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Meet the gay classical star who’s painted his body like a piano to get more people into music

Meet the gay classical star who’s painted his body like a piano to get more people into music

Emmanuel Vass, classical piano player

A British classical pianist is bringing his art form to a new audience by painting his body to look like a piano.

While pop stars or opera singers are able to use their body as their instrument, 26-year-old Emmanuel Vass wanted to explore the relationship between the artist and the piano – by transforming his muscular arms and torso into painted black and white keys.

‘As a piano player I play something external, but it is a part of me – there has to be a connection between you and the instrument,’ he explained, speaking to Gay Star News. ‘I wanted to explore that link.’

‘I was thinking carefully about how classical music is represented in mainstream media. When a lot of people think about classical music they think about an introverted, anaemic-looking person standing meekly on the stage. That’s not me at all, and it’s the complete opposite of my training!

Emmanuel Vass, classical piano player
Exploring the link between the piano and the player (c) The Entertainment Bureau/Edward Taylor

He added: ‘I don’t think it’s necessary to wear clothing from the 19th Century when you’re playing music from that time. I don’t have to look like Mozart when I’m playing his music!

‘It’s a bit like saying One Direction should look like the Beatles to be good pop stars. When you put it like that, it just sounds insane.’

While he’s happy to show the sexier side of his art form, Vass understands his topless photos are bound to shatter a few champagne glasses among the classical elite, who generally expect a performer to be wearing at least a shirt – if not a suit.

‘Some people have reacted in a negative manner,’ he said. ‘As an artist you can never please everybody all the time across the board. I feel personally that I am bringing something new to the table. Nobody has ever done this before in classical music!

‘Controversy drives art forward in many ways. It’s about pushing boundaries and driving discussion and always being at the forefront of vision. We don’t need to look back to the 19th Century – we should embrace what’s going on right now!

‘We live in a social media age, a smartphone age; the general public do look before they hear. If you have some striking visuals they might be more likely to want to listen to the piano for the first time.’

Emmanuel Vass, classical pianist
‘I don’t want to hide under a suit!’ (c) The Entertainment Bureau/Edward Taylor

He added: ‘I completely acknowledge I’ll probably piss some people off… but Brahms pissed people off too, right? Stravinsky wrote a ballet that caused people to riot and run out of the theatre – but now that ballet is seen as the pinnacle of contemporary music and completely changed the way we understand the music that followed.’

‘The quality of my playing is still inherent – it’s been broadcast by Classic FM and BBC Radio 3, and my album was at the top of the UK classical charts a few months ago – so I don’t think I’m taking it too far.’

‘The most important thing is always the music, and the way I look doesn’t actually affect the way I play. It just might turn a few heads in the right direction, that’s all.’

‘So many musicians are objectified for their talent; either that or you’re a ‘youth object’, or a ‘hero object’ – so why can’t you be a ‘sex object’?’ he said.

‘That’s not necessarily what I’m aiming for, but if that’s what I’m being perceived as, then why not?!’

‘I’m a pianist who pumps iron and goes to the gym – I don’t want to hide that under a suit! I enjoy exercise and running with my dog. That’s part of my life, just like playing is.’

Emmanuel Vass, classical piano player
‘I don’t have to look like Mozart when I’m playing his music!’ (c) The Entertainment Bureau/Edward Taylor

So what does his partner make of his unconventional classical photoshoot?

‘My boyfriend has been very supportive,’ he explained. ‘It’s part and parcel of having a career – you have to do some promotion for your music, after all. He takes it as a compliment that I’m getting attention!’

Anyone expecting to get a glimpse of Vass’s body-painted torso at an upcoming concert might have to wait until the warmer months; while he won’t be wearing a Mozart costume, the pianist is planning on wearing a few more clothes as he tours the UK.

‘The music deserves a certain level of respect,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t go on stage in my piano outfit; you’re in danger of making it a circus if you take it too far. Besides, my next concert is in the Chapel Royal in Brighton, then I’m playing at St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol on the 26th of September – it’s a little cold at that time of year to be strutting around topless!’