23 neutral scholars denounce London Philharmonic suspensions

23 neutral scholars denounce London Philharmonic suspensions


norman lebrecht

September 23, 2011

Unlike yesterday’s letter to the Daily Telegraph, which was signed by hardcore pro-Pal sympathisers, today’s in the Guardian draws on the whole on academics with no past stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Several are known to me as reasonable people and good thinkers.

Nevertheless, their reasoning is profoundly flawed. The thrust of their argument is to take a statement by the LPO chairman Martin Hohmann that ‘music and politics don’t mix’ and contrast it with the LPO’s recent video in support of Dutch orchestras who are suffering swingeing government cuts. If the LPO can intervene in Dutch politics why, they demand, can’t some of its players demand a ban on the Israel Philharmonic?

Let me spell it out. The Dutch video was a gesture of solidarity, musicians to musicians, no politics involved.

The call for an IPO ban was musicians against musicians, using the LPO’s name to align it with one side of a political conflict. If they had asked permission to use the LPO name, it would have been refused. If they had gone ahead anyway, they would have been sanctioned by their colleagues in the orchestra – as, ultimately, happened.

This is not a political or free speech issue, simply a matter of unprofessional behaviour.

Let me add, I hope for the last time, that I believe the punishment was too severe and should be set aside, and have said as much in print.


  • Terry Johns says:

    The LPO does not employ musicians. The orchestra does not pay national insurance contributions for them,or collect tax at source. The players in question cannot therefore be “suspended”. If they were employed, their suspension would be contrary to the law. Employers in this country simply are not permitted to censure the opinions of their employees.

    • Derek Warby says:

      If the LPO musicians were employees, they would have signed a Contract of Employment which would have clearly laid-out grievance and disciplinary matters. Using the company name to legitimise a personal view (which can be as simple as Joe Bloggs, violin, LPO) without authority would be clearly be a disciplinary matter. It would be perfectly legal (as long as handled correctly) for an employee to be suspended (with OR without pay) pending further investigations.

      This has nothing to do with an employer censuring the opinions of its employees; it has everything to do with rash, foolhardy and unprofessional behaviour in using the LPO name in connection with a personal statement.

  • Julian Rowlands says:

    Again, a sadly flawed argument as there is no mention of the equal rights of the Israeli musicians to work without hindrance.

  • Mark Berry says:

    Thank you, Norman, for mentioning the letter. As one of the signatories, I greatly appreciate the courteous way in which you bring it to attention. What I should add is that, whilst you, I, and most others in what we might flatter ourselves would be called the ‘civilised world’, would deplore the actions of the Dutch government, and indeed applaud the response of British and other musicians, the fact remains that the response in question challenges the policy of a (democratically elected) government. It constitutes, amongst other things, political interference, all to the good in my view, but directly contradicts one of the claims used to justify the ‘suspensions’, namely, ‘For the LPO, music and politics do not mix.’ Otherwise, it is simply a matter of saying ‘music and our politics mix; music and yours do not.’

    If I might also respond to Julian Rowlands’s comment: the point you mention is simply not what our letter is concerned with. Many, doubtless most, probably all, of the signatories would support the rights of Israeli or indeed any other musicians to work without hindrance. However, one cannot talk about everything in a letter to a newspaper, which in its published form has already been cut. This letter is about the LPO ‘suspensions’; another letter might be about something else; yet another might be about the relationship between the two issues.

    • Points taken, Mark. But the issue remains: the four acted unprofessionally and that’s why they were sanctioned. It’s not their politics, it’s their conduct towards their fellow-members and owners of the LPO.

      • Mark Berry says:

        One other thing, at the risk – perish the thought – of seeming pedantic: the more important, positive point made in the letter was that music making is by its very nature a political act, hence the heroism of Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. I am now speaking for myself rather than the other signatories, though I know that many will agree with me, when I say that any claim that music is apolitical should be contested, since such a claim is itself ideological through and through, a typical ploy by those in positions of power to repress those who are not. That an orchestra should make such an official statement is to my mind very sad indeed, an abdication of its social and indeed artistic responsibility.

        I am glad we agree that, whatever the rights and wrongs of earlier actions, the players should be reinstated. (It was with sorrow that yesterday I noted a vindictive, hysterical ‘Telegraph’ blog piece demanding that the OAE players should be suspended too. The point of the author’s rant however, seemed to be more to shout ‘Look at me! Aren’t I “controversial”?’ than to say anything constructive or even interesting.)

      • Warren Maxwell says:

        Norman, I completely am in concert with your stance. As musicians these 4 tried to prevent fellow musicians from a work opportunity. That being the case, turnabout is fair play. I can imagine these 4 crying “restraint of trade” while they were trying to restrain the trade of their co-professionals due to nationality. If these 4 were true believers in their cause, they would be glad to be suspended because their cause is paramount. Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. This applies to anyone who openly advocates “restraint of trade.”

    • Julian Rowlands says:

      Mark, if the distinguished signatories had included a call to protect the rights of the Israeli musicians then it would have made a stronger case. The LPO members were seeking to restrict the freedom of the Israeli musicians to work here by calling for the concert to be cancelled. Therefore an intervention in favour of one side, however well meaning, will not address the important issue of principle: if artistic freedom is infringed in pursuit of a political cause then we risk terrible damage both to our artistic life and to our democratic political traditions.

