Dame Jenni Murray, the presenter of Radio 4's Woman’s Hour, has expressed her concern that successful women in classical music today are still conforming to the notion that ‘sex sells’.
Writing in the Radio Times, Murray believes that sexism still proliferates in the music industry, with many women struggling to make a living without capitalising on their appearances to achieve success. ‘The women who seem to be most welcome are the ones who are prepared to go along with the old idea that sex sells,’ Murray says. ‘Look at the way the violinist Nicola Benedetti and trumpeter Alison Balsom are marketed,’ she adds.
The presenter, who is due to conduct the BBC Philharmonic in the Overture to Bizet’s Carmen for a special edition of the programme that focuses on women in music, also points out that it is nothing new for women to struggle to gain recognition in music – take Fanny Mendelssohn, for instance – and laments the fact that it has taken 119 years for a female conductor to be employed for the Last night of The Proms.
In a responding piece for The Telegraph, violinist Tasmin Little says she is inclined to agree: ‘In my experience, there is, sadly, much truth in what [Jenni] says. During my 25-year career in the profession, I have noticed an increased emphasis on appearance … and youth and beauty are perceived as almost equal to talent.’
Little goes on to say that the perception of classical music as ‘out of touch’ is what has led to this emphasis. But whilst women in music seem to be increasingly valued for their looks, she stresses the importance of considering the aural quality of artists over visual aesthetics.
Jenni Murray conducts BBC Philharmonic in the Overture to Bizet’s Carmen on Friday 21 June.