There were demonstrators in Roy Thomson Hall and a severely depleted attendance as the Toronto Symphony played without Valentina Lisitsa last night after the pianist had been removed from the programme for her outspoken political opinions. ‘She shouldn’t be discriminated against for her political views,’ said Vlad Alexeyenko, a Ukrainian studying at the University of Toronto. ‘She should be allowed to play for her audience.’
Toronto’s leading newspaper the Globe and Mail published a strong op-ed, calling Lisitsa’s dismissal ‘a terrible precedent, warning that it exposed any artist playing in Toronto to risk of cancellation.
Mr. Melanson cancelled her concerts this week after complaints over her views on the conflict in Ukraine. The decision throws the door wide open for other groups to campaign for a bar against artists they find objectionable.
Imagine if an Israeli violinist with strong Zionist views were invited to play Roy Thomson Hall. Imagine she had once said that the Palestinians were not a true nationality, that their leaders were terrorists and that Israel had the historic right to live in all of the Holy Land. Wouldn’t Palestinian-Canadians have the right to say she should be banned?
Or what about a Palestinian flutist who calls Israel a racist state and argues that armed resistance is sometimes justified even against Israeli citizens? wrote Marcus Gee.
The TSO’s president Jeff Melanson has tried to defuse the issue in phone interviews with Musical Toronto and WQXR. He called Lisitsa a liar for claiming he had cancelled her contract at the demand of a Ukrainian benefactor. ‘That is complete fabrication, and she is basically distorting the truth and making this up. We did not cave to pressure by one lobby group over another, and we absolutely are not taking a position politically between Russia and the Ukraine. This is really about offensive tweets about people by Ms. Lisitsa.’
The case continues.