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German pianist plays Brexit protest at BBC Proms

July 16, 2017 by norman lebrecht

75 comments.


The German-based pianist Igor Levit made clear his views on European unity by playing Liszt’s transcription of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy – which serves as the EU anthem – as his encore on the first night of the Proms.

It was an intentional political statement. Igor also wore an EU pin in his lapel.

 

 

The BBC called the encore ‘unexpected’.


Comments (75)

  1. Fabio Luisi says:

    Bravo Igor.

    1. Neslon & Bronte says:

      England expects that every man will do his duty. Brexit.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VJfz_26ldQ

  2. DESR says:

    Good of him to play the transcription, but it has as much to do with the post war European Union as the Sugar Plum Fairy. As to what he wears in his lapel, as a statement, in any liberal society that is up to him.

    But I am not sure that it is a brave act, at all, at a regular classical music concert. Preaching to the choir comes to mind. A braver act would be to stick a St George flag’s there. He would be called a fascist, and the BBC would receive complaints from those triggered and traumatised by it all. The only acceptable displays of patriotism are the shenanigans on the Last Night, all the easier to dismiss as ‘heritage’.

    As it is, the rest of us – classical music ‘fans’ who do not see withdrawal from the EU as the end of civilisation – must just smile and wave at this outbreak of open goal virtue signalling…

    1. Furzwängler says:

      Well said. I agree entirely. I find Mr Levit’s posturing as unacceptable as were the anti-Soviet protests that greeted the recital by Svjatoslav Richter in the US (after which he never again agreed to play in the USA, I believe), Emil Gilels and other Russian artists during the Cold War.

      Out of politeness to his hosts Levit should keep his political opinions to himself when in the UK, out of respect for the majority of voters who voted to leave the European Union.

      1. Nelson & Bronte says:

        He should played the variations on God save the King (Queen) out of respect for his audience’s country, he is not a career politician.

      2. Michael says:

        Interesting choice of name from this contributor – ‘Furz’ is the German for ‘fart’, which sums up his comment

        1. Furzwängler says:

          Your knowledge of the German language is obviously profound, so I’m sure you also know what is meant by the expression Der Deutsche Michael :Small-minded, know-it-all and with the proclivity for telling others what to do.

        2. Furzwängler says:

          P.S. Accurately of course it should be Der Deutsche Michel, but in deference to your name ‘Michae’l will do just as well..

      3. Nick says:

        I respectfully and fully agree with FURZWÄNGLER!

        And it would be even better if Mr. Levit does not bang the ends of the wonderful Beethoven phrases like a mediocre student after all the awards!! May be this should be Mr. Levit’s first priority, not the Brexit. Brexit is none of his business. But as many immigrants, he wants to prove that he is more German than Germans themselves (well, not all of them, of course. Many are savvier, and they understand what the people of UK did and want).

      4. Lex says:

        How can you respect someone who voted for Brexit?

        1. Ellingtonia says:

          Do enlighten us what it is you find so difficult to “respect” by those of us who considered the options, examined the evidence, listened to arguments from all sides then made our decision to leave the EU. Which part of the democratic process don’t you understand, if it helps I can send you the Ladybird Guide to making Decisions About the EU.

    2. Minutewaltz says:

      I agree with you.

    3. Holly Golightly says:

      Bravo. And watch out for plaudits such as “brave”; you can just take a momentary whiff of propaganda in the air when that word is bandied about.

    4. Trucker Bob says:

      He could not wear the St George’s flag, he is not a flag pole! In any case he is not British, A foreigner cannot wear an emblem of another nation, don’t you know, its poor form, like wearing a tie resembling the Guards Division at an interview!

  3. Ungeheuer says:

    I am in thrall of this pianist but lately he has taken a turn for the political. I look forward to the day when I can hear him again with no underlying agenda other than projecting music.

    1. Nelson & Bronte says:

      I look forward one day hearing a pianist like Edwin Fischer, or Alfred Cortot wrong notes and all! Pianists of today all sound the same, they play enthusiastically without any conviction!

