Say Goodbye to White Ties? Baltimore Symphony and Parsons Reimagine Orchestra Attire

Thursday, January 03, 2013 - 05:00 PM

Parsons BFA student Isabella Scott models her prototype of an orchestra jacket for Marin Alsop (L) and New School faculty. Parsons BFA student Isabella Scott models her prototype of an orchestra jacket.

WQXR VIDEO: Orchestra Attire Gets a Makeover

Olympic swimmers wear caps and goggles designed to minimize torque as they race through a pool. Track and field athletes seek aerodynamically engineered outfits that help shave seconds off of race times.

But orchestra musicians? Despite countless advances in technology and fashion, they have been wearing essentially the same clothes since the time of Brahms: a white tie and tails for men and black gowns for women.

Driven by a desire to modernize the image – and functionality – of orchestra garments, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra began a pilot partnership with Parsons The New School for Design last fall, aimed at studying new models for concert attire.

Marin Alsop, the music director of the Baltimore Symphony, first approached the school with the idea in 2009. “I see the orchestra evolving and changing but it’s a very slow-moving creature,” she explained. “We’re still wearing the clothes we wore 200 years ago.” At a time when orchestras are seeking a fresher identity, the conductor reasoned that garments could be “a very compelling starting point to redesign and maybe reposition the orchestra in people’s minds.”

Supporters of traditional attire believe that it sets a tone of decorum and visual uniformity on stage. Detractors say tuxes and gowns project a stuffy, Victorian image better suited to debutante balls than a modern arts organization. For musicians, the issue is one of practicality: performing is an athletic activity that demands maximum flexibility.

Alsop’s challenge was taken up by an interdisciplinary class in the Parsons Design and Technology program, taught by Sabine Seymour and Scott Peterman. In September, the professors and their 16 students took a field trip to Baltimore’s Meyerhoff Symphony Hall where they observed musicians and studied their movements. Follow-up visits were made to the Mannes College of Music, also part of the New School.

Several prototypes soon emerged. They included a deconstructed orchestra tailcoat, designed by Isabella Scott and Yumi Chon, both Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates. The goal, the students said, was to increase the musicians’ comfort and range of motion by using absorbent fibers, breathable mesh and other sportswear materials.  

Getting Musicians Runway-Ready

At a midterm presentation for Alsop and faculty members, Scott and Chon revealed a mockup of a unisex jacket that did away with the traditional tails, which tend to bunch up during a performance. The students also experimented with pockets, a feature that some woodwind players favored as a way to store spare reeds, but Alsop questioned on visual grounds. The discussion was tabled after several minutes of debate.

"Classical musicians are still wearing garments that were designed before the advent of all kinds of textiles and technologies,” said Joel Towers, the executive dean of Parsons, who attended the presentation. “You wouldn’t expect an Olympic-quality athlete to go trying to run the 100 meters in a pair of jeans. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Towers’s point was echoed by Ellen Pendleton Troyer, a violinist in the Baltimore Symphony. "For the life of me, I don’t understand how men play the violin with a jacket and pads and a bow tie,” she said in an interview. “But women have their own issues. Women cellists have this big instrument and have to sit with their knees very far apart. A lot of evening gowns are not made for that.

“For violinists, your shoulders have to have movement and you have to be comfortable,” she added. “It’s not easy to find evening attire now that does that.”

Troyer noted that the BSO only began permitting women to wear pants in 1992, but they had to be billowy "palazzo pants," cut with a loose, extremely wide leg. Although that requirement has since been relaxed, women still must abide by rules governing fabrics, exposed arms and even sequins. “It would be fantastic if there was something, especially with fabrics, that can be worn and sweated in over and over again,” said Troyer.

This raises larger questions over whether players' garments should reflect the orchestra's image, the players' personalities or even the repertoire. And how casual is appropriate? BSO musicians have reportedly asked whether the Parsons' solution would involve some variant on the "Steve Jobs turtleneck."

Other student projects didn't directly address these questions, instead taking a more conceptual approach. Some experimented with sensor technology. Students Alexandra Zulkoski and Carla Marin envisioned a bracelet worn by the conductor that triggers and guides an animated flock of birds. Each section of the orchestra would also be fitted with a sensor that affects the flock and the birds swoop and dip as the music changes. The flock could be projected on the inside or exterior of the hall.

