Leading UK cellist defends suspended LPO players with Monty Python analogy

Leading UK cellist defends suspended LPO players with Monty Python analogy


norman lebrecht

September 17, 2011

My friend Steven Isserlis, vociferous in his condemnation of the recent attacks on the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, has published a letter in the Times expressing ‘dismay’ at the suspension of four London Philharmonic players who called publicly for the IPO to be banned.

The two events are not linked, except inasmuch as the LPO players’  letter to the Independent could be seen to legitimise the subsequent assault on the Israeli players  (one of the LPO players went on to assault the Israeli musicians verbally at a public meeting).

Here is Steven’s letter; The Times does not publish online. My own view is that the suspension was justified but its length too severe.

Sir, I was outraged by the antics of the protesters at the Israel Philharmonic Prom concert a couple of weeks ago; but I am dismayed now to learn that four members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra have been suspended for signing their names to a letter that appeared in advance of that concert, in which it was claimed that the invitation to the Proms sent out the wrong signals to the public.

Profoundly though I disagree with the contents of that letter, it was neither disruptive nor illegal, and in no way merited such severe disciplinary action. Why is it that anything pertaining to the Israeli/Palestinian issue almost invariably results in such massive over-reaction on both sides in this country? I am reminded of the Monty Python bed salesman who was quite alright until the word ‘mattress’ was mentioned – at which point he would immediately put a paper bag over his head.  Come to think of it, that might not be such a bad idea for some of the protagonists in this sorry affair.
Steven Isserlis, London N1



  • Geoff Pahoff says:

    The letter and the outrage in Albert Hall of which it was clearly the precursor are offensive and extremist and are part of a campaign that should be repugnant to all. The outrage itself hopefully will be recalled as the peak of this bloodcurdling echo from the past. How this is dealt with where freedom of expression is precious is one issue. A letter to a newspaper is clearly a free and protected expression of opinion. Attacking a performing orchestra is not.

    This offends more than just the members of that orchestra. It offends more than just its audience.

    But this is another issue.

    Some who signed the letter chose to shroud themselves in the name of a famous orchestra and if they were hoping that would win attention for their ignoble act they were not disappointed. The letter itself is disgraceful as many noted even before the attack. How that is dealt with is a matter for the orchestra and its supporters.

    An appropriate response need not all be about degree of “punishment”. There is room for the positive in this affair. How about a concert for Israel, Palestine and peace at the Royal Albert Hall? Surely it hasn’t yet got to the point in London that there are not enough musicians to fill an orchestra for a concert in honour of the Jewish state and in the fervent hope for peace through the creation of a new state of Palestine?

    That would ease talk about “punishment” and freedom of expression.

  • I wonder whether this Monty Python Video might be applicable, somehow.


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  • David Watkin says:

    Some common sense in the public debate on this issue at last. (“Mattress!”). The LPO seem to have someone employed full-time to erase any reference to the LPO4 from their FB etc pages. Almost Stalinesque. I hope that’s not my public subsidy money being spent on that!

  • David Watkin says:

    Geoff – are you suggesting that the signatories to the letter should be punished for the shameful acts of those who disrupted the IPO Prom? They are not the same people.

  • Tone row says:

    David – wrong: co-signatories on the letter, including Deborah Fink et al, were indeed those who disrupted the concert. Fink was the lead disrupter of the Jerusalem Quartet at the Wigmore Hall last year. The LPO players knew that and were happy to publicly associate with her and her co-conspirators and use their orchestra’s name to that purpose. Other LPO players are entitled to be riled.

  • David Watkin says:

    Dear Mr Row / Tony / Anon, Those two groups of people may overlap, but I understand that the LPO4 were not Prom disrupters. When you sign a letter or petition which you agree with, you cannot choose who else signs it!