On Saturday this unique sound will be given its biggest audience ever when, for the first time, the sound of a male alto is broadcast to millions during the Last Night of the Proms.
No one knows how a traditionalist audience expecting "Land of Hope and Glory" and "Jerusalem" will react when Andreas Scholl stands up to perform arias by Handel and Purcell. But the world's leading counter-tenor is already a star attraction for the Albert Hall concert, which will be watched on big screens in Hyde Park and elsewhere.
Scholl has performed with many of the world's top players, including the Cleveland, Royal Concertgebouw and Boston Symphony orchestras, and at Glyndebourne.
But on one occasion a woman in the audience burst out laughing when he began to sing. Counter-tenors divide classical opinion, with one critic describing the sound as like "a cat trying to pass a kidney stone".
"There's a much greater acceptance of the high male voice in pop music," admitted the 37-year-old Scholl. "The classical music audience associates a deeper voice type to a man."
Coincidentally, the balladist Antony Hegarty has made it on to the Mercury Music Prize shortlist with a very similar sound, alongside more mainstream acts such as Coldplay, Kaiser Chiefs and The Magic Numbers. The winner will be announced on Tuesday night.