Becoming a great popstar is all about image-building. And so is becoming a great classical musician. Only it is slightly different. Being too much of a showman gets people suspicious: is he trying to hide his musical flaws? The majority of people visiting the main concert halls around the world don't just enjoy classical music, no, they're true music critics, paying attention to every little detail: hitting the wrong note could ruin a career. In fact, some of the grumpiest critics get so caught up solely focussing on wrong notes, they seem to shut down their visual capabilities: barely any of them will ever complain about the hideous dresses, wrinkled shirts or greasy hairdo's that regularly make their appearance on classical music stages. What they don't realize is how tremendously unappealing this makes classical concerts to younger, or less classical-experienced people.
Of course it's not all about looks - there are many other ways to spice up a classical concert a bit: theatrical aspects, visual arts and interdisciplinary collaborations, for example. So let's add some freshness to it, people! However important it is to maintain the highest possible musical standard, there is nothing wrong with combing your hair every once in a while (sorry, I like to add a little drama to it), and why not pay a little more attention to detail when it comes to the theatrical aspects of a classical concert? On the long term, so I believe, this will lead to a more varied and larger audience. And isn't this what we all want?
Therefore it makes me happy to see the efforts being made to improve the image of classical music. For example, violinist Rosanne Philippens is organizing her own concerts in a warehouse (The Amsterdam Salon), members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra are playing alongside visual artists and dancers at the IJ-Salon and the Concertgebouw organizes short concerts with cocktails afterwards (TRACKS) in order to attract a younger audience. And, bit by bit, slowly but surely, fashion is making its entrance at the classical concert stage: ensembles engage fashion designers in order to 'dress to impress' and orchestras consider to get rid of their tails. And however I don't think the latter is necessary, a little consciousness is already a big step forward.
But there is a a thin line between being fashionable and being pretentious. As classical musicians (mostly) do not live a rockstar life, it would be a little out of place to dress them like rockstars. Also, when a soprano looks like a diva in advertisements, she needs to be a diva on stage. And this is exactly what very often goes wrong: the photographs don't match the actual stage appearance. So when capturing a classical musician in a photograph, the starting point must be the musician's true personality, that needs to be magnified and perhaps slightly polished. This way a photograph can represent the best version of a musician, while the audience is not being lied to, the critics don't need to feel distracted and, when done well and consistently, it could even make of a great musician a star.