Friday 28th May, 2004_

News Menu Button Strike up the band - classical music has gone sexy


IT WAS MEANT to be about the music. They always tell you it is about the music. But when Myleene Klass slipped on her ruffled white dress, she threw the manuscript out of the window.

The Classical Brit awards were held this week, and taking a quick scan through the red- carpet photos, only one thought comes to mind: flesh. Toned, bronzed, beautiful flesh - and lots of it. Necklines were dropped, hem lines were hitched, and the result was altogether overwhelming. Classical music just got sexy.

The ceremony confirms what many have been saying for a while. Stars like Klass - who shot to fame on the Popstars television programme - are re-inventing the classical charts and bringing them to the forefront of mainstream attention. Sales of classical albums rose by 8 per cent last year to 14 million, a boost which has been attributed to populist compilation albums such as Classic FMís Smooth Classics and the new opera band Amici Forever. The ultimate proof of this revival was provided by Channel 4 in 2003, when it launched a reality TV talent show called Operatunity, aimed at finding the next big opera singers. And by big, I mean popular.

But all of this attention has not gone down well with classical traditionalists. One commentator at the Fifth Classical Brit Awards condemned the event as "an orgy of unearned self-congratulation". Other critics like baritone Thomas Allen have asserted that the industry is being "dumbed down" and "sexed to the detriment of talent standards.

Unsurprisingly, Rob Dickins, the chairman of the Classical Brit Awards, disagrees. "The words Ďdumbing downí are used to refer to every industry these days. The point of this show is to open as many doors into classical music as we can," he says.

And the doors are opening. Klass is just one of a host of young beauties that are enticing new faces into the classical sections of HMV. The 27-year-old has slimmed down since her days as part of the ill-fated Hearsay pop band (a move which saw her rated in the 100 Sexiest poll of ladsí mag, FHM), and now presents a more mature, sophisticated and, most importantly, talented package.

As does Hayley Westenra, the 17-year-old from New Zealand who has reached number one in various worldwide pop charts. Katie Jenkins, the blonde soprano from Wales is another one who took the opportunity to showcase her considerable assets - and she didnít even open her mouth.

All of this is a long way from the 90s, when the hottest star the classical world could offer was the raggle-tag violinist Nigel Kennedy. Sure, he kept the spotlight for a while, but other than the fact that he still had plenty of hair to gel, he didnít really have much to offer in terms of sex appeal. Charlotte Church has now blossomed into something of a teenage sex kitten, but just a few years ago it looked unlikely that she could ever continue in the business without her goody-two-shoes act. Having picked up a few tips from her bad-boy ex, she is clearly enjoying the new rockíníroll opera scene, and picking up plenty of press interest as a result.

Despite what traditionalists say, this canít be a bad thing for the music industry. As it stood ten years ago, classical music would have been lost on the emerging generation, known only as the backing track for club hits and airline adverts. It also means talent is back on the requisite list of the average A&R man.

Classical stars have clearly learned a thing or two from their pop counterparts when it comes to style, but now the pop world will have to contend with their talented and beautiful competition.

If that means less of the manufactured nonsense with which Myleene is so familiar, then this day hasnít come a minute too soon.


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Link thanks to Roger Mansbridge


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