L’affaire Lisitsa

1000-valentina-lisitsa3Jeff Melanson,

As reported in this morning’s New York Times:

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra abruptly canceled a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto on Wednesday after parting ways with a Ukrainian soloist over concerns that her ribald Twitter commentary had crossed the line into “intolerance.”

Read the report to get the full story.  You can find the comments of TSO CEO Jeff Melanson (above right) here.

The soloist in question, pianist Valentina Lisitsa (above left), has earned considerable worldwide acclaim over the past decade through her shrewd use of social media, becoming the most widely viewed classical artist on YouTube.  Her recordings (including a new 2-CD set of the piano works of Philip Glass) and concert appearances have also elicited praise, though not unqualified, from the musical press.  Without doubt, she qualifies as a major artist, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra was wise to engage her.

But were they wise to disengage her?  Having been in the music presenting business, radio and concert divisions, for many decades, and having been in somewhat similar if not as consequential circumstances, I prefer to extend the courtesy of not judging other presenters for their actions, just as I would prefer they extend the courtesy of not judging me for mine.  I’ve been on both sides of that equation, too.

However, I can offer some general principles that I fall back on in such cases:

1. Orchestras and other presenters can choose whom they engage and disengage, and what works they play and not play, for whatever reason, or for no reason. It’s not censorship; it’s their choice.

2. Artists should be as free to speak their minds as anyone else, but they’re not free from the consequences when an independent organization decides not to be associated with the artist any longer. Lisitsa remains free to express herself. The TSO remains free not to engage her. Those freedoms are not in conflict.

3. Those who applaud the TSO in this case should keep it in mind when an orchestra disengages an artist or work espousing a cause they believe in.

I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

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