Later this month, Parsons will resume the project as part of its School of Design Strategies, and pick up the ideas explored in Scott and Chon’s jacket prototype.

Alsop hopes that a usable design will emerge in time for the orchestra’s centenary in 2016. "I’m hoping that the downbeat that year will show some of these designs in action,” she said.

Photo: 1) Marin Alsop (Grant Leighton) 2) Baltimore Symphony associate principal cellist Chang Woo Lee (Dave Harp)


More in:

Comments [44]

Christine from Somerville,NJ

This brings to mind a concert I saw years ago in NJ. The Pittsburgh Symphony traveled here on 3 buses. One for musicians, one for instruments, and one for concert attire. Well thankfully, the conductor told us, the concert would go on although one bus didn't make it, the concert attire. The music was just fine, everyone was just fine with the musicians in casual dress.

Jan. 29 2013 07:25 PM
Bettina from Staten Island New York

I'm a Traditionalist. Keep the traditional attire. It's appropriate for the period pieces.

Jan. 15 2013 02:42 PM
A Luna from Bronx, NY

Right. Sorry, I forgot. I'll go back to the Hispanic station now.
You realize my comment had nothing to do with music. But I get it.
I'll mind myself. Idiot that I am.

Jan. 09 2013 02:44 PM

A luna -

If we're all elitists - what are you doing here?

Jan. 09 2013 12:16 PM
A Luna from Bronx, NY

This topic again ugh! I'll write this again. Who wants to see uniformity on musicians? They could be wearing jeans & tee shirts! Black uniforms? Like all the waiters in New York City? Are you people serious? Do you know how elitist and offensive you people are? "And if you want to wear Gothic Black, put on some black eye liner"!

Jan. 09 2013 09:50 AM

Maybe as a Left-coaster, I have a different perspective, but reading through the comments, I can't help but notice how judgmental folks seem to be about appearance, using words like "slovenly," "slobs," etc., to describe their fellow concert-goers, and even New York Philharmonic musicians in rehearsal. Yes, one's appearance does say something about that person, but is it really necessary to be so judgmental? Just because the person sitting next to you may be wearing jeans and flip-flops, or even {gasp} barefoot, but is otherwise well-mannered, it doesn't mean that that person isn't enjoying the performance on any number of levels, and it certainly doesn't relieve you of your responsibility to be polite and respectful toward others.

But back to the topic of the thread: performance dress for musicians. I can understand those who wish to keep the "tradition" alive by having the musicians stay in formals. However, traditions don't necessarily last forever, and new ones can be created that, in the future, may be just as cherished. It's OK to let go. It won't lead to the complete downfall of our society and culture. Personally, I think that the erosion of once proud art and music programs have done far more damage than the style of dress that people choose. Anyway, what Marin Alsop suggests -- that orchestral musicians are like athletes, and should be dressed in such a way to maximize, or at least assist, their performance -- makes a lot of sense. I look forward to seeing some proposed designs. Sure, some may be outlandish and easily rejected, but others may be quite attractive and unobjectionable. Let's not knee-jerk the whole idea from consideration without even seeing what's being proposed.

Finally, I think it's simply refreshing that someone is talking about making changes in the realm of classical music performance. In the arts as well as in the real world, change is inevitable. The classical music world has not done itself any service by maintaining a stodgy, forbidding image. Changing the musicians' dress is not a magic bullet, by any means -- obviously, it won't result in all of Brooklyn and Queens suddenly descending upon Lincoln Center -- but shaking things up can, in my opinion, only be positive. I'm a cellist, and Western music was pretty much all I was brought up on (to the near exclusion of any other genre), but some of the "traditions" we tolerate in the concert hall seem almost ludicrous in this day and age.

Blah, blah, blah. . . prima la musica, poi le parole.

Jan. 09 2013 02:30 AM
Gev Sweeney from The Jersey Shore

I'm still trying to figure out what the flock of birds projected off a conductor's bracelet has to do with functional musician-wear ... Will the designers include virtual birdie poop, for the most natural effect? And why would a conductor want to wear a bracelet? Can you imagine Paavo Jarvi wearing one?

Jan. 08 2013 01:40 PM

In a country that is losing traditions every day, unless it is really uncomfortable for the musicians to play in I believe that the "tails" should be kept.

