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I once got into a fistfight with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau outside the good ol’ Ratskeller in Berlin after I told him I preferred Hans Hotter’s performance of Winterreise, and that he (Fischer-Dieskau) had been in a slow decline ever since the 1950s.

Julia Fischer (no relation to Dietrich) was on the scene and was so turned on by my manliness (I kicked The Fish’s ass), we’ve been seeing each other on and off ever since.

She’s the greatest. We sit up all night long and drink White Russians and talk about phylogenetic profiling, the chromalveolate hypothesis proposed by Cavalier-Smith, Manchester City F.C. (of which we are both big fans), cricket, peonies, carrots, and so on …

Viktoria Mullova

Julia Fischer’s performances send critics scrambling for superlatives. In 2007, Britain’s Gramophone magazine dubbed the violin sensation its youngest-ever artist of the year, choosing the then 24-year-old over entrenched superstars Claudio Abbado, 74; Daniel Barenboim, 65; and tenor Rolando Villazón, 35.

The youthful Bavarian joins a new wave of fresh-faced violinists poised for major careers. For generations, male virtuosos dominated the instrument, but now the spotlight falls mostly on women. The crowded field includes Lisa Batiashvili, Jennifer Frautschi, Hilary Hahn, Janine Jansen and Leila Josefowicz. For the moment, Fischer wears the crown of first among equals. Anne-Sophie Mutter, an elder statesman at 45, clearly played a pivotal, pioneering role for female soloists. Yet the focus on the gender swing irks some artists. Josefowicz told us in a recent interview that she sees it as probably little more than male critics’ chauvinist fixation.

(Read the full article by Tom Mullaney in Time Out Chicago)

It’s an interesting question whether you would actually buy a recording based on the physical attractiveness of the artist. I can’t imagine doing so. If I want to look at attractive women, I have a number of other more appropriate outlets for doing so than CD covers.

I think if somebody bought a classical recording based on the fact that there was a good looking woman on the cover then they need to give up trying to listen to classical music, because that defeats the whole purpose of listening and also has nothing to do with the actual music. Classical music “marketing” (dreadful word) has always been something that I have had little patience for. Honestly, I don’t even know why they put pictures of the conductors on the front covers either. I’ve always liked Hyperion’s and Chandos’ or Naxos’ covers probably the best. They at least have some class about them and aren’t trying to shamelessly promote their latest wet dream.

I find it fascinating that people always talk about beautiful violinist A and beautiful pianist B, whereas they probably wouldn’t notice these women if they passed them in the street. These pictures are usually the result of hours in the studio and the hard work of a couple of stylists.

Hilary Hahn

Playing the violin at the level of the international concert circuit is very hard work, physically and mentally and most of these women look totally worn out in their downtime. Viktoria Mullova, one of the very best female violinists, could look just as good as Janine Jansen (if not better) if she wanted to, but she doesn’t, and that’s why her pictures look the way they do.

Anne-Sophie Mutter, indeed, made the switch from girl-next-door who happened to be a top violinist, to glamorous siren (look at the decidedly unglamorous pics of her with Karajan on her early Deutsche Grammophon LPs). In my view it doesn’t quite work, because she’s not an easy smiler: you can tell there’s a ferocious (musical) intellect behind that face. I think you can see that same intellect in Julia Fischer (whom I find very attractive) and even in Hilary Hahn. These are women with an enormous will power making substantial sacrifices for their art, and it shows. But that makes them actually more interesting to look at.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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