Why orchestra is totally wrong to sack an artist with political views

Why orchestra is totally wrong to sack an artist with political views


norman lebrecht

April 07, 2015

Slipped Disc editorial:


Opinion has split down the middle on the Toronto Symphony’s sacking of star pianist Valentina Lisitsa, whose social-media hostility to the Ukrainian government provoked irritation among Canada’s pro-Kiev lobby.

The majority of commenters on Slipped Disc take the view that Val’s much-tweeted propaganda is virulent and the TSO was right to sack her.

Most commenters on Toronto’s Globe and Mail take the opposite view, arguing that the TSO was wrong to cave in to pressure and that an artist’s politics have no relevance on whether she or he has the right to make music.

So who’s right?

Yellow Lounge - Valentina 3

From our perspective, Val’s politics are odious. She spouts the Putin line on the Ukraine, justifying the aggression of ‘pro-Russian’ citizens who are armed, trained, funded and supported by the Russian army. Everything she writes, from her US refuge, is cast in black and white: Russia is right, the rest of the world wrong. She has come very close to condoning some of the worst war crimes committed in Europe since the Serb wars of the 1990s.

However, that is no reason to ban her from a concert hall. If it were, then Valery Gergiev, Anna Netrebko, Dennis Matsuev, Yuri Bashmet and dozens more should have been excluded long ago from the world stage. No-one in their right mind would want that. In a free society we cherish the freedom of speech, even when we disagree to the point of revulsion with the sentiments expressed. Freedom of speech entails freedom of performance.

The Toronto Symphony has transgressed that principle by caving in to a small and noisy pressure group. It is one of the most cowardly acts seen from a music organisation in years (outside of Russia, where a cough from the Kremlin can cost an artist his job). The TSO’s gung-ho boss Jeff Melanson has made a terrible error of judgement.



Boycotts are bad. They don’t work, and they hand moral advantage to those whose views they try to silence. Toronto has got it wrong. The TSO board needs to convene in emergency session and revoke Melanson’s rash decision.



  • Paul says:

    Yes I agree with this argument and I have a new quote ” freedom of speech entails freedom of performance”

    • muslit says:

      Hmmmm. If a soloist made racist remarks about a certain race, and a symphony orchestra included members of that race, doesn’t that orchestra have the right to deny association with that soloist? No one is denying the soloist the right to his/her opinions. Or to her freedom of speech, in this case Lusitsa. And what about an institution’s right to make decisions such as these? A person’s actions has consequences.

  • Paul Piercy says:

    Yes I agree with this and I now have a new quote “freedom of speech entails freedom of performance”

  • Daniel Dobrjanski says:

    Free speech is one thing, but her comments were justifying hate/war crimes.

  • John Andris says:

    “Everything she writes, from her US refuge, is cast in black and white: Russia is right, the rest of the world wrong”
    By rest of the world you mean the West? Last time I checked it constituted part of the globe,not the “rest”..

    “..the Putin line..”
    I am no fun of Putin myself,I think he failed to act decisively after the Maidan coup,but I doubt the author of this article has any grasp of what occured in former E.Ukraine after the Odessa massacre-was it even reported in the West? Like it or not,the vast majority of the locals want nothing to do with the Kiev junta,and if you still doubt whether it is a junta look at the latest gem they appointed to office-Dmitry Yarosh,a neo-nazi leader of the right sector..

    So ms Lisitsa spoke against the hypocrisy of the West and its puppet government in Kiev and for that she is being silenced..Way to go Canada!

  • Robert Scott says:

    I am for freedom of speech as well but am not in favor of performers using their fame as a pulpit. They usually don’t know any more than the rest of us but their opinion is given greater weight because of their stardom.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      How famous do you have to be before your views are censored?

      • Robert Scott says:

        Since “famous” is not quantifiable, I would say that an orchestra or organization would put it in their contract for everone who plays. This idea is not as unusual as it sounds, Many businesses would frown very much if employees used their employment status in political endeavors. Above it all, they have every right to let her go. I would let the musicians know ahead of time. First violation gets a verbal warning so they know what the mistake was.

        • MWnyc says:

          Isn’t the right of the presenter to buy out a visiting artist’s contract usually written into said contract?