Going to a concert for me is still a priviledge and is an occassion to get "dressed up". As many of you have said, we have become lazy and look for the easy way to do something. Getting dressed up shows respect for ourselves and the institution that we are attending. I am not opposed to some minor changes but, the tails still make a man look SMASHING!!

Jan. 08 2013 09:39 AM
Barry Owen Furrer

Pardon me for asking not being someone with a background in fashion design; however, if the garment Ms. Scott is modeling in the photo (one sleeve on/one sleeve off) is any indication of the forward thinking of new concert attire, I'm for keeping things just the way they are. Unless perhaps this is know in the biz as a "deconstructed orchestra tailcoat" as mentioned in the article? Where's Tim Gunn when you need him most saying "okay people, make it work!"

Jan. 06 2013 08:01 PM
wek3 from Lowville NY

I agree with 'sam from nj'....keep things formal, as is. Now if the members aand conductors themselves desire a slight change for more freedom of movement and comfort while playing, then OK. But nothing drastic that will casuse the audience to focus on the dress instead of the performance.

Jan. 06 2013 06:05 PM
sam from nj

I think they should retain their formal dress. There are too few occasions where people dress up anymore. We have given in to too many relaxed positions on how we dress in public,go to theatre, travel etc. We've lost respect of each other. Lets keep at least a few traditions. PLEASE !

Jan. 06 2013 02:51 PM
glenn from NY

once the costumes become distracting to the point that one watches the player instead of focusing on the music the orchestra will be degraded to a circus or stage show (e.g. musical). The whole purpose of keeping the players in the "background" is so that the musical performance is the focus. Updating of the dress may be OK as long as the clowns stay off the stage.

Jan. 06 2013 12:29 PM
David from Flushing

The present day Swiss Guard uniform is an early 20th century design loosely based on period mural paintings in the Vatican. The uniform did in fact change over the years.

I think the major considerations for orchestra dress is that it be uniform for all players and that it not interfere with their performance. Perhaps jackets can be replaced with something less constricting. I suspect that rehearsal dress would give a hint as to what musicians find comfortable.

Jan. 05 2013 11:30 AM
Barb from NYC

I favor formal dark dress. Hearing an orchestra/opera/ballet/performance is a special event. They should be appropriately dressed to work as a visual unity and not distract. I do not think "tails" are mandatory, however. I appreciate that Alsop opened the discussion. I hope the results will resemble traditional, respectful dress in new fabrics that offer convenience and ease to the performers, whatever their sex or instrument.(Exception: outdoor, festival, seaside, types of performances in summer venues. Also enjoy costume for early music groups.) And, yes, I despise the looks, smells, and clothing of many concert-goers today. These are the same people who show up at church in shorts, tube tops, or rump-sprung track suits in the presence of God...

Jan. 05 2013 11:29 AM
MusicDoc from Roxbury, NJ

I have been playing in orchestras and concert bands for over 45 years, and I have conducted ensembles for over 40 years. A tux never has been uncomfortable to wear while playing, given that the tux is sized correctly. After all, it is merely a suit jacket with some satin lapels! If the shirt neck size is correct there and there is no restriction at the collar, the formal shirt is no different than any other shirt. As a woodwind player, I do use the pockets of my tux to hold the reed cap, extra reeds and the swab for my clarinet, and that is where the tail coat does not function as well since there are no pockets.
That being said, Ms. Alsop has always had forward thinking ideas, even back to her days in the all girl jazz big band String Fever. Her programming has been adventurous when she was in Richmond, and I applaud her for presenting a real project to these fashion students. If a new fabric is brought forward as a result while keeping the tux and tail coat, that in itself would be welcome since heat from the stage lights is uncomfortable. I cannot envision the Baltimore Symphony musicians wearing a Star Trek-like outfit since we musicians tend to be a rebellious lot, but let the experiment continue!

Jan. 05 2013 11:03 AM
Bernie from UWS

As one previous commenter said, I bet that many of those folks who are so resistant to change here are already "initiated" to classical music. They don't have the benefit of an outsiders' perspective - a first-time concertgoer who finds the Victorian garb and formalized rituals (no clapping between movements, long, drawn-out applause) strange and antiquated.