  • David Watkin says:

    Norman, you rightly ask whether the LPO board expressly denied permission for the 4 to state their professional affiliation, and they ‘had gone ahead anyway’. We need to know – from the LPO – whether this was the case, whether they had been warned after signing other petitions in the same way (such as the Clare College Choir letter) and if they really are in breach of any legal agreement with the Company, before making any judgments about the suspensions. Also (at risk being described as either a “usual suspect”, or “not a player of great note”) I’d like to point one thing out: you say that the 4 LPO players were “using the orchestra’s name to align it with one side of a political conflict”, but the LPO’s CEO Tim Walker himself has said: “Right-minded people would not think the views of four of our players were those of the company.” (Sept 15th)

  • The Palestinian side of the debate has long claimed its views are often suppressed, especially in the USA. It is thus ironic that the suspension of the four LPO players has given a considerable boost to that argument (fairly or unfairly.) This is going to keep snow-balling so the LPO needs to quickly make some course corrections.

    I also notice that the Israeli/Palestinian debate is much more lively in Britain than the USA. Is this because Britain is more anti-Semitic than the USA, or because it has a more open and tolerant atmosphere of political discourse on the topic?

  • Adam Greenwood says:

    Even though Norman is a north London Mahler loving, german speaking, zionist, I have to admit that in this case – he is probably right. It was a really dumb thing to do because the addition of the suffix “LPO player” can only have been included in the signature because it added weight and authority to the validity of their statements. If I signed a letter against the Israel Phil (which I never would incidentally) I wouldn’t add my professional qualifications, because they’re not relevant to whats being said. Therefore – they did invoke the LPO’s name and its inferred authority when signing. Suspension seems harsh – a forceful word from management would have made the point and maybe a meeting to ameliorate wealthier Jewish patrons which the LPO says have been very offended. By making so much out of it, they’re actually now just raising the issues profile, which could / should have ben put to bed without so much fuss.

  • Adam Greenwood says:

    And to be fair to Norman – he did actually post my comments – “which is surely to his credit” as they would say. At least he knows if you post inflammatory stuff, you have to accept it sometimes. Bravo! More to the point though – I wonder if the LPO would even acknowledge criticism of its conduct?

  • Tone row says:

    A lot of nonsense has been written about this. For those not yet bored to death, these are my attempts to strip the hypocrisy out of the reactions to the LPO’s pathetically mismanaged off-stage drama:

    Fact #1: LPO is a self-governing orchestra and decisions are agreed by other players.
    Fact #2: Eisner et al (the LPO 4) actively & publicly associated themselves with the infamous disrupters of the Jerusalem Quartet concert (including Deborah Fink et al) by co-signing the anti-IPO letter. It could have been no secret that Fink et al were likely to repeat their puerile activites – she lead the disruption of Webern’s passacaglia.
    Fact #3: They have signed other letters before, including attacking the Clare College choir which was visiting the West Bank as well as Israel, and on another occasion shamefully attacking a Jewish Music Institute academic symposium on Israeli classical music.
    Fact #3: Tenured university academics are an exception from the norm whereby an employee may not and would not mention their employer in a public letter and would expect to receive sanction. (I, a hospital doctor, would expect suspension or worse).
    Fact #4: LPO donors (likely to have been at the IPO concert) are entitled to be angered that musicians they are supporting are agitating against their visiting colleagues based on ethnicity/nationality. They are entitled as private individuals to threaten to remove their funding to another orchestra.
    Fact #5: Other LPO players are entitled to ask their colleagues to desist from this. As the situation has been ongoing over the past few years, and they have not desisted, the only possible sanction is suspension from playing in LPO engagements. This is not management vs players in an employment dispute. This is players vs players. That’s their freedom.

  • Tony says:

    Fact#1: There is a lot of making mountains out of molehills going on.
    Fact#2: It is unjust to mete out punishment on this harsh scale. These people simply wrote a letter expressing an opinion with which some people, possibly many disagree. Many people get into trouble for saying unpopular things they might or might not regret later, but seldom as draconian a punishment as these suspensions.
    Fact#3: Time to move on – including reevaluating the punishment of these players, because injustices on this scale have a habit of causing trouble later on because they set precedents and create resentments.
    Fact#4: There is a large quantity of people who know next to nothing about how self-governing orchestras operate but still insist on talking about how they think they do or should. I suppose I should not be surprised, but nonetheless I am.
    Fact#5: At the end of it, who looks bad? Not the LPO members, but the LPO management.

  • Ruth Crouch says:

    Had the 4 been principal wind players in the LPO, would they have been treated so harshly? I doubt it

  • I have already posted on this on my blog: http://themusicsalon.blogspot.com/2011/09/music-and-international-politics.html

    But as the controversy continues to grow, I want to say more. I am especially concerned with remarks like these:

    “music making is by its very nature a political act”

    “any claim that music is apolitical should be contested, since such a claim is itself ideological through and through, a typical ploy by those in positions of power to repress those who are not.”

    For my discussion, have a look at my blog post: http://themusicsalon.blogspot.com/2011/09/music-and-international-politics-part-2.html