Gender Bias in Classical Music, the Berliner Morgenpost and beyond!

Philharmonie

Coming off stage at the Philharmonie

(Want to read this in German? Click hier!)

The criticism of art is just opinion, and a reviewer has a right to her or his own. Though I may disagree from time to time, my public responses have been due only to factual errors.

Earlier this May I read a review (English translation here) by Herr Felix Stephan of a concert I was part of in the Philharmonie Kammermusiksaal – my Philharmonie debut, in fact. I was called an assortment of interesting things and I have no problem with any of the nomers Mr. Stephan chose.

In the second paragraph, however, the final sentence says that I entered the stage “…mit unverkennbarem Babybauch.” (“…with an unmistakable baby bump.”)

After reverse-snorting some coffee, I read it again. It was insinuated in the article that “to date” I was some sort of Lolita-Hexen-Geigerin (‘Lolita-Witch-Female-Violinist’), but now in my forties and pregnant, I would likely calm down some.

There are binders full of wrong with Mr. Stephan’s presumption. That a performer whom he describes as “someone one can hardly turn eye nor ear away from” would somehow better suit his temperament by being knocked up is an insult to my gender. As though all that could possibly quell femme fatale-ism (his words) were childbearing and rearing; he decided for himself, his readers, and his apparently myopic editors, that I was soon to be bearing a bouncing bundle of baby bliss.

Let me now assure my readers that I am most assuredly not pregnant, and very happily so. I decided some time ago that I would much rather create than procreate, so I remain child-free.

Herr Stephan’s declaration of the opposite does not take into account other possibilities for what he evidently saw as a tall “..fascinating and troubling.. ” woman in a formal A-line black gown whose tummy, as she performed a concert of music by Schubert, Bruch, and Bach, was a little too large for his liking.

Just a few ideas here: hepatitis, thyroid problems, cysts, recent miscarriages, being a bonne vivante and/or getting knighted in Bourgogne a few days before the concert.

I’m not saying any of these things are true, but they could be.

It shows a mighty troubling double standard; if a man walked on stage with more weight than Mr. Stephan approved of, could anyone even fathom that he might assume it had to do with the man’s reproductive system? After all, gonad trouble often creates abdominal bloating, but one can’t really imagine this exceedingly personal issue occurring to him – instead, he would certainly not mention it at all.

Germany is less Neanderthal than many countries regarding gender equality, especially recently.  I think, rather, it’s the field – of classical music, where it is still far too widely expected that girls obediently play pretty things on harp, flute, violin or piano, never straying from the pale, and that conductors, composers and innovators must be male to have any revolutionary ideas.

This view is changing, but ever so reluctantly. I’m glad this German fellow liked the concert, but it seems he decided I was pregnant because that made him feel relieved. That he wouldn’t have to deal with this giant wild Hexe anymore, because she’d be stuck at home with a baby.

Well, nope.

~ Lara St. John

P.S. Kudos (of a sort) to the MoPo however, for printing my letter to the editor:

My German publishing debut!

My German publishing debut!

To Carsten Erdmann, Editor-in-Chief of the Berliner Morgenpost

Re: May 5, 2015, review of my Philharmonie debut

Sir,

I am ever so pleased Herr Stephan enjoyed the concert. It may behoove you, however, to encourage your music critics to refrain from making assumptions about performers’ reproductive conditions. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “I am afraid that his report of my pregnancy was grossly exaggerated.”

Keep up the high standard of reportage!

Sincerely yours, Lara St. John

8 thoughts on “Gender Bias in Classical Music, the Berliner Morgenpost and beyond!

  1. Brava once again to you! What an utterly irresponsible and rude assumption/statement to
    make. This is music journalism at its absolute worst. On a somewhat related note, I have a vivid memory of a fantastic performance of Bruch G minor you gave with the Annapolis Symphony while I was in middle school and have been a fan ever since.

  2. Please don’t call it “gender bias”: “bias” implies that the oppressive act is just that – an act in isolation or a mindset held by a single person. You yourself have acknowledged that sexism is systemic by pointing out the double-standard of body-shaming.

    I’m so shocked I don’t really know what to say except for that I’m sorry, and that I keep your “4 Ways to Find Your Voice” from Strings in my case and read it regularly. Thank you so much for that article; it has helped me a great deal over the past few years.

  3. Just when I was wondering what had become of music critics like Hanslick that supplied so much material for the contempt and bemusement of future generations. Only regret that you were the target of his lack of breeding.

  4. Funny, no critic ever said Itzak Perlman must be having quintuplets any day now, when they write a review of one of his concerts–just how fantastic his playing is–and that’s all any critic should say. I find it appalling what that critic in Berlin wrote! You have long been my favorite violinist, even though I’ve only seen you once in concert (The Bach Concertos in Seattle years ago) because of your incredible ability, personality, and independence; not to mention creativity and humor! There is a sexual bias in classical music, which I could go on and on about, but won’t. Keep up the fantastic work and I look forward to whenever your next album comes out!

  5. We were in St Pete past evening for a spectacular exhibition of virtuosity on Vavaladi Wow very impressive and never thought about the body stuff. When people say dumb stuff, Non Carbon Iligitmi!

    LITHOPHYTE

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