Before we write them off as plebes not worth entrance into the hall, consider that we'll all be gone eventually and a younger generation must embrace this art form. And you know what? They'll do it on their terms or find another way to spend their Saturday nights instead.

Jan. 05 2013 10:33 AM
Floria from NYC

Cool Observer...great! I agree. We're turning into a dumbed down society just for the sake of "because I can"! We're becoming lazy and holding nothing special. We even put our parents in nursing homes. Woe, woe are we. The tux is simply a symbol of this decline.

Jan. 05 2013 09:23 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

Kate from London and CoolObserver said it for me, and then some. I'll only add that I think conert and opera attendance should be akin in attitude to attending a religious service. By that I mean, it should be considered something special in one's week and looked forward to. The fact that it takes a bit longer to dress up, I think, helps to put us in a receptive and respectful mood. We're not doing something ordinary like grocery shopping or taking clothes to be laundered; and that's reflected by the formal attire of the musicians as regards their respect for the music they're playing.

Jan. 05 2013 05:52 AM
Harry from Brooklyn, NY

As a concert-goer who frequents Zankel Hall and other new-music sites, I am struck by the fact that my enjoyment of a given program has very little to do with the musicians' attire. Downtown black is the usual rule -- and I agree with the notion that a uniform color scheme is a good idea -- but it can be a tee-shirt and jeans or turtle-neck and slacks. I was struck by a recent performance of chamber music by contemporary Latin American composers where the performers were all drawn from Venezuela's Simon Bolivar Orchestra. They appeared in tie-and-tails and looked uncomfortable.

Tradition is all well and good, but to imprison musicians in 19th-century garb while performing five centuries of music makes no sense. Liszt has been dead for 126 years.

And then there's the issue of what soloists wear....

Jan. 05 2013 02:57 AM

I am getting disgusted with WQXR promoting this kind of thing. Every tradition and custom seems open to attack. I think we are being very patient with lots of slobs who come to great performances looking like they belong in their garage, a bar (cheap bar) or a sports match. I mean some haven't even washed in days (or weeks for their stinky and stained clothing). I am tired of dumbing down everything to make the idiots among us feel more comfortable. Often one is going to a performance that was originally for court or the cream of a society, just because now our "richies" are slobs and don't set any decent example or know any better does not mean there are not standards and traditions. It is a proven fact that school children that wear uniforms or at least have a dress code do better. Well, it is the same for adults!!! And, believe me, the adults these days need to learn better social behavior and respect for others in performance halls and outside too. And the fellow above who said the orchestra dresses as it does because they were matching their audience is wrong. On extreme and gala performances sometimes, but mostly the age old tradition is that the audience is dressed one level below the performers --but most people nowadays probably don't know White Tie from Black Tie, dark suits from sportcoats. I was in a restaurant once with a dress code and some bore came in with a shirt which he loudly proclaimed cost more than the maitre''d's tux. Money? Price tags? Pretty vulgar! That is NOT the point and NOT an acceptable standard, but these people don't understand what civic style and social respect means. We have become such a , lazy, casual society that manners and responsibilities and common sense respect have gone out the window. However, I certainly agree that there is a double standard in men's and women's clothing in the orchestra pit and beyond. If men wear tuxes, women should be in long dresses. If men wear White Tie women should be in ball gowns. Suits, cocktail dresses...etc. How many times do you see a woman in a gown and her escort in tea shirt and jeans or sportscoat. GROSS and totally inappropriate. Of course the Met fashion institute promote this with all their hype and shows about women's fashion without much attention to the complementary fashion, style and levels of dress proper for men. Sadly, when it is interview time, people are really sorted by the impression their clothes make. We have x'd jerks who leave their hats on, don't wear a suit or horrible, outrageous tie. These things speak volumes about someone, and the fools don't even know it!

Jan. 04 2013 11:38 PM
Marilyn from Freeport NY

I am a child of the sixties. That being said, I still like the pomp and circumstance of a performance. When I go to a classical concert, I dress in evening attire in respect to the orchestra and the classics. It makes the experience a "true night on the town". I feel the world has become too casual and some ceremony is refreshing and adds to the entertainment.

