'Usual suspects' call on London Philharmonic to rescind player suspensions

'Usual suspects' call on London Philharmonic to rescind player suspensions


norman lebrecht

September 22, 2011

The Daily Telegraph has published a letter from cultural individuals, urging the LPO to re-admit the four players it suspended for calling on the BBC to ban the Israel Philharmonic. It is a position with which I have some sympathy, having publicly urged the orchestra to mitigate itssentence.

However, the list is distinguished by its standard anti-Israel stance. I cannot find one name – correct me if I’m wrong – who can even be considered neutral on the Middle East. There is not one pro-Israel voice. The letter, therefore, is not about natural justice for the players, rather a restatement of known political positions. Here’s the text, and the list:

Dear Sir,

We are shocked to hear of the suspension of four members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra for adding their signatures to a letter calling for the BBC to cancel a concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

According to a statement from LPO managers, quoted in the Jewish Chronicle (“UK musicians suspended over Israel Proms row,” 13-9-11) the action was taken because the musicians included their affiliation to the orchestra with their signatures (a convention which is common practice within the academic world, for example).

One does not have to share the musicians’ support for the campaign for boycotting Israeli institutions to feel a grave concern about the bigger issue at stake for artists and others.

There is a clear link being forcibly created here between personal conscience and employment, which we must all resist. A healthy civil society is founded on the ability of all to express non-violent and non- prejudiced opinions, freely and openly, without fear of financial or professional retribution.

The LPO management state that for them, “music and politics don’t mix” – yet their decision to jeopardise the livelihoods of four talented musicians for expressing their sincerely held views is itself political.

Why should it be so dangerous for artists to speak out on the issue of Israel/Palestine? We are dismayed at the precedent set by this harsh punishment, and we strongly urge the LPO to reconsider its decision.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Barrett, composer

Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, solicitor

Howard Brenton, playwright

Caryl Churchill, playwright

Siobhan Davies CBE, choreographer

John Harte co-director, Choir of London

Philip Hensher, novelist

A.L. Kennedy, author

Ken Loach, film director

Miriam Margolyes actor

Simon McBurney OBE actor, writer, director

Mike Leigh, playwright and film director

Steve Martland, composer

Annette Moreau Founder Arts Council Contemporary Music Network

Cornelia Parker OBE artist

Prof. Jacqueline Rose, Queen Mary University, London

Michael Rosen, writer

Alexei Sayle, writer and comedian

Kamila Shamsie, writer

Mark Wallinger, artist

Dame Harriet Walter DBE, actress

Benjamin Zephaniah, author and performer

Kirsty Alexander artist and teacher

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, writer and broadcaster

Michael Attenborough, theatre director

Prof. Mona Baker, University of Manchester

Derek Ball, composer

Chris Bluemel, pianist

Richard Black, pianist

Ian Bournartist/filmmaker

Prof. HaimBresheeth, University of East London

Victoria Brittain, author and journalist

Michael Carlin, production designer

Jonathan Chadwick theatre maker

Prof. Michael Chanan, University of Roehampton

Sacha Craddock, curator

Andy Cowton, composer

Raymond Deane, composer

Ivor Dembina, comedian

Dr KayDickinson, Goldsmiths College, University of London

Dr HughDunkerley, writer University of Chichester

Tony Dowmunt filmmaker, Goldsmiths College, University of London

Patrick Duval, cinematographer

Gareth Evans, writer and curator

Moris Farhi, MBE writer

Dr Naomi Foyle, poet and writer

Jane Frere artist, theatre designer

Carol-AnneGrainger, soprano

Tony Graham, theatre director

Lee Hall playwright.

