Chicago Q Ensemble had a photo shoot yesterday morning. Thanks to the amazing talent and skill of our photographer, Danielle Aquiline, it was a blast and we got some fantastic images already, with many more to come.

Before the shoot, we looked around at other ensemble shots, trying to get ideas for how we wanted our photos to look. We were especially interested in how ensembles with lots of women in them looked. Women’s dress has always been a site of cultural pressure, and women performers feel this particularly. We have to strike a very careful balance between too provocative (“I can’t believe she wore THAT onstage!”) and too boring (“You should dress is up a little, you’d get more attention”). If we show too much skin in a photo (or at a concert), it could get unwanted attention — yet we’re encouraged to use our looks to gain a promotional edge.

The classic string quartet look — four guys in suits — is an easy out if you’re all guys, but harder if you’re all gals. The Emersons have basically rocked this look for their entire career. Nicely done, gentlemen, but there’s nothing revolutionary about this look. You have it easy. Next!

(Photo: Mitch Jenkins.)

So what are all-female ensembles doing? I think they have the hardest job in terms of developing a look. The Cavani Quartet, who are AMAZING, must spend all of their time rehearsing, because they have not updated their press photos in ten years. They have a plain black (read: masculine) shot. This was their flirty/feminine shot. To me, it’s awkward. Where are these chairs? In the middle of the sky? Next!

(Photo: Christian Steiner.)

Check out the intense look the Cecilia Quartet decided to go for. When they got their new cellist, their photos took on a kind of “nymphs in the forest” thing. It’s UBER-feminine (ball gowns, full hair and makeup, and what looks like airbrushing). This isn’t a look I would choose for myself. To me, it looks like they are porcelain dolls, about to star in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Next!

The Chiara and Jupiter String Quartets are all split evenly along gender lines. This may sound crazy, but I think all of their shots manage to demonstrate progressive, youthful egalitarianism. In this photo the Chiaras below, the women aren’t being shown off like crown jewels; they’re hanging out as social equals — sort of how (hopefully) men and women should be coexisting. I also like the low-key vibe that the Chiara photos project.

(Photo: Liz Linder)

Finally, I’ve always loved this photo of the Jupiters. Four beautiful faces. It makes them ALL look sexy in the same way, which for women and men, is kind of an achievement.

Now go to www.awkwardclassicalmusicphotos.com and breathe a sigh of relief that this isn’t you.

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