Jan. 04 2013 10:35 PM
Miriam Michel from Jackson Heights, NY

This whole discussion reminds me -- in a humorous way -- of a program I just saw where the Pope's Swiss Guards' historical military role was mentioned. (Stick with me on this.) Now, if you've ever seen the Swiss Guards, even today they dress in the same uniform they've had since the 15th century. To many of us, the uniform looks darned silly. To others, it is a symbol of a long, distinguished historical tradition. To a soldier today, it probably evokes positively nightmarish thoughts of trying to fight a battle in it. So, in our symphony orchestra Rashomon moment, we have the same problem. To some, the traditional orchestral getup is tired, old hat. To the traditionalist, it represents the illustrious symphonic tradition that matured in the 19th century. To the musicians themselves, I'd bet on the nightmarish end. So whom should we satisfy? Let's start with the musicians and make it as easy as possible to make the best possible music. For the other two factions, I'd hope we could (unlike Washington politicians) find a happy compromise that would retain something of the historic while providing a contemporary freshness. And then let's all close our eyes and just rejoice in the music. Isn't that the point? The music -- not the attire. Hmm.

Jan. 04 2013 09:10 PM
Gary from Long Island

I feel it worth pointing out that Marin Alsop used to direct the Long Island Philharmonic -- yet another good quality orchestra that nearly has folded and had to cancel a bunch of programs last year due to financial reasons, in a market that really should be able to sustain an orchestra.
I am in my 50's but I grew up on rock and roll and some flash on stage.
I'm not suggesting that orchestras need pyrotechnics and strobe lights and violinists wearing spandex, but maybe it is time to experiment with a few things that don't detract from the music. The fact is that that these orchestras need to do some experimenting to stay afloat! There will always be major orchestras in classic dress, why not give a few the opportunity to try something different?
BTW, I shuddered a few years ago when I saw some rapper do a piece with (I believe) the Cleveland Orchestra to draw a younger audience. That is definitely NOT the experimentation I mean! :-)

Jan. 04 2013 09:07 PM
Juliet from Hackensack, NJ

Pity the poor violinist who, over time, has had discolored and disfigured collar bones. Bow ties and such just add to a lot going on in that particular anatomical location. Let's get something ergonomic for everyone. Perhaps Herman Miller can design a solution.

Jan. 04 2013 06:26 PM
David from Flushing

I really do not think that ticket sales are influenced by what an orchestra might be wearing on a particular night unless it was nothing. Tails are now a sort of costume that people rarely encounter outside the concert hall. I am not certain that even the White House has had so many white tie events in recent decades.

I would say that period costumes might be fun for early music performances. Of course, opera orchestras could make an effort to fit in with the singers. Imagine a performance of "Attila" with furs and leather!

Jan. 04 2013 05:34 PM
Manhattan Hockey Mom from New York

I have always been bothered by how different men and women musicians look. Men are in tuxes with white shirts, women wear any old thing as long as it is black. Why aren't women also wearing white shirts/tops and black jackets? This would give the orchestra a more consistent look than it has now. Fine, get some firm to make "musical uniforms" and make tuxes (for men and women) out of breathable, comfortable fabrics -- black suit and white shirt. Men and women musicians should look the same -- true equality!

Jan. 04 2013 04:13 PM
AnnaCatherine from Hackettstown, NJ

I've wondered how long it would take to raise the question. With the increase of women musicians it's obvious that they are more confrotably dressed. A strapless dress vs, white tie playing the violin has to make a difference. The first time I saw Seigi Osawa in his white turtle neck is was suprised. As long as dress is neat and there's some uniformity it's fine to consider a change.

Let's just keep it classy.

Jan. 04 2013 04:07 PM
Zak44 from Philadelphia

The tux look dates from the days when orchestras dressed to match their audiences. No one would expect concertgoers to show up in ties and tails anymore; why should it be demanded of the musicians? I've been attending concerts for over 50 years and have been a season subscriber to the Philadelphia Orchestra for a good part of that time, and I would welcome any rethinking of the concert experience. To me, the only element that is necessary is silence during the performance; anything else should be up for grabs. For example, the frowning on applause between movements. Do people realize how recent a custom this is? Audiences in Beethoven's day would sometimes applaud so enthusiastically that the movement would have to be repeated before the concert could continue. That may be a bit over the top, but what's wrong with expressing emotions that the music inspires? When composers don't want interruptions between movements, they can write them to be played without pause, as Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann and many others did. When I watch Abbado conducting the Lucerne Festival Orchestra or Rattle the Berlin on DVD, is the performance any less gripping because the musicians are in business casual? The professionalism resides in the skill and mastery of the musicians, not in whatever they happen to be wearing.

