Solo fashion

By Maxine Kwok Adams  -  04 February 2016

Probably the most exciting thing for me as a child attending a concert in London was the soloist’s concert dress. The anticipation of waiting to see the outfit was of equal importance to the performance itself. The level of glamour captured my imagination to the point I can still recall some of the dresses in great detail to this day. Now performing over a hundred concerts a year with the LSO and being immensely interested in fashion I get to indulge my interest weekly.


 The majority of the concerts are of course with a soloist so I enjoy turning to see the entrance perhaps in swishy tulle or eye-catching sequins - obviously I am talking about the ladies although Jean- Yves Thibaudet is not averse to a bit of bling onstage and Lang Lang’s lapels often look like he fell face first into a vat of Swarovski crystals. Being an orchestral musician means for me a wardrobe of probably one hundred variations on a black dress, so seeing a splash of colour onstage is always fun.

Anne-Sophie Mutter being one of my heroes when I was growing up is still in my top tier for the ladies out there. Always sheathed in couture strapless gowns she famously said she didn’t want any material between her skin and her violin. 99% of the time she has been stunningly decked out – the only failure in my mind being the burgundy dress which looked like it had a rubber ring around her hips.. but hey if you’re that slim I guess you can get away with it.

Joyce DiDonato performed a recital at the Barbican wearing a stunning red Vivienne Westwood gown that could be altered every time she walked backstage to prepare for the next piece. I am pretty impressed when something is reversible so this seems like something every girl needs in her wardrobe!

Now of course in a blog about soloist’s fashion, my best friend can’t get away without a mention. Having spent time in Sarah Chang’s concert wardrobe I can say that here is a lady who takes concert wear to another level. Most of the gowns are custom made with details such as no beading at the last two inches of the hem to avoid any crunching onstage. Matching shoes to every gown in a full rainbow of colours, it really is a glamour girl’s dream wardrobe. It was examining dresses throughout our long friendship that made me realise what might look garish close-up (lime green, hot pink, extensive beading) was really incredibly stunning onstage in front of a sea of black-attired musicians.

There are those who dress for comfort and have their own style. Leila Josefowicz recently performed John Adams’ Scherezade 2 with the LSO. She strode on stage in flat sandals, loose harem trousers and a floaty top looking incredible. I expect she felt extremely comfortable and seeing as the piece was 45 mins of non-stop violin playing one could hardly blame her. The outfit was so interesting I had to ask her post-concert who the designer was. (Jenny Lai for NOT) We were having such an animated conversation that John Adams came up and said, “But what about my concerto?!”

There are those whose style reflects their background and heritage. Maria Joao Pires, the petite and humble Portuguese pianist, always performs in subdued colours where she almost blends in to the background . Mitsuko Uchida is always comfortably resplendent in muted Issey Miyake pleated loose separates. Women I think who are so comfortable in their careers they don’t need to wow with a gown.

Onto the aspects of concert dresses I don’t like - I am not a fan of dresses that are calf length and or floral, fine if you are attending a garden party at Buckingham Palace but it’s just not evening wear in my mind. I generally don’t like to see a soloist in black unless the dress is really special. White is also not my favourite as I think the wedding march should be playing as they walk in. I have unfortunately seen dresses so tight there’s an obvious VPL - maybe interesting to look at for the males in the orchestra but distracting all the same!

I am a fan of the old-style glamour more than the super skin-tight outfits that some of the younger generation girls can barely shuffle on stage in. We’ve witnessed shoes so high that one soloist, who shall remain nameless, face-planted onto the floor. I have no problem with looking sexy onstage. Hinting at it is one thing but looking like you’re touting for business post-concert? That’s not so classy.

Anyone who was a soloist in the 80’s has my sympathies.. taffeta, huge puffed sleeves, pastels, clumpy court shoes.. no one can say in 2016 we don’t have a huge array of choice to suit every style. Now let me see if I can get the amazing Vivienne Westwood to design a black gown for me that can be altered in many ways.. would certainly make packing for tours a doddle! 

About Maxine Kwok Adams

Fashion correspondent and violinist of the London Symphony Orchestra

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