dressing for dinner? (orchestral attire)


Something I have been thinking about off and on for a while is the following: Why do performers and orchestras in classical music concerts always have to be attired as if they were dressing for dinner in Downton Abbey?

It creates, in my mind, a stuffy atmosphere that is unnecessary.

Last night, December 28, 2017, I saw a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City that included performances by the New York String Orchestra of a Mozart piano concerto and Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 (“Scottish”).



Note how the orchestra is attired. Neatly, but casually. (The sort of attire which, when I worked for a corporation, was called “business casual.”)

Why couldn’t performers in classical musical concerts dress this way — if not always — at least often, or usually? Especially, but not exclusively, for chamber music, say. (Actually, this kind of dress is more often seen in such performances.)

I’m not saying that everyone should be, or could be allowed to be, dressed scruffily (as was the case in classes when I was in college), or that a certain degree of uniformity in attire is not desirable.

But look at the performers in the above photos. They are neatly, in fact spiffily, attired. There is a certain uniformity. Their dress does not call attention to itself. I am not an authority on fashion, but there is something cheerful and “smart” about their attire. They look youthful. It creates what I would term a more relaxed and “open” feeling.

Am I right?



A couple of amusing details.

Last night’s concert began with a brief orchestral piece by the contemporary American composer Gabriela Lena Frank. At its conclusion, a piano was wheeled onto the stage for the Mozart concerto, which featured the pianist Richard Goode. In the first photo, a female violinist — standing, front left — is shown. When the piano was wheeled out, she was sitting in her chair prior to the commencement of the next piece. Three men were wheeling the piano to the front center of the stage. They did not quite notice the violinist, and she had to move her chair and shift her position, leaning back to get out of the way.

At a concert which I attended on Christmas Eve, December 24, one of the orchestra members, the continuo player, exited the stage after the first piece, a Vivaldi concerto. He walked to a door at the rear, stage right. He was unable to open it, despite trying several times. He finally gave up and walked back the other way and exited from another door stage left.

Not so stuffy, scripted, or predictable, the classical music world! At least not always.


— Roger W. Smith

  December 29, 2017

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