I will admit, however, that when I saw the sleeves on that violinist costume, I couldn't stop thinking about the Seinfeld "puffy shirt" episode.

Jan. 04 2013 03:53 PM
Peter O'Malley from Oakland, N.J.

People looking to expand the audience for classical music seem to have decided (without any evidence) on a couple of propositions:
(a) dressing up is being "stuffy" (often used term);
(b) this "stuffiness" keeps new (and expecially younger) audiences away from the music;
(c) loosening up the dress code will bring the young hipster masses into the fold in droves.

No, there is no proof of this; and I seem to recall that at a time when I was younger than I am now (this will happen to the lucky ones out there in time!), I was not likely to dress up in black tie myself to go a conert or the opera, but it never occurred to me to scorn the music because of this. See what happens, I guess, but the real problem is that nobody hears this stuff while growing up; it is not in the schools, not even in movie scores to the extent it used to be, so young kids don't develop the synapses and listening patterns to be able to follow or appreciate the music, let alone get to the point where they care what the orchestra is wearing.

Jan. 04 2013 03:50 PM
Tom from montclair

I can go with black suits and the new jersey symphony does so right now. However, it is important that the orchestra's dress styles not distract from the music. I have great respect for Ms. Alsop but I don't see much purpose in this exercise.

Jan. 04 2013 03:31 PM

Why can't we leave the tradition alone? I like tradition and really find it annoying when people feel the need to monkey with something that's beautiful and has worked just fine. Don't even let me get started on productions of traditional works "in a contemporary setting"!(UGH!!!)

Jan. 04 2013 03:31 PM
Diana from Maplewood, NJ

Am I the only one here who thinks that it doesn't matter what they wear, but how they play? I do not believe that playing in jeans or something other than the standard tux and evening gown is disrespectful or leads to slovenly playing.

And a related point, from the comments above, it seems like all of us go to concerts. The vast majority of people do not. Perhaps part of our reason they don't is they feel intimidated by the formal dress or just think if that this is not for them. This is worth a shot.

Jan. 04 2013 03:27 PM
Margaret Hayter from Nutley, NJ

Attention should be paid first and foremost to the women players. They need a standard style of dress, with arms covered. The orchestra should decide on a particular style and all of the women should be required to follow it. Sometimes their are women players who look like they are going to a concert for the Queen, while others look like they just stopped in on their way to the grocery store. I complain about this every single time. The lack of appropriate dress takes away from the performance. A little class is called for.

Jan. 04 2013 03:16 PM
Rose Marie Wilson from Wantagh, NY

If the musicians have been wearing this formal attire without complaint for 200 years already, then why change now? I agree with others that having musicians of ensembles of any size dressed non-uniformly is distracting. I have attended concerts ranging from well-known major orchestras to local semi-professional orchestras, to small chamber ensembles, and definitely find it distracting when the musicians dress casually or their outfits vary widely from one another. I end up comparing their attire, rather than watching their playing. This applies to concerts I've watched on TV, too. Classical, formal music deserves classical formal attire, in respect and deference to the music. I see no reason why formal attire can't be tailored to make the musicians more comfortable, without greatly changing the outward appearance, in fact, I sort of assumed that their clothing WAS designed that way. I'm all for gussets, breathable fabrics, etc. if it will make the musicians more comfortable. I do not, however, want to see conductors in turtlenecks or jeans. The lady cellists can certainly find wide skirts or gowns with sufficiently wide skirts, and I have seen many in concert. I greatly believe that having the musicians in elegant formal attire creates or maintains the proper respect for the music, the musicians, the composer, the conductor, the hall and whatever other entities are involved. I would hate to see that end.

Jan. 04 2013 02:56 PM
adele from NYC

As Henry Ford said: Any color as long as it's black. I'm a big Ozawa fan.
Straight concert need for tuxes necessarily.