Michelle Hanson, columnist

Laura Hastings-Smith, film producer

Dr Wallace Heim, writer

John Hegley, poet

Matthew Herbert, composer

Prof. Susan Himmelweit

Mary Hoffman, writer

Dr Fergus Johnston, composer

Ann Jungmana, author

Reem Kelani, musician

Judith Kazantzis, poet and writer

Conor Kelly, artist

Anthea Kennedy, filmmaker

Aleksander Kolkowski, musician

Dr AdamKossoff, artist/filmmaker

Malcolm Le Grice artist, Emeritus Professor, University of the Arts, London

Prof. Yosefa Loshitzky

Jamie McCarthy, musician and lecturer

Dr CaroleMcKenzie FRSA

Ewan McLennan, folk musician

Jeff McMillan, artist

Helen Legg, curator

China Mcville, novelist


Roger Mitchell, film and theatre director

Jenny Morgan, film director

Carol Morley, film director

Alan Morrison, writer

Paul Morrison, film director

Ian Pace, concert pianist

Sam Paechter, composer

Miranda Pennell, filmmaker

Jeremy Peyton Jones, composer

Henry Porter, novelist and commentator

James Purefoy, actor

Laure Prouvost, artist

William Raban, filmmaker, reader at University of the Arts London

A.L.Rees, writer

Lynne Reid Banks, writer

Frances Rifkin, theatre director, Utopia Arts

Leon Rosselson, singer songwriter

Martin Rowson cartoonist

Dr Khadiga Safwatwriter

Sukhdev Sandhuwriter and historian

Dominic Saunders, pianist

Guy Sherwin, artist

Kevin Smith, art activist, PLATFORM

Prof. John Smith, filmmaker University of East London

Anne Solomon, violinist

Ahdaf Soueif, writer

Helen Statman, performer

Michael Stevens, co-director, Choir of London

Susannah Stone picture researcher,

Trevor Stuart, performer

Ingrid Swenson, director PEER

Alia Syed, artist

Jennet Thomas, artist, senior lecturer, University of the Arts

MirandaTufnell, dance artist

Prof. DavidTurner

Francesca Viceconti,artist

Michelene Wandor, writer

David Ward, composer

Samuel West, actor and director

Ian Wiblin, photographer

Andrew Wilson, curator

Eliza Wyatt, playwright

RobinYassin-Kassab novelist


  • Iain Rutherford says:

    Would you consider yourself ‘neutral on the Middle East’?

      • Iain Rutherford says:

        Good. Therefore you agree it’s a subject about which taking a neutral position is difficult.

      • ariel says:

        Perhaps Mr. Lebrecht can answer this – When becoming part of the LPO organization is there any
        stipulation or signed agreement by incoming member “shareholders” what ever they call themselves , that
        while they can voice any opinions they care to make public – the LPO logo – name – affiliation etc. cannot
        be mentioned in conjunction with any said or written opinions not even as a bit of general information concerning the member shareholders professional standing . Is there such an agreement ?

        • Ariel says:

          Still waiting Mr. Lebrecht – or any one that knows for certain what are the stipulations signed
          or unsigned on becoming a member of the LPO

  • Tony says:

    Politics and serious music (serious in any genre, not just classical) seldom mix well. Reading this letter I sense no hostility expressed towards Israel, simply a request to the LPO’s management to reconsider its harsh ‘Kangaroo Court” knee-jerk reaction in suspending these players, quite possibly ultra vires. I think it is an overreaction to interpret this letter beyond what it lays down in black and white.

    We live in times where to criticise anything to do with Zionist Israel turns unquestioningly into loud screams of “Anti-Semitism”. As often as not some of the very best argued criticism of Zionist politics comes from fellow Jews as much as from any other source. We have similar paranoid responses to commentary which might be deemed racist, homophobic or anti-feminist. These words are increasingly losing their meanings because of their application too often as political calls to arms to fellow paranoids.

    I would like to join the “Usual Suspects” as an unusual suspect. Not because I think the four LPO players acted wisely in what they did, but because I hate to see them kneed where it hurts most for expressing themselves in a free world. The LPO has acted harshly and in my opinion uniquely as a cowardly pre-emptive measure to avoid criticism from various quarters who just raise the “Anti-Semitic” flag at every opportunity. Let us not forget that the Jews are not the only Semites in the world – so are the Palestinians.

    • Alexander Radziewski says:

      Criticizing is okay even if I don’t like the point of view. Call for a ban is violating the principles of tolerance and that should not be tolerated. That’s the reason why these musicians were suspended and I agree with this. I would appreciate a suspension too, even if radical Israel supporters would call for a ban of arab musicians.

  • Edward Solomon says:

    Sorry, but I disagree. I think these four employees had no right to associate their actions, however directly or indirectly, with their employer. Are we honestly expected to believe that just because these people work in the arts, they are entitled to a so-called freedom of speech and actions that do not apply to employees everywhere else, that their actions do not carry consequences and that they should face no disciplinary measures from their employer?

    I do not believe for a second that any other employer would sit back and act leniently with its employees. Fundamentally, this whole affair boils down to a question of whether or not the employees in question have breached the terms and conditions of their employment. If so, they face the internal disciplinary process that the organisation has, no doubt, followed thus far. They have the right to appeal, though I dare say it will fall on deaf ears, since the LPO’s finances are directly jeopardised by their actions. They could take the matter to the Employment Tribunal, though that will ultimately brand them as troublemakers to any future employer and worsen an already aggravated situation.

    Let’s face facts: these four individuals bit off more than they could chew and now have to live with the consequences, just as any other employee would have to if they breached the terms and conditions of his or her employment. I wish everyone would just move on and stop acting so “holier than thou” just because these people work in the arts. The truth is that their actions would never have been tolerated in any other sector of the economy, so why should they be cut any slack in an age when employees everywhere are facing the sack and are clinging on to their jobs for dear life?