    2. Michael says:

      “Ungeheuer” is German for ‘Monster’ – how appropriate. Probably not aware of how political Beethoven was in his day – or perhaps Ungeheuer knows the Heiligenstädter Testament and that Schiller was made an honorary citizen of the revolutionary France Republic.

    3. Anon says:

      You mean you want to hear his Beethoven like it was meant by the composer. Detached from the world. As unpolitical as Beethoven was, the man who made a point not to move to the side of the walkway when aristocrats crossed his path, unlike Goethe who he was walking with.
      The man who in anger crossed out his dedication of the 3rd symphony to Napoleon, when he learned about his tyrannic side.
      In short, you want to keep your delusions.

  4. Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

    I am neither against nor pro his political motivated act, although I have to say that the song is pretty nice.

    It just shows once again that free artist is a myth (or an unachievable ideal, if that sounds better). Since no matter how talented you are in your own job, In order to get promoted to obtain fame and publicity, you have to choose sides and become an advocator of one of those “values” and ideologies.

    It is interesting to note that assimilated immigrants, such as Igor Levit, are usually the more enthusiastic supporters of their new country’s mainstream ideology. In the pre-Nazi Germany, you can easily find devoted nationalist among people with Jewish background. Maybe it is an unconscious act of these immigrants aiming to get fully accepted in their new Heimat. But unfortunately, it won’t always work, as shown by the tragedies in the 1940s.

    1. Novagerio says:

      “I have to say the song is pretty nice”, well, it happens to be L.v.Beethoven’s Masterpiece, the Ninth Symphony…congratulations to you for your discovery!…

    2. Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker says:

      He should have played a transcription of this Mozart 6 part canon!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9MN2WeqFY8

  5. Tubalcain says:

    Why does Levit play with his face nearly touching the keyboard. Wilhelm Kempff always was sitting upright playing looking ahead, he did not need to see the keys to hit the right note each time, just looked a bit odd his playing posture, as for the encore, he should have played the Chorale Prelude, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 720 to celebrate the Reformation!

    1. Ping Limehouse says:

      I agree with you about Luther’s Eine Fest Burg. It’s a beautiful hymn. For me it conveys a similar kind of penetrating joy as Ode to Joy does, but without the political charge.

    2. Anon says:

      THIS is a comment as mean spirited and hateful as it gets. To suggest the Jew Igor Levit should play a Christian song created by the Godfather of Anti-judaism Martin Luther is as vile and hateful as it can get. Shame on you.

  6. Harry Collier says:

    He is Russian, not German. Though he lives in Germany.

    1. Nelson & Bronte says:

      Yes just another “blow in”, should not be making political statements, he is just an entertainer hired for the purpose of.

    2. Anon says:

      I guess it would only be up to him, to define his identity in a national context, since he has several options in that regard. It’s definitely not up to you.
      On a similar note, is any naturalized US citizen also not a US citizen?

      1. Nelson & Bronte says:

        Levit is not “German”, he has only residence status he is still Russian.

        1. Anon says:

          That’s extremely unlikely. He is entitled to German citizenship for a long time and why would he want to travel with a Russian passport instead of an EU one? Stop spreading false news.

          1. Nelson & Bronte says:

            Most German families have immigrant relations, because the place was kicked about like an ants nest in 1945.

          2. Anon says:

            And your point is?

  7. Nelson & Bronte says:

    The correct encore should have been the 7 variations on God Save the King(Queen), as Georges Cziffra played in 1957.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlqU7CER18c

  8. esfir ross says:

    Igor Levitt never miss opportunity on self promoting. Nothing else in his career goals. Gerald Moore said: “Don’t get involve. Being a pianist’s enough”

  9. Ellingtonia says:

    Someone needs to explain to this posturing narcissist that the British people voted OUT, which part of the word democracy does he not understand? Ask him to come and play a few gigs at northern venues here in the UK and see that kind of reception he gets there!

