Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...

Joyce DiDonato undoubtedly has a peerless vocal technique, but she also has a peerless technique for pushing media hot buttons. At the last night of the 2013 BBC Proms Ms. DiDonato had journalists eating out of her hand when she dedicated a performance of the gay anthem 'Somewhere over the rainbow' to 'voices silenced' over gay rights. Then in February this year her record label Warner Classics carpet bombed journalists with a video of her singing at the Stonewall Inn - see image above. The accompanying press release told how she sang at the birthplace of the gay rights movement as a "tribute to victims of intolerance and injustice". Media hot buttons were not so much pressed as hammered and the video went viral in response. With just one exception, the media assiduously ignored the inconvenient truth that less than three months later - on May 1st to be precise - Joyce DiDonato was taking her own Drama Queens project to the Royal Opera House in Muscat, the capital of Gulf State Oman. It is an inconvenient truth because, as the U.S. State Department travel advisory for Oman explains, "Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is illegal in Oman and is subject to a potential jail term of six months to three years".

That pro-gay protest by Joyce DiDonato at the 2013 BBC Proms was specifically targeted at the Russian government for - to quote her blog - "systematically silencing their own citizens and those of us that support them around the world". These are very worthy sentiments, but the facts need to be made clear. In contrast to Oman, same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults was decriminalized in Russia in 1993. The law passed by the State Duma in June 2013 against which Ms. DiDonato and others protested, did not recriminalize same-sex sexual activity. It banned "the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors, an offence if committed by Russian nationals punishable by a fine and not imprisonment. Such censorship is not confined to Russia, and media monitor Freedom House reports that: "Oman’s 1984 Press and Publications Law is one of the most restrictive statutes of its kind in the Arab world, and serves to create a highly censored and subdued media environment". In 2013 Reporters Without Borders highlighted how two Omani journalists faced judicial proceedings for publishing an article titled “The Outsiders” about gays in Oman. While in March this year Human Rights Watch reported how an activist blogger was imprisoned for three years for for criticizing the Omani government and its policies.

It goes without saying that the Russian government's anti-gay stance is deplorable and should be protested. But prominent classical musicians are conveniently singling out Vladimir Putin's government for protests while continuing to tacitly support other regimes - notably in the Gulf States - with far more repressive anti-LGBT laws. Joyce DiDonato is just a topical and outspoken example: among others whose tour itineraries have included the Gulf are Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel, the Simón Bolívar Orchestra, Riccardo Muti, Anne-Sophie, Joshua Bell, Jiří Bělohlávek, Jordi Savall, and Iván Fischer with the Budapest Festival Orchestra. As Groucho Marx once famously explained: "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others".

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Philip Amos said…
It is thoroughly depressing to see Savall and Fischer on this list. The rest do not particularly surprise me. I see among them the egotistical and the mindless, the ambitious, the greedy, and the oblivious. Mutter is perhaps just in search of an 85 year-old sheikh to marry.

What I particularly note is that other than Savall and Fischer, none of the musicians on this list has ever had much interest for me, a few decidedly otherise. On the other hand, I have long harboured a perhaps rather outre hypothesis -- not a theory, for it is grounded only in my own experience, and I am well-aware that it involves a chicken-and-egg problem. It is simply that I have found that almost all musicians whose performances I most admire, in some cases revere, were good people, principled, pleasant of personality, and of exemplary character. There may be no validity in this, but I cannot dismiss the possibility that these traits are reflected in their re-creations of musical works, and it is this I hear. Re that chicken, I realised later in life that the musicians I most admired in childhood and youth possessed the fine qualities, while others I did not care for were in many cases the opposite -- this before I knew anything about their characters and convictions, if any. I think it would take a musicologist cum psychologist to determine if there is anything in this.
Pliable said…
Philip, I too was depressed to find Jordi Savall involved in Abu Dhabi, particularly as I suspect that funding from that source will find its way into a future Ibn Battuta book and CD project.

I expressed my puzzlement about his involvement in a post in October last year. As you will know I have a good relationship with Jordi Savall, and I invited him to respond to my piece. Despite several assurances from his office that he would respond I have heard nothing further.

I know that Jordi Savall is a very busy person, and On An Overgrown Path is not in the same league as the New York Times. But I suspect that the reason why I have heard nothing is that it is impossible to justify the unjustifiable.

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