Many years ago Michael Crabb wrote a piece about solo dancer Margie Gillis and the late Christopher Gillis, then a member of the Paul Taylor company, for Maclean's magazine. Normally the practice at Maclean's is to use the surname only after the initial introduction, but in the case of siblings with the same surname, this was not feasible. Crabb elected to refer to them as Margie and Christopher rather than Ms. Gillis and Mr. Gillis, and I found this jarring in the magazine's context and inappropriately familiar.
Oh, this is a difficult aspect, isn't it? The NYT is very clear about using Mr or Ms after the first reference (which resulted in one of my favorite examples in a discussion about Rocky Horror Picture Show and the actor/musician Mr Loaf). In general, I like the last name only after the first reference, in part because I have a limited word count and I don't want to squander any of it, but it does make things hard when you have multiples of a last name. At least with the Gillises they could have used M Gillis and C Gillis -- I'm always stuck when I have to discuss Seth and Sara Orza.
I do agree with you, though, about the familiarity that first names imply. I've always thought that first names should be reserved for discussing personal relationships -- if I'm talking about my friendship with an artist, I can call them by their first name. But if I'm talking about their work, I like the distance that last names confer.
Way back in the late 70's or early 80's Dance Magazine (I think) published an article entitled "May I Call You Farrell?" on the anomalous and rather peculiar convention of referring to ballet dancers by their first names -- something that's done with absolutely no other category of artist that I'm aware of. I personally find the practice as grating as fingernails on a chalkboard. If we were discussing the work of say, Nobel laureates Alice Munro or Toni Morrison, whether formally in a published review or less formally in a blog post or, you know, on an internet forum, we wouldn't refer to them as "Alice" and "Toni." We probably wouldn't be so formal as to follow the NYT's convention of first referring to them "Ms. Munro" or "Ms. Morrison," but after a first reference using their full names, we'd refer to them as "Munro" and "Morrison." Then why "Wendy" rather than "Whelan"? Or "Ashley" rather than [fill in the name of what seems to be about half the ballerinas under 30]. Even opera, an art form that engenders the same kind of personal identification with and investment in its performers, doesn't really go there. It's not "the Maria / Renata wars" for instance.
I don't think it's just an age thing. I was listening to a tech podcast the other day in which the two youngish (male) hosts were discussing Jill Lepore's New Yorker article on Clay Christensen and disruption. They consistently referred to them as "Professor Lepore" and "Professor Christensen" throughout -- even though one of them had co-authored a book with Christensen. I was thoroughly charmed. That being said, there is an awful lot of chatter among tech writers, podcasters, and fanboys about "Steve," "Jony," and "Tim" (There are two prominent Steves in tech, but "Steve" is never Steve Ballmer ...)
And she's "Secretary Clinton" to me, no matter what the bumper stickers say ...