  10. John says:

    A good way to alienate a majority of the British people. Why do it? Is he really that self-obsessed and ignorant?

  11. Anon says:

    The last commentators seem to be against freedom of speech? A majority vote needs to be not spoken against? A tyranny of the masses is the ideal form of society? I’m surprised what kind of people are populating this blog. Obviously they do not understand what democracy and freedom of speech means.

    1. Ellingtonia says:

      Oh yes we do understand what democracy and freedom of speech mean. What we dislike is posturing Russians who have short memories about their own countries “take on democraratic socialism” not too many years ago. What we also dislike is the failure to acknowledge that the vote was to leave the EU and that “he knows better what is best for us”……..talk about arrogance and patronising your host country. But no doubt he is another of the left wing luvvies, he should try a similar tactic in Moscow and criticise the Putin regime next time he plays there, and see what kind of response he gets!

  12. cynical old lady says:

    Levit has figured out that to create a niche for himself in the crowded piano market, he can make political statements and posture as an edgy intellectual (see the Goldbergs performance art piece with Abramović). Look at all the attention he is getting now! That’s all well and good, but when it comes down to his piano playing, I don’t find it much better than that of another expert in self-promotion, Yuja Wang. Seriously, go compare their Hammerklaviers, i.e., he’s not as great as people say, she’s not as terrible.

    I personally can’t wait until Jan Lisiecki takes up Hammerklavier–it will be a study in sock-bowtie accent contrasts!

    1. Nelson & Bronte says:

      Madam, I tend to agree, Russians playing Beethoven! I have been fortunate to have heard, Edwin Fischer, Wilhelm Backhaus, Clara Haskil, Dinu Lipatti, Rudolf Serkin, Wilhelm Kempff, all live in recitals in Vienna, Zurich, London and Berlin, all played miles better than Levit. They had the spark, Levit does not, I also find his playing posture odd, all bent over.

    2. HSY says:

      Oh, you again. Talking about self-promotion, how about Trifonov peddling his juvenile compositions and trying to market himself as a pianist-composer? Or Seong Jin Cho with his “Korean idol” image? You do realize denigrating pianists who are not your favorites for “creating a niche” is quite obnoxious, don’t you?

      1. Nelson & Bronte says:

        Wise up man! Pianists of today are not as good as those of yesterday and I have heard em all in the flesh, Cortot, Fischer, Lipatti, Serkin, Kempff, Backhaus.

        1. Anon says:

          maybe your ears deteriorated? it would be usual way of time. give it some thought.

          1. Nelson & Bronte says:

            Nope, Levit played it without any soul. Russians cannot do Beethoven it is not in their DNA!

          2. Anon says:

            OK, I guess you are sarcastic. 😉 Nice paradoxical intervention. You can’t be such a troll if you meant it for real, impossible. Those old retarded farts are extinct by now.

      2. cynical old lady says:

        Yes, they both have their own niches. And let’s not forget Sir Andras with his art-religion. That’s a good one too.