    • Tony says:

      Complicated misunderstandings here. The London Philharmonic Orchestra is self-governing. The members are not ’employees’, they are shareholders and the administration which suspended them does not constitute being an ’employer’. The players get paid according to their jobs done. They remain self-employed and remain such for tax purposes otherwise they would be PAYE which they are not. The players (including those suspended) are shareholders, and the Managing Director and management are appointed by the shareholders. This is not like an employed bank manager being reprimanded for writing a letter which might be misinterpreted as representing or misrepresenting bank policy. Talk of employment law is a very grey area for musicians in self-governing orchestras, especially those prised out in their later years.

      A point is still being missed here. What the LPO members stated however gauchely was not anti-semitic in any justifiable literal sense. To continue with hackles raised on this premise is false.

      • Anon says:

        Could the position you state – of musicians being shareholders and freelance workers – make their supposed infraction (using the orchestra name and affiliation without permission) worse? I mean, I would hardly write a letter of opinion to a national newspaper and sign it “a Marks & Spencer’s shareholder”.
        The players being freelance, many of them also play with other ensembles – so why did they single out the LPO to put on their letter, rather than writing “freelance violinist”, or mentioning another orchestra or chamber group – other than to lend the letter an extra gravitas?
        It’s the use of the name without permission to help them further their cause (whatever it may be) which is the root of the suspension; it’s a misdemeanour often overlooked in some areas but made more serious when it also risks bringing the company (here, the LPO) into disrepute.

        • Tony says:

          Most of my working life for decades has been with orchestras, and the dynamics of opinions held by individuals or groups of individuals within the co-operative (if that is a good word to use) are generically very different from how they work within a typical commercial workplace. If one is talking with people from outside the music business, the inevitable question comes up “and what do you do?”. If I say “I play the violin” or “I am a recording engineer” they will say to themselves or maybe out loud “how interesting – and what is your day job?” To qualify and to quantify that we do this sort of job full time for a living generally demands a description of where one works and for whom. This is because a proper job as my mother would describe it would not include playing the violin or being a recording engineer full time for a living. If one gets past the first question, the next one is “and who do you work for?”.

          I am not making any effort to justify the content of the letter which caused all this mayhem, but I believe that none of these players intended to associate the corporate body of the LPO in concurring with their opinions – their job description is what it is. With the benefit of hindsight, they could and probably should have taken more care but we live in times of very fast media – one twitter and the story is out, everywhere. I believe that the gravitas of the name LPO has been imposed by those reading the letter who are unaware of how full time professional music-making works and not by those who wrote it. Consequently the punishment is not commensurate with the crime, if crime it be.

          A recent commentator talking about the regime change in Libya said wisely that NATO would have been unlikely to intervene if Libya exported broccoli rather than oil. Equally few would have made any fuss about a letter to a newspaper from four orchestral musicians had they been expressing dismay in the direction of Iran or fishing quotas. The fuss is uniquely because of the “I” word no-one is allowed to mutter, even under one’s breath, for fear of being hung out to dry as anti-semitic.

  • I don’t want to enter the Israel-Palestinian debate, but to note that the LPO’s reactions are an interesting example of the internal dynamics common within orchestras. Orchestra musicians, from their earliest training, are conditioned to always work within their orchestral collective. This attitude eventually extends beyond music-making to the musicians general relationship with their orchestra. Relative to most other art forms, strong individualism is suppressed. They are appalled when any members step outside the lines and make individual statements apart from the collective. This closely knit collectivist sensibility even causes orchestras to become excessivley insular and secretive. These characteristics probably account more for the LPO’s actions against the four players than any sort of political beliefs. The LPO needs to take this into account, ameliorate its actions against the four plays, and issue clearer policy guidelines to the musicians about how they are allowed to list their professional affiliation.

  • Michael Smith says:

    I see that Igor Toronyi-Lalic has now called for the suspension of Mowatt and Ford of the OAE: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/igortoronyilalic2/100056279/the-oae-must-suspend-its-anti-israel-musicians/

    • Tony says:

      According to the Daily Telegraph which published this article Igor Toronyi-Lalic is the Jeremy Clarkson of classical music criticism.

      That sums up the level of debate as far as I am concerned. I agree with the DT but not with Igor Toronyi-Lalic, which looks as fine a candidate for anagram hunters as Ates Orga was for Bernard Levin some years ago.

      • Michael Smith says:

        Did you agree or disagree with the article? In your eagerness to insult the writer, you forgot to make your point.