Jan. 04 2013 02:53 PM
Steve from Pennsylvania

I fully agree with Kate from London and David from New York. We are witnessing the decline of the niceties of Western Civilization. When I go to a live concert, I want to see an orchestra that both sounds and looks like one from the era of Brahms. Playing in a setting that is becoming to such music, and preferably a hall that has been standing since the days of Brahms.

Jan. 04 2013 02:44 PM
carol from NY

I don't want to go to a concert and be distracted by violinists wearing balloon sleeves, which to me is more cumbersome than a dress or tux. And I also don't want to go to a concert where there are fifty different outfits of various colors to distract me from the music. After all we are not there to see a fashion show. And the more important comment I have: if those designers would put their talents together to make dresses and tuxs' in more comfortable, flexible fabrics, we would all be happy.

Jan. 04 2013 02:39 PM
Larry from Rutherford

Seriously? With all the real problems faced by these orchestras,this is actually on the radar? Someone has far too much time on their hands.

Jan. 04 2013 02:37 PM
David from NY

Ever been to a NY Phil Dress rehearsal?

If so, you'll know what I mean when I say how much their (generally) slovenly appearance there detracts from the majesty of the music.

Jan. 04 2013 02:31 PM
Beth from North Carolina

Having spend 30 years trying to fashion (ahem) slight modifications to help make the orchestra garb more comfortable for the trumpet player in my household (including larger than usual neck sizes & longer than usual sleeves on tuxedo shirts, elastic loops instead of top button for dress shirts for easy expansion behind that silly bow tie; considered gussets in shoulders and underarms), I welcome this kind of thinking. Hasn't Seiji Ozawa worn turtlenecks for years? It doesn't mean that the essential color scheme would necessarily have to change from basic black and white, and even the tuxedo look could remain, but holy cow a standard tuxedo with tails is not designed for the contortions of most musicians.

Jan. 04 2013 02:18 PM
Frank from UWS

The reactions in the comments here remind me of when a baseball or basketball team changes uniforms. The fans make a fuss at first but forget about it after a season.

To me, as long as they dress neat, I don't see why they need to wear full-on tuxedos. "Business casual" is always a good way to go, IMHO.

Jan. 04 2013 01:35 PM
Mahler from Vienna

I don't think there's a need for big change because the attire is a part of the professionalism. Although I would rather have more concerts where we can just wear black suits, because tux jackets are annoying to play in and I don't think the whole vest/bow tie look is essential to still look classy.

Jan. 04 2013 12:56 PM
Sibern from Brooklyn

I watched a European orchestra on line and it looked to me that conductor and musicians just came off the street and dropped by to play the concert. No class in the way they dressed, one looked sloppier than the other including the conductor. American orchestras at least have some class the way the dress and present themselves, they even play better.

Jan. 04 2013 12:44 PM
Kate from London

I never comment but feel driven to.

Change is not always for the better. Two things have been forgotten here. 1.. The Audience (who Pays) 2The Music

I have been to countless concerts in the 1000's and the attire is getting worse and worse. The arm of the musician from the audiences view like the hands of a pianist are WATCHED by the us. They orchestra should work as one in movement and the covering of the "old attire" works best for the audience. This leads me to point no 2. The Music without arms covered in black and even a crisp white cuff the experience is completely diminished, in particular the strings both violins and cellos. The music without this is distracted from and it becomes second for the audience. You should see the orchestra but not see individuals as then you cannot take all the music in and so not "hear" it. If I did not mind distraction then I would not bother with the live performance at all.

An Orchestra is just that it is not a Soloistra and individuality should be left at the stage door. On a recent visit to a very well known orchestra the music was a piece of music which without fail aways moves me and most concertgoers. The whole evening was spoilt by attire of all sorts, glittery hair ornaments, bare flesh to the point of undress and very untidy hair.

I felt no emotion, I could not here the music for all the "Noise" and I felt cheated and neglected. The tails are beautiful part of our (the audience) experience , if the designer want to design utility then do so for supermarkets and leave this thing of beauty alone.

Dress has been like this for years as that works best for the paying public and please don't forget the most important factor, The Music!

Jan. 04 2013 12:07 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

The WQXR e-newsletter. Show highlights, links to music news, on-demand concerts, events from The Greene Space and more.

Follow WQXR 







About WQXR Blog

Read WQXR's coverage of classical music news, trends, commentary and more here at the WQXR Blog.