Chris Ling’s views on sexing up classical music

I intend to write at length for this blog on Chetham’s, where I was a pupil from 1978 to 1986, and much to do with the fall-out from the conviction of Michael and Kay Brewer for sexual assault, the shocking revelations about Malcolm Layfield, Chris Ling and others brought to light through the pioneering journalistic work of Helen Pidd and Philippa Ibbotson, as soon as time permits. Many reading this will have already seen the absolutely harrowing articles about Chris Ling published in the Guardian, here, here and here – a story that has been at least part-known by many musicians for a long time, but which was successfully hushed up by Chetham’s at the time. Only now, more than 20 years later, are the women affected being acknowledged in terms of what they went through.

But Chris Ling is still able to carry on running an agency in Los Angeles with impunity. I wanted to post here a section from an article in the Omaha World Herald, published on August 22nd, 1999, thus seven years after Ling fled the UK as the sexual abuse allegations were first being investigated, which is even more sickening in light of what has now been made public. In the context of continuing attempts to ‘sex up’ classical music, the reality of what Ling was actually doing with his students should be considered whenever one encounters similar talk.

‘Hot, Sexy and Hip Classical Musicians Drop Necklines, Turn Heads, Win Applause’, by Kyle Macmillan

‘Just look (and who can resist?) at those sultry, sometimes scantily clad vixens who frequently grace television and print advertisements for beer, automobiles, apparel and classical music.

Wait a minute. Classical music?

Well, yes, as a matter of fact. A field that used to be associated with the staid and stodgy has gone hot and hip, as promoters and presenters put an increasing emphasis on youth and sex appeal.

Call it babes in music land. Call it sex and violins. Few trends have had a more visible or far-reaching impact on classical music in the 1990s, as Midlanders will soon discover when the 1999-2000 season gets under way.’

[….]

‘All are beautiful, and all capitalize on those looks in their publicity efforts. A little more than a year ago when Warner hired a new agent, CHL Artists Inc. of Beverly Hills, Calif., the firm immediately had sensual photographs shot of her.

“Wendy is a very pretty girl,” said Christopher Ling, CHL’s president, “and she’s a marvelous cellist. I don’t think it demeans her talent to have a picture of her that says she is a pretty girl. We’ve simply put photos out there which are new, which are good. And I hope it will attract a younger audience.”

Attracting new, young audiences has become an obsession in the classical-music world, which is facing alarming drops in ticket and compact-disc sales as the patrons on which it has long counted are growing old and dying.

To snare new buyers, many promoters, publicists and presenters are striving to combat what Ling calls the field’s “very staid, very boring image.” Traditionally, he said, it has not really tried to sell itself, settling for bland, rudimentary marketing and publicity efforts.

“If you looked,” Ling said, “at the CD covers of pop, it was very clever. It was always presented in a new way. And I believe the same thing should be said of classical music. And I’m very glad to say that over the last seven or eight years, that’s exactly what has happened.”‘