  13. Ping Limehouse says:

    He performed the concerto so well, so I am almost sorry to express my disgust at this pianist bringing politics to the Proms. Music is, for me, a sort of escape from the ludicrously over-stated political scene nowadays. He is entitled to his view, but not to bring it to the music world – we don’t want it.
    All this though is based on the assumption that he meant his encore to be a political statement because it is the EU anthem. Given he was wearing an EU pin, I think this is a reasonable assumption. I make no comment on the EU, nor will I express my views on the Referendum result, but I personally refuse to acknowledge Ode to Joy as their anthem. I hope when it is played in future people will not simply presume that it is a politically charged reference to the EU and Brexit. Ode to Joy was not written by Beethoven as the finale to the Choral Symphony – a piece of music in its own right and we should treat it as such, not simply as an EU symbol or Brexit protest. I abhor anyone who tries to bring politics into music. András Schiff feels very strongly at odds with politics in his birthplace of Hungary. He wrote articles in newspapers about it, but didn’t start spoiling his performances with petty references to his political views. In my opinion Schiff got it right. Levit however was immensely stupid to decide to play Ode to Joy. As I have explained, I have no problem with the piece itself – I love it, but considering that the EU has claimed it as its anthem Levit’s choice was insensitive and disrespectful to those of us who voted to leave. He should remember that audiences want to hear wonderful music, not what you voted on 23rd of June.
    Another thing that annoys me is that because he chose to make this political statement at a concert, he insinuates that Brexit has come from a crippled society where there is nowhere else but the Arts to express his opinion. The subtlety of choosing the piece as an encore (where it is not written down on the programme) contributes to this considerably. This insinuation is not the case. We all know that Remoaners like Blair enthusiastically express their wishes to overthrow the Brexit vote. I don’t agree with them – Brexit was a democratic decision, no matter how close the numbers were. They are entitled to campaign (I wouldn’t encourage them to hope for success) but at least they had greater common sense and respect for the people of the UK to do it a politicians, not musicians.
    I am truly sorry to condemn a very talented musician who clearly loves his life as a performer, I just wish he would keep it to that – a performer, not a political commentator. I advise that next time he performs, don’t clap long enough for him to slip in an encore. He doesn’t deserve the opportunity to play anything other than what is on the programme if he is only playing it for politics not music.
    And frankly, at a concert music should come first, Igor.

    1. Anon says:

      His use of Ode to Joy as political material is also disrespectful to Beethoven (and Levit loves Beethoven).

  14. David Boxwell says:

    We fink vis Gerry plyin’ Ludwig Van to put the boot in us Leavers ain’t cool.

    1. Holly Golightly says:

      I watch some British reality television and I’m staggered by the sheer numbers of people who say “fink” and “innit”. The UK obviously has appalling levels of literacy and it saddens me that it’s come to this.

      1. Trucker Bob says:

        They must be from East London or Essex Madam. Reality TV does not prove illiteracy in the UK, since only chavs watch such programmes. It only demonstrates that such programmes only attract contestants from the chav community.

      2. Una says:

        Oh, get real! Fink, innit? It is not about literacy at all. 68m here at the last count and you think everyone speaks like that and illiterate? Many who have English can’t pronounce our different versions of ‘th’. You might find they know more than you and I put together but just in a different way of expressing themselves. Perhaps you should look at social.history and see what is behind it. Then you’ll be more enlightened about British dialects, accents, and why the middle class also say things similarly, and also ‘I was stood!’. Snobbery is worse.

      3. Ping Limehouse says:

        Perhaps before you decide forever to be a snob towards anyone who speaks differently to you, you should consider where people are from and their consequent dialects, as Una and Bob have already suggested. If you ever travel to Cumbria for example, you should expect to hear things like “Ow’s it gaan mara?” as a polite greeting and “Pianah” instead of Piano. You may also want to consider people who have speech and pronunciation difficulties.
        Seriously, make sure you have an experience of the real world before you express your disgust. The UK does not have appalling levels of literacy, in fact you have know idea – these people you accuse of illiteracy (it’s not a crime) may be better versed in the Classics than even you. Take a moment to consider humans who exist beyond your judgemental, snobbish sphere.

        1. PING LIMEHOUSE says:

          * “no idea” (not “know idea”)

  15. Edgar says:

    Götterdämmerung music would be more apt…;-)

    1. Blair Mayne says:

      No, the march from Scipio, far better!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzUTpyquTMA

  16. Holly Golightly says:

    Too late, Igor. Game over. And you’re European yourself (which is what a huge number of Russians also are), so you can still fling open those borders and celebrate diversity.

    1. Anon says:

      Well, it is what made the US great once back in the day. Open borders, immigration, and diversity. Funny that. Oh, I forgot, and High Taxes on the rich.
      In the 1950s the income top tax was almost 90% on the highest incomes. It was the time when everybody (except the African Americans probably) considered the US at its greatest. Funny that.
      How reality is the opposite of what almost a whole country thinks today in its brainwashed delusional distorted perception of the real world.

