Classical rebels play it demure
by Maurice Chittenden and Gillian Bowditch
Sunday Times 19th November 2006.
WHEN Katie Targett-Adams takes to the stage with her Celtic harp in Beijing this week she will not be wearing the suggestive outfit that has become de rigueur for the ambitious young female classical musician.
She is one of a new breed of artists who are rebelling against the pursuit of sales through what she describes as the “seedy” sexualisation of classical music.
As the music industry’s marketing machine cranks up for the crucial pre-Christmas market, other classical musicians with ambitions to crack the pop charts have also opted for a more demure approach.
All Angels, a group of teenage choirgirls who released their debut album of arias and hymns last week, have retained the rights to their image to veto revealing shots. Over the past decade, their rivals have willingly slipped into bodices, hot pants and low-cut tops to boost their appeal.
For Targett-Adams, from Edinburgh, the turning point was a meeting with the impresario who moulded the image of Vanessa-Mae. Mel Bush, who persuaded Mae to pose with her violin in the sea, seemingly wearing nothing but a white vest, urged her to wear shorter skirts.
But while the image was credited with giving birth to “classical crossover” music as Mae achieved hits in 92 countries, Targett-Adams, 27, walked out on Bush and a management deal.
Targett-Adams, who inherited her looks from her mother, a former model, said: “I could see a little bit of logic in what he was saying but it got to the point where my mind just wouldn’t let me. I found it too seedy.”
She added: “I had to draw a line . . . classical and traditional music industries feel they must continually vie with an increasingly ‘sexier’ pop world. In the end I just thought, ‘I can’t do this.’ I did not share Mel Bush’s views on how to make it, which is why we parted company.”
She is missing from a gallery of “pin-ups” of 29 female harpists to be found on a website dedicated to beauty in music. Few of them, however, can match her achievements: Chinese audiences shout “We love you” and write her name in the air with fluorescent wands.
The idea of using sex to sell classical music helped rescue sales in the mid-1990s, a period when the excitement over the Three Tenors had died down. At its height the ploy saw record companies release titles such as Bedroom Bliss with Beethoven and Making Out to Mozart.
The four teenagers who constitute All Angels have adopted a radically different approach, vowing never to show off their bodies.
One of the girls, Daisy Chute, 17, from Musselburgh, East Lothian, said: “For us, it’s all about the music. We won’t be on the cover of magazines like Heat and we won’t be wearing our school uniforms in any music video.”
They are signed to Universal Music, whose biggest classical star, the operatic diva Katherine Jenkins, 26, often appears in cleavage-enhancing dresses.
But a spokesman for Universal said: “The girls have complete control over their image, and are to be portrayed as musicians and not in any way inappropriately. Their management have very strict guidelines over this.”
Similarly Simon Cowell, the pop music mogul and judge of The X Factor, the music contest, has dressed his new classical group, Angelis, made up of three boys and three girls aged 11 to 14, in suits and demure black dresses.
Bush, who promoted rock stars such as Elton John and Led Zeppelin before turning to classical music and launching the careers of Mae, now 27, and the all-girl quartet Bond, said: “It is not about flesh. It is about playing the right music and having the right image to fit the music. Vulgarity will not sell records and would bring damage to both artist and record company.”
Mark Borkowski, the PR guru who 10 years ago helped shape the image of the Mediaeval Babes, a 12-strong girl group who included a former stripper and an alleged witch, said: “Sex and drugs and classical music sells but there is a finite market for it. The plunderers will know there is a sell-by date stamped somewhere on the rump of their artists.”