          • Vera says:

            I’m sure, both sides have a right to cancel with an appropriate notice. The problem, though, TSO didn’t want to cancel – Lisitsa gives sold out performances – they wanted her to stop expressing her political stance and to delete her tweets.
            No lawyer would find anything in her Tweets justifying banning her from stage, DAYS before the concert. TSO’s CEO promissed to compensate her, but only if she would sign a gag clause. She didn’t.
            What’s funny, CEO was afraid to lose Ukrainian donor. Instead, he lost dozens of annual subscribers, even more occasional ones. He is in the middle of an International scandal, sided with a fan of Galician SS, censored a Ukrainian, who didn’t share his wealthy donor views.
            Luckily, Lisitsa tweets cannot be changed and if a person has a fraction of ability to think left, they would check them.
            As a result, thousands of people find a raw data with, yes, sometimes very sharp comments, showing, what paid media is silent about. As well as uncovering lies such media have been feeding the world… God works in misterious ways:))

  • Stephan Walliser says:

    If freedom of speech entails freedom of performance, it also entails freedom of cancellation.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      That is a non sequitur.

      • Alex says:

        Maybe Mr. Walliser is a happy citizen of Indiana, USA. Obstructing someone’s freedom of speech is the DEFINITION of bigotry. Your freedom stops where it starts obstructing other people’s freedom, we learned that in kindergarden. Maybe its time Mr. Walliser goes back for a refresher.

        • Joe Shelby says:

          Ah, but from the perspective of *government* censorship, there has been none. She was “free” to speak her views, regardless of the relevance of them to her artistic career and profession.

          However, that does not and will never make one free of any social consequences. Free speech merely means that the government can not, through threat or coercion, restrict your right to speak.

          Is art independent of politics? Of course not.

          Is art independent of commerce? The author would like to think so. I know better. Commerce drives everything, and commerce is a matter of perceptions and how they impact the flow of money that makes the performance possible.

          If the TSO thought that her presence was going to be a financial hit, either by the protests, by people not attending as an act of protest, by people not attending out of reaction to the presence of protestors or (and this is even more important than all of that) by the withdrawal of advertisers either over the subject of her views or the fear of the 3 items above, then from a commercial, financial standpoint, they are IN THE RIGHT to cancel the performance.

          It is not a matter of art, it is a matter of business. It would be nice, ideal, WONDERFUL, if art could be created and performed free of the constraints of the commercial enterprise, but as every single symphony orchestra begging for cash will tell you, that is no the case.

          This is not a matter of art. It is, in the words from a recent Pirate movie, “just good business”.

          If you don’t like it, take it up with them and tell them they no longer have your business because of their actions…but considering where many of you live, nowhere near Toronto, I don’t think they’ll value your words the same.

  • william osborne says:

    The interesting part for me is how publications that exclusively caters to classical music fans (such as SD) often have a readership that is considerably more conservative than general publications. Hence the difference between the commentators in the Toronto Globe and Mail, and SD.

    It is also interesting that the fan base is much more conservative than the performers. This is readily observable by comparing the forums for professional classical musicians to SD. The conservatism of classical fan base shows up on SD in numerous topics, even including defenses of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. No other art form outside of country/western music, draws such a conservative public. Why is that?

    Is it related to the quasi militaristic social structures of the symphony orchestra – the steep hierarchies, the regimentation, the authoritarianism found in the absolute power of the patriarchal conductor, and the close association of orchestras with cultural nationalism?

    • Robert Manno says:

      I fail to see any connection between “conservative” or “liberal” views vis a vis the Lisitsa Affair.

      • william osborne says:

        It’s true, there is no left in the USA so the view of the conflict tends to be relatively monolithic. The left is still active in Europe, which has led to more moderate and differentiated perspectives of the conflict. If you read German, see for example:


        There are many articles like this in the mainstream, leftwing European press, but virtually none in the USA.

        • Gonout Backson says:

          What you seem to have missed, is that this “differentiated” (in plain English: “Putin-is.not-so-bad”) point of view is enthusiastically shared by the whole European extreme right, including blatantly neo-nazi movements (antoher thing you missed, apparently, is their recent Parteitag in Moscow). Only the wording is sometimes different, but sometimes isn’t – and then it’s absolutely impossible to tell who’s talking.

          • william osborne says:

            The conflict has empowered far-right nationalists on both sides. Journals in the USA, such as “World Affairs,” have used this as an additional source of propaganda against Russia while playing down the much more dominate far-right activity in the Ukraine. Many members of the moderate left in Europe reject these propagandistic approaches on both sides and encourage honest dialog to end the violence. Forgive me if I do not discuss this further in this forum. I’m not into the classcal music Fox News crowd.

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    How many people here REALLY know what’s happening in the Ukraine? I haven’t a clue but it strikes me that freedom of speech has to be just that, and you take the rough with the smooth. After all, you’re free to reply to statements with which you don’t agree…

    What is more alarming is the self-appointed righteousness of a single view point and that contrary opinions are just plain wrong or unacceptable. Freedom of speech OK, but only so long as it tallies with my world view, type thing. You find a lot of this on the political left.

