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January 31, 2010

Ever-provocative Stephen Hough on the issue of gay pianists

Leave it to Stephen Hough, the English pianist who combines technical panache and incisive music-making in such compelling ways, to stir the blogosphere pot.

On his inevitably provocative blog, where he's apt to talk sexuality (he's gay) and religion (he's Catholic) with equal daring, Hough has raised the subject of whether it's possible to tell from the playing whether a pianist is gay. 

Not surprisingly, there's a lively comments section on this post, and I'm sure conversations will be going on in real-live domains as well.

To tell the truth, I've occasionally wondered, too, if such an essential characteristic as one's sexual orientation invariably

finds a way into a musician's art (and not just a pianist's).

Not that it's a hugely important issue, but you've got to admit, it's interesting. All of life's experiences, presumably, can translate into an interpretation at the keyboard, or on the podium, of whatever. But how might this manifest itself?

As Hough is the first to point out, there's no use relying on stereotypes in this sort of guessing game: "Is there something which makes Horowitz, Richter and Cherkassky (to choose three completely contrasting artists) different from, say, Rubinstein, Gilels and Serkin? Can you tell they were gay? It’s certainly not the old stereotype of effeminacy – Richter is one of the most physically powerful, and ‘unglamorous’ pianists of all time ..." 

Maybe next someone can address another topic that I've always been curious about: How come there seem to be so few gay male violinists? 


Posted by Tim Smith at 3:42 PM | | Comments (1)


I may be unusual but I can honest say that the questions you raised have never entered my mind. Nor do I think they're necessary. An artist's sexuality is never a consideration for me. Perhaps the fact that four of my last choir directors at church have been gay has inured me to even thinking about it.

You're not unusual at all. I suspect most of us don't give any of this a thought, at least not during the music-making. But it was fascinating to me to see Mr. Hough raise it the way he did. (Funny, but this topic probably wouldn't have aroused much interest had he brought up the subject of, say, organists.) TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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