What to wear

Here’s a new idea for concert dress, or new at least to me — a new (and none too wonderful) thought about what classical musicians should wear when they play. It comes from New York’s Eos Orchestra, whom I heard this past weekend playing smart, tactile, wry, and often touching music by Peter Lieberson, a good man and good composer. The musicians wore black pants, and black Eos t-shirts; “Yuck” might be one quick reaction. The whole thing looked to me like a crass promotion, but then I don’t have much affection for Eos, which gets a lot of publicity and plays fascinating programs, but plays them badly. Their founder, prime mover, and music director Jonathan Sheffer just can’t conduct…but let’s not go there. (Insert tirade about vanity operations, led by incapable conductors with either money, or a gift for fundraising and promotion.) (And I do wonder why Eos was chosen to play this concert on a composers’ series at New York’s Miller Theater, whose events are programmed by George Steel, a good musician, who ought to know better. Lieberson’s music, tricky, changing every few moments, needs a lot sharper playing than Sheffer and Eos could give it.)

I can imagine a group that’s run by its musicians wearing t-shirts that advertised it. At least we’d know the musicians were promoting themselves.

But the most effective informal concert dress I’ve seen is wonderfully simple. Everyone wears black below the waist, pants or a skirt, and something colored on top. The musicians pick their own colors, and the result looks both festive and disciplined, free and creative, but also organized. I saw this first at a new music concert by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and have seen it elsewhere, too, though it’s important to really coordinate the look. Sometimes most of the musicians dress this way, but a few people wear all black, which weakens the fun.

New music concerts tend to be informal, of course. Their audience tends to dress casually. What you’d wear to play standard repertoire in a formal concert hall for a dressed-up audience — that’s another story. But it’s something a lot of people wonder about, including even major orchestras.

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