inspiring experience.


What do you think of the Baltimore Symphony's plans? Is it time to rethink orchestra attire?


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Comments [12]

judy from Massachusetts

People hear what they see. Concert dress is important!

Sep. 17 2012 08:53 PM
David from Flushing

Other than perhaps those who have to wear it, I have never heard complaints about orchestras wearing white tie and tails.

The stops on large pipe organs are sometimes color coded to aid quick identification. Perhaps different sections of the orchestra could also have their own colors. This might even improve the ensemble playing, though perhaps at the cost of creating sectional rivalries.

Sep. 15 2012 05:04 PM
Dorothy Tucker Katzenstein from Leonia, N.J.

I no longer live in Maryland, but I am a Baltimorean by birth, raised in
Buenos Aires. There,I have enjoyed the concerts of brilliant artists who
performed at the Teatro Colon. My husband Alvin Katzenstein and I enjoyed
many years of the musicianship at the Baltimore Symphony Hall, under the baton of David Zinman and the lovely current conductor, Marin Alsop.
About the formal attire, I have liked the red cuffs of her black mandarin
jacket, and likewise have liked the colorful dresses of the women musicians worn during the summer concerts, and the men in their white jackets.

What matters is the music. What most of us look at are the instruments.
However, I would not object to colorful attire such as blue or red jackets
for he men musicians, that they should wear jackets and no ties!!! to
be more flexible as they play

Sep. 15 2012 12:52 PM
Yvonne Armstrong from Westchester County

I don't believe the attire makes the music more or less gratifying. If how the musicians dress had that significant an effect, then they would be required to dress formally to rehearse and for recording sessions. Besides, why should musicians have to dress so formally? I imagine it's not always comfortable and, truth to tell, it is rather outdated. If the externals don't matter, as previous commentators have noted, then it shouldn't matter that BalSym is considering this. My goodness, even baseball uniforms have been modified to reflect modern mores!

Sep. 14 2012 07:21 PM
Sandra from St. Louis

Wish you would include choral groups in the redesign project! Concert black is deadly dull for us, too!

Sep. 14 2012 06:11 PM
Neil Schnall

It's not entirely clear what is the full design of Maestra Alsop's jacket in the photo. But the "rehearsal jacket" to which Mr. Burge refers looks to me an awful lot like a Nehru jacket. It was also favored by Karajan and, more recently, Eschenbach. I'm sure there are others. (I don't happen to like it much.)

Sep. 14 2012 05:17 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

I agree with Sisko24. Instead of trying to change the attire of the orchestra in order to "create a more inspiring experience", we must realize that each individual audience member needs to put something of himself/herself into the concert experience by exhibiting those qualities of concentration, patience and respect for the music being performed. Why put all the burden on the orchestra? We can't just sit back and expect to be "entertained." If you want that, you might as well stay home and watch "Dancing with the Stars." It is not the orchestra alone that contributes to the inspiring experience, but everyone in the concert hall.

Sep. 14 2012 01:09 PM

To Bernie from UWS,

Please re-read what actually I wrote and not what you believe I wrote.

The dumbing down I described is the diminishing and devaluing of such skills as concentration, patience and intermediate/long-term memory recall. The next sentence in my comment makes clear to all that my point is that this exercise by Parsons and the Baltimore Symphony is misplaced attention on concert attire instead of the traits I just mentioned. Perhaps this is their way of acknowledging that the problem is beyond their ability to remedy and requires a larger 'fix' than what they can provide.

One way to test my belief - that concert attire is not the 'problem' with classical concerts - might be to have the Baltimore Symphony (along with their esteemed maestra) perform a few of their concerts in 'street clothes'. If that proved inconclusive, perhaps then a concert or two performed au naturale would work. One way or the other, I know we'd we'd get the answer to my thesis and proof that 'updating' the concert couture isn't the solution to making the classical concert experience more inspiring.

Sep. 14 2012 12:41 PM
David M. Burge from Kirbyville, Missouri

It strikes me that this is another example of talk about "reinventing the modern orchestra" that, all too often focuses on externals rather than internals. As part of this talk about "reinventing the [modern] orchestra", there has been tinkering with how both the orchestra and the audience are seated, the structuring of programs, and the venues where orchestras play. Changing the attire the musicians wear is just part of this tinkering with externals. If the desire to "reinvent the modern orchestra" is serious, then, it seems to me, that reinvention needs to start with considering what new instruments, both electronic and those which have returned because of the historically informed performance school, should be made a regular part of the orchestra's configuration. A starting point on this matter would be to read Schoenberg's essay on this matter and to talk with contemporary composers and musicians working in the historically informed practice school.
Next, I think that some thought should be given about what one might be giving up in changing attire. As I remember my music history, male musicians starting wearing white tie and tails to emphasize that they were gentlemen, not servants, and that what they were doing and the music they were performing were to be taken seriously. I would think that care might want to be taken about any possible attire changes that would tend to suggest what the musicians are doing and the music they are performing is just another form of entertainment. If that should be the message that is sent, I am afraid that focus will be on the show aspects of the concert and less on the music.
Finally, creating a "more inspiring experience" is not done through externals like attire. Rather, it happens through music-making that is fresh, both in terms of giving committed performances of the music of our time so that they speak to the audience and in terms of giving committed peformances of the great music of the past so that they speak to audiences now and so that audiences want to hear both contemporary music and music from the past again and again. Given that Marion Alsop is associated with such inspired music-making, it find it ironic that she seems to think a "more inspiring experience" will happen from tweaking the externals. If the goal is a "more inspiring experience, then the focus needs to be on the works chosen for performance and on their musical perparation and their musical presentation. I also find it ironic that the photo of Maestra Alsop appears to show her wearing a modern example of the black rehearsal jacket worn by Bruno Walter and Toscanini.
To sum up. If "reinvention" is the goal, it would appear to be more fruitful to focus on the instrumentation of the orchetra, on the music it plays, and how it plays it than on what the musicians wear.

Sep. 14 2012 12:39 PM
Bernie from UWS

Who says this is dumbing down? Tuxedos are a Victorian holdover that reinforce the image of classical music as stuffy and elitist. It's easy for diehard classical fans to sniff at this experiment but for a lot of people who are new to the concert hall, things like tuxes are off-putting. Let's bring on the contemporary fashions!

Sep. 14 2012 11:42 AM

I hesitate to join any applause for this initiative. As an exercise for the Parsons students it is ok. But the problem with the 'concert experience' isn't what musicians are wearing, but instead with the possible ignorance, short attention span and need for instant gratification of too many in our society. Classical music, like jazz and the more serious arts require concentration, patience and intermediate to long term memory and memory recall. Those traits are denigrated by too many forces rampaging throughout our society. Maybe we can get our society's leaders to turn their attention to fighting that type of dumbing down instead of what attire is being worn on stage. After all, when a concert (or opera) is really connecting, does anyone really notice what the performer is wearing or...if he or she is wearing anything at all?

Sep. 14 2012 10:34 AM

I certainly see no harm in adding color to the orchestra. I rarely wear a black bow tie and white pocket square with my tuxedo.More colorful attire would certainly brighten the stage. But if the plan is to "go casual Friday" with the orchestra I advise caution.

Sep. 14 2012 08:54 AM

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