Friday, April 10, 2015

Don't shoot the pianist, shoot the music industry


There is little point on expending many words on the fiasco in Toronto, other than to say that both pianist Valentina Lisitsa and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra behaved unwisely, with predictable results. What does deserve attention is the bigger picture. Valentina Lisitsa may play fast and loose on Twitter, but she is well connected and an adept exploiter of YouTube and other social media. That header photo of Ms. Lisitsa playing at the 'alternative' Bristol Proms appeared here last year, and many paths lead from it. She is managed by IMG Artists which describes itself as "a global leader of performing arts management", and she has an exclusive recording contract with Decca. That label is, of course, part of the Universal Music empire. As explained here previously, the Bristol Proms are managed and promoted by U-Live, which is also part of Universal Music. Last year Sinfini Music - which is likewise owned and controlled by Universal Music - ran a a video interview with Valentina Lisitsa by their regular contributor Norman Lebrecht. More recently Norman and others connected with the Sinfini/Universal nexus have been doing a sterling job of defending Ms Lisitsa's corner in Toronto, and in the process, coincidentally supplying yet more vital oxygen of publicity. All of which is above board and an accepted part of classical music in 2015. You do not need to read the offending tweets about the Ukraine to understand the Toronto fiasco. You just need to read the recent Guardian profile of UK media celebrity Katie Hopkins. There is an old saying that you should be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. For years classical music has been fervently wishing to become part of the entertainment industry. What happened in Toronto shows that classical music's wish has finally come true.

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3 comments:

Philip Amos said...

I do agree with almost all of what you write, Bob, though I'm a bit hard put to see a parallel with Hopkins in this case. I am intent upon putting the blame for the fiasco in the right place, and that starts with TSO CEO Melanson's statement. Read in isolation, anyone would think that it does not just suggest, but states, the Lisitsa did or intended to do what Anton Kuerti famously did during the Vietnam War: precede his concerts with long rants against the war, thus using the hall, the orchestra, etc., as a venue for politics. Lisitsa's tweets are totally divorced from the TSO and her concert.

Second, the Ukrainian community in Canada, which has its roots many generations ago, has always been oddly sensitive and active. I remember outrage and a campaign when a Ukrainian-Canadian named his restaurant Hunky Bill's -- in fact, his own name with the sobriquet by which he was affectionately known, Hunky being a sobriquet by which Ukrainians were known. So, a very odd problem there for the courts to sort out.

I suspect that Lisitsa's command of English is a problem here. She is herself half-Ukrainian, so its a bit hard to view her as spreading hatred of Ukrainians. She grew up in Kiev, her family is there. Nor is it clear that she is pro-Putin. She says she is not, and she sure as hell is not so in way of Gergiev and Petrebko. Should they be barred?

One real oddity. It amazes me that the extremely powerful and ubiquitous Israeli lobby in the U.S. did not scream for the barring of Barenboim, especially as he was resident conductor of the Chicago SO. Never was there a more outspoken critic of Israeli policies re the Palestinians, a musical collaborator with their musicians, yet not a word from the lobbyists, who pounce on anyone, Jewish or not, who criticises Israeli policies and denounces them as anti-Semitic. They've managed to get many academics and guest lecturers barred from universities. But it seems even they discriminate.

We have a mess of inconsistency, ill-worded statements from many, and the root of what I do consider an attack on freedom of speech lies with Melanson's disinformation, and the ever ultra-sensitve Canadian 'Ukrainian' community's disinformation (well, we now know lying on the matter of whether they tried to force the barring of Lisitsa). I think, speculate, that what Lisitsa meant to do was attack the Ukrainian Government, and there is reason to do that, and its supporters. Quite simply, she has never expressed herself well verbally, and surely didn't on Twitter. I don't think at all that she did it in the vein of Hopkins. It simply led to the TSO being made to look idiotic by Melanson. The cancellation of Goodyear as replacement remains a mystery. The Calgary SO, a better band anyway, is having none of this, and Lisitsa will be playing there. It will be interesting to see if an 'event' is planned to take place outside their hall that evening.

All this is very Canadian, by the by. This is the country where PM Trudeau introduced the policy of Multiculturalism, and some twenty years later considered it a disaster. This is an illustration of why.

Johannes R. Becher said...

Since I never use Twitter I have no choice but to take that MT's compilation of VL's tweets for good. Nonetheless I do have a Fb account and I use it, among other things, to follow VL; this is what she has to say on the subject.

From my point of view she's now just paying the price for challenging the official western views on the ukranian events while living and working in western countries (whether the price of challenging the russian pov while living in Russia would be higher could be of course subject of a legitimate, yet pointless, debate). I don't think it's the kind of thing one would do in order to propel one's musical career forward. She's rather probably achieved just the opposite.

@Philip I also think her lack of proficiency in English, let alone her naivety (and by this I do not only mean her expectations on the effect of her commentaries on western audiences, but also her simplistic, unsophisticated approach to very complex events) has proved quite to her disadvantage.

Philip Amos said...

And I think you are right, Johannes.