Classical performers are increasingly concerned with their looks… but isn’t it supposed to be about the music?

Were I to walk out on stage and perform a Beethoven piano sonata dressed in a technicolour suit, with an outrageous coiffure (admittedly a challenge given my genetic disposition) and a liberal application of face paint, would the music sound any different?

If a musician rips a couple of holes in their jeans and recounts a few expletive-ridden anecdotes between movements, does the music acquire an immediacy and relevance hitherto lacking?

Clearly the rational answer to these questions is no. Yet it is difficult to deny that the importance assigned to a performer’s image and extramusical persona is ever increasing in the classical music industry. We see more and more artists whose appearance and attitude are significant factors in their popularity, and in some cases, the very foundation of their careers.

The crux lies of course in that word industry. Beleaguered record labels and concert promoters worldwide rely on ever more attractive and provocative branding to sell their wares, and many performers follow suit in an effort to stand out in a congested field.

But in paying so much attention to appearances, are we not losing sight of what...