I participate in some closed forums about classical music and I often see how (especially with age) people tend to idolize and romanticize old (and long gone) performers, correspondingly dismissing younger generations.
You are right, of course, and I plead guilty. But is not this the essence of classical ? Change the world "performers" to "composers", and you have it...
Only if you close your mind to anything unfamiliar or "contemporary".
When I was a kid in a tiny land far, far away, never having heard anything classical (except for possibly one or two tidbits in movies), my only notion of 'classical piano music' was the theme from Love Story (by Francis Lai), because, well, there was a piano in it, and smooching strings later on, so I thought that anything written for piano and/or orchestra and in a Western idiom was classical. So, when I started piano lessons and my teacher played me Bartók, that was classical, as was Bach. When you know nothing, you take everything into your stride, as I did then.
But I did know that I felt nothing much for most (but not all) atonal music. No nice sounds, no feelings, no excitement. And of course, tuneless pop and rock which depended on lots of (head-)banging and theatrics (like smashing an expensive electric guitar) for effect. (If you don't know how to sing or compose, just make a lot of noise......) Same for a lot of noisy jazz.
Composers with strange names (most Western names were strange to me then. Chopin was probably the strangest - is that short for choppin' - as in chopping veg?
): well, if their music 'spoke' to me, that was OK. Which was why I treated living or recently deceased composers the same way as I treated names that kept popping up in the music I was playing, like Mozart - if their music meant something to me, that was all that mattered, nothing else. So, if Kimmo Hakola's Piano Concerto appealed to me, and Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour de loin
stirred my emotions, I'd buy the recordings and keep listening to them, even though (at the time) I'd never heard of them, nor their music.
Therefore, my affinity for musicians also went the same way. Perlman and Ashkenazy (and a few others like Zukerman and Barenboim) were the big names in the standard rep when I was a kid, whereas Richter and Horowitz held sway on stuff - like Liszt, Rachmaninov and Scriabin - that were way out of my league at the time. Almost all the recordings with violin featured Perlman, almost all recordings with piano had Ashkenazy. When I finally had the money, I bought cassette tapes of lots of rep - concertos, sonatas etc - with them at the helm, just because there was nothing else. (Who else recorded all the Beethoven violin sonatas then?)
But I was definitely not wedded to their recordings, nor to their way of playing music, just as I was not wedded to familiar-sounding composers. I'd happily jump ship if a more appealing manner of playing (to my ears) came along - which is why my preferred Bach solo violin recordings are not Perlman's (which was my first purchase) but Fischer's. As for Menuhin, sorry to say, but his technique cannot match younger upstarts'. When I heard Kyung-Wha Chung in the Mendelssohn violin concerto, I discarded Menuhin's immediately