  • Robert Manno says:

    I fail to see any relevance for either “conservative” or “liberal” viewpoints vis a vis a the Lisitsa Affair. I, as a liberal, am repulsed by her idiocy and outright hatred.

    • Hank says:

      Robert, as a fellow liberal, I also find her comments repulsive. She’s evidently published some things which are simply beyond the pale, if [url=http://euromaidanpress.com/2014/12/12/when-high-culture-merges-with-terrorism/]this link[/url] this link is to be believed. I do think the board of the Toronto Symhpony overreacted and the shouldn’t have cancelled on her, but it’s worth questioning what would have happened if Lisitsa had made anti-Russian/anti-Putin tweets with the same tone. I’d wager losing a concert engagement in Russia would have been the least of her worries.

      Btw, I just happened to be listening to Lisitsa’s two disc recording of the music of Phillip Glass over the weekend. The playing is fine, as for the music…

  • Pianoman says:

    “She has come very close to condoning some of the worst war crimes committed in Europe since the Serb wars of the 1990s.”

    It is funny how different perspectives can be. Actually, it is well documented that the Ukrainian army is committing war crimes, using forbidden cluster bombs (condemned by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and others). Major cities in the south-east of Ukraine have been shelled, innocent civilians have lost their lives as a direct result of the Ukrainian army. This army includes various volunteer groups including violent neo-Nazis such as Aidar and Azov battalions, whose human rights abuses and crimes have been well documented. A part of the army is also run by the oligarch Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine’s richest men who got appointed governor of Dnipropetrovsk and who recently barickaded his own troops inside Ukrnafta, a company where he has shares, because things there didn’t go as he wanted. While Kolomoisky was forced to resign as governor in the end, it is quite alarming that a large segment of Ukraine’s army is run by maniacs.

    Yet we encourage them to commit the same war crimes that you claim Valentina is close to condoning.

  • hyprocritesgalore says:

    What about Wagner’s Antisemitic and vitriolic writings? Imagine him on Twitter today. Someone should set up a Wagner twitter account with his Antisemitic rants and finally get him and his music banned.

  • MacroV says:

    First, there is no censorship or free speech issue here, at least in the American sense. The U.S. Constitution merely says that Congress shall make no law that impinges on the right of free speech. Ms. Lisitsa is free to make any remarks she wants without fear of criminal consequences. But an organization has every right to disassociate themselves from her based on the views she expresses. I do realize that Toronto is in Canada, but I assume they follow a similar principle.

    Meanwhile, here’s a suggestion: Ms. Lisitsa has been paid by the Toronto Symphony to perform. Surely she could rent a hall or a church in Toronto and play a free recital for her fans – and even thank the TSO in the program for their support of her appearance.

    As for Gergiev, Netrebko, Bashmet, etc., some of them have likely lost engagements (at least in Ukraine). But while most of them expressed support for Putin in some way, I’m not sure any have been quite as vocal and vituperative as Lisitsa, who really is sounding like one of those crazy people you try to avoid on blogs.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    So, does the thing that you wrote about being wrong on sacking an artist with odious views also apply to Tamar Iveri?

  • Anonne says:

    “an artist’s politics have no relevance on whether she or he has the right to make music.”

    Not exactly the view regarding Wagner in Israel, is it? And he’s not even alive.

  • Graeme Hall says:

    Discussing health care funding is politics. Debating tax rates and policies is politics.

    Having looked at some of Ms Lisitsa’s tweets they are not politics.

    • Jeffrey E. Salzberg says:

      I realize that this somewhat contradicts what I wrote elsewhere, but thousands of Jews were marched to the crematoria to the strains of Wagner’s music.

  • Mike says:

    I beg your pardon, here, but I need to ask a question: several months ago you were all happy and pleased because a certain Australian opera house banned a certain Georgian singer because of her views on gay people’s rights. In your book that was OK, appropriate and absolutely called for. Lisitsa is an amazing pianist. She also showed tremendous courage tweeting about her beliefs ( while Gergiev is in the same time not engaging her or supporting her). Yet, her believes are also very dubious. She has made some very strange and hateful tweets, repeatedly and over a certain period of time. My question is: are rights of Ukrainian people less worthy to you than the rights of gay people ? or do you prefer Val to the Georgian singer? What are the standards?

    • Graeme Hall says:

      Mr Lebrecht is a fan of Ms Lisitsa and is often promoting her on his blog. The blog is of course his child so he is allowed to have his favourites, but it does colour this debate.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        How, exactly?

        • Max Grimm says:

          With all due respect Mr. Lebrecht, depending on who it is you are discussing, there are noticeable nuances of your wording and viewpoints.
          Further, while you claim to uphold and cherish freedom of speech, even when disagreeing with a given opinion to the point of revulsion, you have a marked history of deleting or withholding comments on your blog which are critical of you or your opinions or could refute them.

