The distinguished cellist Steven Isserlis sent the following letter to the Guardian newspaper after the attack on the Israel Philharmonic at the Proms. It was not published there for almost a week, so we are giving it first airing here:
The protesters who disrupted the Prom by the Israel Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta are not only guilty of cultural hooliganism, but are deeply misguided. As musicians, the Israel Philharmonic and Maestro Mehta are an apolitical ensemble; it is no way comparable to, say, a group from apartheid South Africa, because there is no barrier to members of any race or religion joining the orchestra. Although it would be an exaggeration to say that music and politics are completely separate, there is no way that the orchestra (or the Prom audience) should be made to suffer because of the political actions of their government. As a performing musician, I would find it deeply unfair were my concerts in any country to be disrupted because protesters objected to the British government’s decision to invade Iraq, for instance.
I have played many times with the Israel Philharmonic orchestra, and have found them to be the warmest, most hospitable orchestra I know. Of course, there are a wide range of political opinions within the group, and their attitudes seldom coincide with those over here who condemn Israel, at a safe remove from any threat to their own lives; but on the whole, my friends in the orchestra (and elsewhere in Israel) are united by their desire to lead a peaceful life, their disgust at any disregard of human rights emanating from their own government or from any others in the region, and their belief in the two-state solution as the only possible way forward. To wreck their very rare and special concert over here gives a terrible impression of us all – haven’t the rioters done that already?