When pianist Paul Jacobs died of AIDS in 1983, his New York Times obituary, penned by the then ubiquitous piano authority Harold C. Schonberg, mentioned only that Jacobs "died after a long illness". In the context of an obituary for one of the outstanding American pianists of the post-war generation -- and in light of the fact that other obituaries from the same year dutifully reported heart attacks, cancers, suicides, and other specific causes of death -- Schonberg's wording sounds as vacuous and evasive as a report saying that J.F. Kennedy "died after a brief limousine ride".
Things have improved considerably since then, and not only at the New York Times (which now has openly gay chief music critic). Some may even think that the pursuit of sexual glasnost in the classical music world has gone too far by pushing musicians toward pointless exhibitionism and general bad taste -- from Vanessa-Mae's soft-porn posters, to Yuja Wang's skimpy concert dress (with its clearly implied promise of a beaver shot for those lucky to sit in the front row), to Jeremy Denk's interview whose topics included "cute gay twinky boy composers" and "watching someone masturbate on the couch".
I, however, do not see such examples as in any way detracting from the dignity and nobility of classical music, if only because there has never been anything particularly dignified and noble about those in the business of creating and performing serious music. After all, the list of important composers includes fellows who frequented whorehouses (Brahms), molested children (Saint-Saens), authored virulently antisemitic pamphlets (Wagner), and glorified murderous political regimes (Shostakovich). As for performers, only Norman Lebrecht seems to have the requisite stamina for listing all those sadistic sociopaths, greedy opportunists, shameless liars, arrogant charlatans, and philandering husbands among masters of the podium, poets of the keyboard, wizards of the bow, and conquerors of the high C. And let us not forget about opera, which offers some of the most imaginative music ever written to accompany tales of murder, adultery, incest, deceit, betrayal, promiscuity, and other similarly ignoble yet irresistibly entertaining manifestations of human nature.
With this in mind, why should it be inappropriate for Yuja Wang to play a Rachmaninov concerto as a soundtrack to my dreamy thoughts about her immaculately waxed pussy, barely concealed by the edge of her tight mini-dress? And if Jeremy Denk thinks that references to twinky gay boys (as opposed to hairy bears, or strictly anonymous encounters with gloryholes in public toilets) will bring more people to his intellectually demanding recitals, I don't see why this is less appropriate than a hugely popular opera in which a teenage girl all but copulates with a freshly severed human head.
In the end, this brave new sexualized classical music world of ours is really not all that brave. The day is yet to come when Steinway & Co. will be marketing Ben Wa Balls for pianists eager to inject that extra ounce of ecstasy into their Chopin mazurka; or when beefy men in drag and high heels will be conducting scorching performances of Beethoven's Eroica and Mahler's 9th. If this is the future, I face it with the serenity of a Buddhist monk. Because when people make music, the only thing that matters to me is the actual music they make. And music is one thing I've always enjoyed best with my eyes closed.