The Jewish Chronicle reports that four musicians have been suspended from the London Philharmonic Orchestra, as a consequence of having signed a letter to The Independent (click here and scroll down), which protested at the Proms' invitation to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to perform this season. The decision, it is claimed, has been made on account of the musicians noting their membership of the orchestra. That seems at best disingenuous: they do not claim to be speaking for the orchestra; they are merely identifying themselves, explaining who they are. Whatever one thinks of the musicians' position on the IPO, they are human beings who have every right to express their views. From an academic point of view, there are terrifying implications for those of us who might on this basis find ourselves disciplined, simply because we belong to an organisation, and the same point extends far beyond the orchestral and academic worlds.
What certainly extends far beyond disingenuousness is the claim by LPO chief executive, Tim Walker: 'For the LPO, politics and music do not mix.' If this were true, he LPO would surely be the only organisation in history to believe such a claim. Has Walker ever heard of Richard Wagner? Or the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra? Indeed, it is difficult to think of a more inherently political act than that of music-making; to claim otherwise is to adopt an ideological position that is 'political' through and through. This has nothing to do with what I or anyone else might think about Israel, Palestine, or any other political issue. I have no intention of discussing such issues here, and I should oppose the LPO's decision every bit as strongly, were I to hold diametrically opposed views on any of these questions. What a contrast, moreover, with Valery Gergiev praising Vladimir Putin and 'great Russia', and holding a 'victory concert' in South Ossetia: Gergiev certainly held that politics and music mixed, and the LSO does not appear to have taken any action - despite, I do not doubt, what must have been at best a mixed reception for their principal conductor's stance. We can take different positions on boycotts, whether of Israel, South Africa, the USSR, the USA, or anywhere else (or at any other time). It does not follow that we should attempt to silence, or at least to discipline, those who think differently.
I cannot help but wonder whether political and/or financial (donor?) pressures have been involved. Perhaps not, but whatever the reasons, the outcome is deplorable. Let us hope that the LPO will reconsider. In the meantime, many of us will have to reconsider whether to attend their concerts: a great pity, since I was much looking forward to a performance under Vladimir Jurowski on 24th. It would certainly be good to hear from Jurowski if necessary, on behalf of his musicians.
I was out of the country when the Israel Philharmonic concert took place, so have nothing to add on the protests that disrupted the performances. However, here is my account of the extraordinary events at the Wigmore Hall, when a concert by the Jerusalem Quartet was continually interrupted. (For what it is worth, and again irrespective of whatever I might think concerning the political issues, I thought that the 'protests', such as they were, did little but harm to the Palestinian cause.)