  17. Mark Mortimer says:

    Good on you Igor. On a related note- Barenboim’s telling speech after his transcendent Elgar 2 with The Berlin Staskapelle is even more significant & his referring to ‘isolationist tendecies’ etc… which I hope Norman draws to the forum’s attention.

    Brexit is a disaster for us parochial little Englanders- who are still deluded into thinking we can do it alone with a bit of help from Trump. Yeah right.

    I hope the decidedly uncharismatic Hammond & May were heeding the words of the charismatic maestro.

    1. Ellingtonia says:

      Barenboim is a self serving publicist who likes to pronounce on things he has little understanding of. Can someone remind me exactly what he has achieved with his West-East Orchestra? The palestinians are still firing rockets into Israel, three Israelis were murdered last week by a palestinian sympathiser, hamas will not negotiate as they believe Israel has no right to exist and that all Jews should be exterminated. So I ask again, in all the years the West-East orchestra has been going, exactly what has it achieved, because everyone seems to still wax lyrical about the “good work Barenboim has done with this bunch of musicians.

      1. anmarie says:

        Exactly right.

      2. Anon says:

        That you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist…
        So is the relation between ignorant people and the real world.

      3. Mark Mortimer says:

        Ellingtonia- some of your posts are good but this is bollocks with all due respect. Barenboim has always been very clear from the outset that The East West Divan orchestra is not intended to be a means of solving the Israeli/Palestinian problem. More to give these youngsters from each divide- the opportunity to make beautiful music together. He’s always said he is not a politician but a musician. As a humanitarian- & as a great artist- he’s completely entitled to his opinions surely- & how he uses his protean talents to make the world a better place.

        1. Ellingtonia says:

          So if it has contributed nothing the Israeli – Palestinian relations, and according to you was never meant to, why did he name it the West-East Orchestra Divan Orchestra? Was this career opportunism on Bareboims part, good for his career and being seen as the “bleeding heart Liberal” He was after all poking his nose into a very complex political issue, and he seems to have a propensity for this, not least his covert support of the continuing membership of the UK in the discredited EU. Of course he is entitled to his opinion, as am I, but what I take umbrage at is someone who is not British, being invited to perform at the Proms and then procedes to lecture us about what is best for our country. As we say up north “keep thi meeth shut and play the bloody music”

  18. David Barnby says:

    If you want to see the sorry story of systematic BBC bias, especially on the EU and the people’s verdict: Brexit, go to this link:

    http://www.lulu.com/shop/david-barnby/does-the-bbc-like-brexit/paperback/product-23251901.html

    1. Anon says:

      People with higher education voted overwhelmingly against Brexit. That’s a fact. So anywhere where there are more people with higher education than in the country’s median you will find a pro-EU “bias”. BBC, Oxbridge, London, …

      The people who voted pro-brexit were in majority the very old farts, hallucinating about the past Empire’s glory, and the lower classes. Also fact.

      1. Ellingtonia says:

        So those of us who voted out are “very old farts, hallucinating about the past Empire’s glory, and the lower classes. Also fact” Well, sonny let me just remind you that it was these uneducated people who stopped Hitler and but for them you would be speaking German by now. Moreover, the arrogance off the so called intellectual elite is breathtaking and as the saying goes “up north we eat southerners, we dip them in gravy first”

        1. Anon says:

          I am speaking German already. Jawohl.
          Now the uneducated pro Brexit voters stopped Hitler. That’s interesting. They must be really a old bunch then, older than farts even. Did they also invent airplanes?

          1. Ellingtonia says:

            My comment was about your sweeping assertion that we, who voted out, are uneducated and not really capable of making decisions for ourself and ergo cannot be trusted to make any other kind of decisions. It was the ‘great unwashed” i.e. those working class men and women who you despise, who kept this country going (my mother worked in a bomb making factory) and kept Germany at bay. And if you are so bloody keen on the EU why not just move across the channel and then you can be amongst those like minded “intellectuals” and leave us plebs to get on with running our own country.

