THE leading Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti has spoken of her anger at sexist comments made about successful female classical musicians.

The 26-year-old has said classical musicians are being belittled by comments which ascribe their popularity to their appearance.

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She said: "Sixty years ago the world's top violinists were overwhelmingly male.

"Today, we have Julia Fischer, Janine Jansen, Lisa Batiashvili, Vilde Frang, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Alina Ibragimova ... in fact, I could possibly list more top female violinists than males.

"It really p****s me off when people attribute their rise to the 'sex sells classical music' thing."

Ms Benedetti added: "Sexism is a worldwide problem but I think that classical music can be prouder of its integrity than many industries."

The violinist, who won BBC Young Musician 10 years ago, said there were still too few female conductors."People are basically chosen for their ability - though I concede we still lag behind when it comes to conductors," she said.

The Last Night of the Proms was conducted by a woman, Marin Alsop, the former principal guest conductor with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, for the first time last year.

Last year, the Radio 4 Woman's Hour presenter Dame Jenni Murray caused some controversy when she said that women struggle to succeed in classical music unless they "go along with the old idea that sex sells".

"The women who seem to be most welcome are the ones who are prepared to go along with the old idea that sex sells," she said.

Dame Jenni, who was speaking before conducting the BBC Philharmonic orchestra as part of a Woman's Hour special, added: "Look at the way the violinist Nicola Benedetti and trumpeter Alison Balsom are marketed."

Benedetti also dismissed claims that women get a raw deal in classical music, saying: "If women have long enough to gain authority, experience and expertise, they will excel in any profession."

The Scottish musician, who was born in North Ayrshire, said she would not reveal her views on the forthcoming Scottish independence poll. Many artists have openly backed the Yes vote but Ms Benedetti said she would not be commenting publicly on the referendum.

"I'm not going to answer that, because people who have dedicated their whole lives to working out whether that decision is good or bad still don't really know," she said.

"Anyway, I'm not even sure that I can vote, because I live in London."

In the interview, Ms Benedetti comments on her work with Sistema Scotland, the charity that has established the Big Noise orchestras in Raploch, Stirling and Govanhill, Glasgow and looks set to expand to Aberdeen and Dundee.

"In England now there's the system of music hubs, which seems good in principle," she said.

"But it's costing less than what was there before, so you think, 'Is it genuine or a money-saving exercise?' In Scotland, too, there have been cuts to free music lessons all over the country."

Ms Benedetti, who is in India with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on its first tour of the country, will be performing in two shows at the Edinburgh International Festival.

She has sold out a performance at the 800-capacity Queen's Hall, and tickets are also selling quickly for her headline appearance with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at the Usher Hall, performing a violin concerto written by composer Erich Korngold.