Monday, January 23, 2012

Classical music has a lot to protest about


We need more activist musicians so it was encouraging to see members of the London Philharmonic protesting about the excesses of the Israelis and to see New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert protesting about the excesses of a mobile phone user. With those protests out of the way hopefully the London Philharmonic musicians will turn their attention to the orchestra's corporate sponsor Japanese Tobacco International - the company is the world's third largest cigarette company - and Alan Gilbert will talk to the man in the front row from his orchestra's global sponsor Credit Suisse - the bank is currently under scrutiny in a US Department of Justice tax evasion investigation.

All of which is, of course, small beer compared with the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. But the infringement of human rights in China is very big beer indeed; so it is worth noting that the London Philharmonic returned a few days ago from a seven concert tour of China with pianist Hong Xu while tomorrow (Jan 24) the New York Philharmonic gives a Chinese New Year concert in Avery Fisher Hall under guest conductor Long Yu.

Although managed by New York based CAMI, Long Yu, who is seen above, has close links with the Chinese Poly Group. This state controlled business started as a military enterprise in the 1980s, the decade of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and went on to become one of China's largest manufacturers of weapons. Ostensibly Poly has now divested itself of its armaments businesses but a Canadian Intelligence Service report concludes that the company has not completely severed its links with the People's Liberation Army. Another part of the same group, Poly Culture & Arts, is the state authorised cultural broker whose interests range from tour and theatre management to CD manufacture. Poly Culture also controls the performance venues in most major Chinese cities, some of which will be familiar to touring Western orchestras including the New York Philharmonic.

Classical music represents culture and humanity and China's crimes against culture and humanity are well documented - among them the subjugation of Tibet. Since invading Tibet in 1949 China has systematically destroyed one of civilisation's oldest and most precious cultures and in an unprecendented crime against humanity an estimated 1.2 million Tibetans have died at the hands of the Chinese, many killed with weapons manufactured by the Poly Group. Yes, classical music has a lot to protest about.

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6 comments:

TSK said...

You want to talk about classical music orgs vis-à-vis the fraught politics of China and Israel, fine. But you’re all the over place. How does Alan Gilbert being forced to stop a performance constitute a protest? Why would anyone expect him to denounce Credit Suisse because the DoJ is investigating it? Are you suggesting the financial sector is politically correct as long as the DoJ isn’t making a fuss? If Gilbert can live with the name of one of the villainous Koch brothers on the building across the plaza, he can surely live with Credit Suisse.

Pliable said...

Thanks for that TSK and I'm quite happy to be "all over the place" if, in the process, I can highlight some important topics that are resolutely ignored elsewhere.

Pliable said...

Beny Rahman K has commented via Facebook -

"Music should always be a tool to support peace and human rights enforcement."

Mark Berry said...

Thank you, Bob, once again, for such an excellent posting. Sadly - indeed, 'sadly' is barely the word for it - I suspect the LPO will adopt the same tactic of silence in the face of such complaints as it has done, very successfully, with respect to the LPO Four. Donors have been placated, and the players concerned, together with the appalled public, ignored.

One interesting if relatively minor point from the NYPO fracas: the Devil's Advocates - at least that is what I hope they were - defending the mobile telephone user pointed to his identity as 'a business executive between 60 and 70 who runs two companies' (New York Times), as though that somehow made his behaviour acceptable or at least mitigated it. Would Alan Gilbert have called him afterwards, had he been a janitor seated in the gods?

Pliable said...

Mark, thanks for that. One additional point is worth raising, the LPO has kept a very low profile over the China trip. Try finding any information on it online other than the link I posted - exactly the same as there treatment of cororate sponsor 'JTI' aka Japanese Tobacco International.

Pliable said...

Steve Freeman comments via email -

I think you might be expecting too much from culture.

Surely high culture has always been funded by power, they're the only ones with the money. I recently heard a claim that Fredrick the Great killed off 250,000 people during his endless campaigns, he also kept one of the best court orchestras in Europe.

And then, what are we to do with the crowd of despicable people who happen to be great composers and performers?...