        • Tony says:

          To be unambiguous I have a great deal of contempt for this DT article which shows a misunderstanding of how free speech works, how orchestras work and of the meaning of the term “anti-semitism”. Pretty much a full house. It just screams and shouts, trotting out the same old wailing about any criticism of Israel amounting to anti-semitism which must be stamped out immediately, with which idea I could never agree – because it gives a free licence, where no such licence is deserved. In my business I have had to live with criticism and critics throughout my working life, and sometimes it can be hurtful. One learns to be philosophical and not to reach for the shotgun, and one learns whom one can trust and whom best to ignore.

          Describing the author as similar to Jeremy Clarkson was not my choice of words, it was that of the DT. Whether that description is an insult or not is a matter of personal perception. I find Jeremy Clarkson mildly entertaining, but I doubt if we would agree on every important matter.

          • Michael Smith says:

            It seems to me that Toronyi-Lalic’s core point was that the players should not have used the names of their orchestras to bolster their arguments. To talk about this as though it were to do with free speech is misguided.

            You may have contempt for this point of view; it would be better, however, if you were to argue against it intelligently and courteously.

  • The scale of the punishment is out of all proportion to the perceived infraction. It would have made far more sense for the LPO management and the players concerned to have issued a joint statement demonstrating a separation between the respective institutional and personal opinions. The moral basis of their arguments could then have been debated separately and in a more appropriate setting by the players.

    Having meted out such a draconian response on this occasion will surely present a dilemma for the LPO in its future disciplinary measures against other alleged misdemeanors by its membership. Perhaps more interestingly, and assuming that the players are union members, how will the Musicians Union respond bearing in mind the TUC’s renewed support for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign

    It is correct to say that the players are not ’employees’. As such they are also vulnerable because they do not have the benefit of recourse to the same protections granted to those under employment contracts. I wonder to what extent these same vulnerabilities may be influencing the apparent lack of public support from their colleagues across the orchestral spectrum.

  • Tony says:

    To argue constructively against the DT article which seen from here is itself unintelligent, discourteous and ill informed is tough. It is a piece of rabble-rousing journalism setting out on a witch hunt after a small number of performing musicians on the grounds of outrageously false claims of anti-semitism. In that context I consider my response to have been lacking neither in intelligence nor courtesy. If it came over that way I apologise. Contributing to blogs does not bring any luxury of detailed timely editing in pursuit of literary subtlety.

    To claim that the players used the names of their orchestras to bolster their arguments is not entirely fair either. They simply defined who they are and what they do as a brief description of where they fit in within the music business. During the last three months I have worked for three of the major international labels, but at no point did I think it was a good idea to include their names in blogs like this. I believe that next time (if there is a next time) these musicians will make more strenuous efforts to avoid ambiguity and they will simply state their names and instruments – but even then the witch-hunters would probably track them down because nasty people think that way.

  • boris says:

    Some pretty shady characters on that list.

    • Tony says:

      Please be specific. There are so few names and I know two of them well as performers and professional colleagues. In all the years I have known them never once has my ear been bent about anti-Semitic ambitions, only ever about musical or social family matters.

      • boris says:

        Ken Loach, George Galloway’s pal, who supports the academic and cultural boycott of all things Israeli? Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (no need to elaborate there, methinks), Caryl Churchill, author of “Seven Jewish Children” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Jewish_Children

        And that’s just the ones I know anything about.

        • Tony says:

          Thanks Boris. I misread your note to signify that the names of the LPO and OAE musicians included “shady characters” which would be an undeserved description. The signatories of the letter you mention certainly include a good few “Usual Suspects” and several of them wear that badge as a badge of honour.

  • Geoff Pahoff says:

    Those who claim it is impossible to criticise Israel without attracting allegations of antisemitism really should try coming up with an example. Just one will do. Someone serious, seriously suggesting that any criticism of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, is of itself antisemitism. I don’t believe this has ever happened. The notion is too absurd for words.

    On the other hand it is impossible to defend Israel without sooner or later being accused of racism. It always happens. Just which side is engaging in intimidatory rhetoric intended to stifle sensible debate here?

    Nevertheless there is an overlap. Much of the extraordinary and disproportionate criticism of Israel is driven by antisemitism, just as it fuels the dispute itself. This cannot be honestly denied. BDS is a very clear example.

    Those who have been swept up in it, and who have tried to sweep up the LPO as well, are playing with something very ugly indeed. They need to look into their souls. Perhaps they will benefit from a period of quiet reflection and may even take the opportunity to read a book on the Middle East.

    Nine months sounds about right.

  • Julian Rowlands says:

    While I agree with the call for the reinstatement of the LPO members, I think it is a great shame that this long list of well known signatories didn’t see fit to also support the rights of the Israeli musicians to perform without intimidation.