  19. alex says:

    Fantastic, Bravissimo Maestro!
    Every time someone plays or sings “Ode to Joy” a Union Jack melts…..

  20. David Barnby says:

    ‘People with higher education voted overwhelmingly against Brexit. That’s a fact. So anywhere where there are more people with higher education than in the country’s median you will find a pro-EU “bias”. BBC, Oxbridge, London, …’

    Yes, the schools are full of teacher training establishment teachers who having been brainwashed there, in turn brainwash the kids.

    I would suggest that the voting age be raised to, say 25, to allow time for the effects to wear off so they see the world and in particular the EU, for what it really is – a corporatist racket (which includes the BB Corporation) – get a copy of my book: ‘The EU: A Corporatist Racket’, its all there.

    dave

    1. Anon says:

      Oh sure, the UK before joining the EU was really a paradise for the common working man, the corporations had nothing to say there. That was the reason the UK had the worst average living standard among the industrial European nations.
      Holy mackerel…

  21. David Barnby says:

    ‘That was the reason the UK had the worst average living standard among the industrial European nations.’

    The founding fathers of the EU (American corporates mainly) pumped huge sums into Europe after WWII, particularly Germany to rebuild their war devastated industry through the Marshall Aid plan. Germany was being built up as a bulwark against USSR whilst the UK’s industry after the war was still intact, but down and out of date – no such renewal there.

    In addition France and Germany were playing dirty tricks against UK:

    “Sir Patrick Reilly, First Secretary at the Foreign Office attached to MI5 managed to get all the minutes of the negotiations of the 1951 Coal and Steel community Treaty between France and Germany at the Quay d’Orsay, the French Foreign Ministry in Paris.”

    “The interesting thing about it that wasn’t well known was that both the French and the German Governments at the time were still secretly Nazi and the minutes had a secret codicil in the Treaty agreeing that they would secretly subsidize the heavy industries of each in turn in order to ’pasturise’ Great Britain so they could introduce Hitler’s 1000 year Reich.[unfortunately], Bevin / Atlee decided there was no need to bother about this” – Andrew Gilkrist]

    Further yo have to understand that Britain was heavily burdened providing huge defensive forces for NATO when almost no one else (exceptinf USA) was and they had the burden of running down the Empire.

    From my own stand point the austerity following the war effort did bight, but by late 1950s, things were getting immensely better, in the words of Harold MacMillan,”W e had never had it so good.”

    Later we joined the EU (1973) and the burden of that has held us back, costing us through our net contribution, cost of regulation and the high tariffs we’ve been forced to impose on our traditional trading partners. In the early 1960s the Uk was the least expensive country, apart from Norway, to live in. I found the European countries I used to visit in the early 1960s were horrendously expensive.

    When we get out in 2019 we will trade with the whole world and things will really look up, not to mention that we will then have those we elect making the laws we have to obey, i.e. we will have democracy, whilst those poor soles over Channel won’t, well until they follow our example.

    If you want more you can get a copy of my book.

    dave

  22. Anon says:

    “The interesting thing about it that wasn’t well known was that both the French and the German Governments at the time were still secretly Nazi and the minutes had a secret codicil in the Treaty agreeing that they would secretly subsidize the heavy industries of each in turn in order to ’pasturise’ Great Britain so they could introduce Hitler’s 1000 year Reich.[unfortunately], Bevin / Atlee decided there was no need to bother about this” – Andrew Gilkrist]

    That’s the most insane thing I have read from an adult as long as I can remember.
    Paranoia combined with a nationalistic virus much?
    I don’t know if I should laugh or cry for you poor thing.

  23. David Barnby says:

    ‘That’s the most insane thing I have read from an adult as long as I can remember.
    Paranoia combined with a nationalistic virus much?
    I don’t know if I should laugh or cry for you poor thing.’

    Typical yaboo non-response, no evidence provided (even though I quote source), no reasoned argument, just abuse – must be product of our dumb down educational system – oh well.


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