          • norman lebrecht says:

            Comments that break the rules of this site are deleted by the moderator. If you don’t like the rules, ‘Max Grimm’, please leave the site.

  • MacroV says:

    I also take issue with word “sacked” in the headline. Ms. Lisitsa is an independent contractor who was to provide services to the TSO for a fee. She is not an employee of the TSO, and there cannot be “sacked,” not even by the British use of the term.
    And she is being paid the fee, thereby made whole.

    Were Ms. Lisitsa seeking conventional employment, a firm these days might well check her Twitter profile and decline to hire her based on her postings. Conceivably a TSO musician (employee) could be sacked for inappropriate Twitter activity, depending on the master agreement and Canadian labor law.

  • Sally Olson says:

    I personally find it difficult to separate a persons denigrating comments and then invite them to my home for dinner. If you heard this person consider Canada and her neighbor to the South (US) a Marxist community – could I separate those hurtful remarks and listen to this artist perform? That’s my problem. It’s not a matter of Freedom of Speech but whether I can keep the two separate. If I were inviting artists to perform at my theater, I would not wish to deal with picketers and chaos outside the theater. So, as much as I am a true advocate of freedom of speech and artistic expression, an artist needs to carefully weigh the consequences of these actions. In US we call this “shooting yourself in the foot” and a “career killer”.

    What if this person is delighted with all the attention and thinks (sadly) this is propelling her career to new heights? Freedom of speech or not, I am asserting my “freedom of choice” and not buying tickets to hear this artist.

  • Mark Morrison says:

    A classical performer has the right to his or her opinions, at least in most western countries. (in many others, such utterances can easily result in torture or death). That being said, these same artists should think twice about how much they wish to openly publicize their opinions. Many people will find their opinions odious and will shun them and even organize boycotts against them. The same freedom of speech that the performer wants also applies to everyone else. If the performer does not want to suffer the possible consequences of his or speech, then the performer should simply stifle the expression of those opinions.

    It’s been my experience that classical performers are no more intelligent than the average populace, perhaps even less so. I have numerous friends who are classical musicians and I am sometimes appalled at the ignorant words that come out of their mouths. Perhaps all that time devoted to practice makes leaves them little time to really learn the realities of the world or to question the bigoted reporting of such things as the BBC or The Guardian., for example. For singers, maybe all that expelling of air leaves less oxygen for the brain.

    Numerous rather famous musicians were very happy to collaborate with the Nazis, including at least three pianists I can think of off the top of my head. I don’t care how wonderful their recorded performances may be, I still can’t stomach the idea of listening to any of their “art” and, if all of their recorded work were to suddenly vanish, I would not regret it.

  • RobA says:

    I don’t think it’s appropriate to sack an artists because of their political beliefs.

    However, I DO think it entirely appropriate is ANY individual in the employ of ANY organization publicly harms the brand and business of that oganization. In this case, no doubt her views would hurt the TS bottom line. I know I would never pay money to see a hate monger, no matter how talented, and I’m sure many people would agree with me.

    As its the directors job to ensure the survival of the symphony, it’s entirely appropriate to make decisions to that goal, and if any of his employees are harming the symphony, it’s entirely appropriate to let that person go.

  • Canadian Artist says:

    Sorry folks. Valentina Lisitsa opened the door on this one. She chose to use her following and fame as an artist as a pulpit to spew her political views. Game on for any organization to stand up to her or anyone else’s hate. Doesn’t matter how good she is. SHE makes her artistry take a back seat when she uses her fame to spread hate. This is on her.

    There’s a vast difference between free speech and hate speech. Bravo for the TSO to be brave enough to do what they’ve done.

    And Lebrecht, your faux outrage (fauxrage?) very clearly stems from your well-documented hatred of Jeff Melanson, not to mention North American arts organizations you so easily scowl at on a consistent basis.

    I have a challenge for you: present BOTH sides of the story. Do some real journalism, muster up some courage, and fly across the pond to interview those at the orchestra (and maybe actually hear them play) before you pass your judgements. I know that may be tough for you: not easy when you spend your days regurgitating headlines, posting clickbait, and making pretend journalism and criticisms.

    I agree with most that art and politics should be seperate…but sometimes we need to put on our adult pants and stand up to hate. If we don’t, who will?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Hatred? Don’t be silly. I shall be at the League of American Orchestras convention next month. Meantime, show a little courage, ‘Candadian Artist’, and come out from behind your anonymity so we know what you really stand for.

      • Canadian Artist says:

        First, hit the spell check before you post. Spell Canadian correctly. Spell check is a rule of thumb, really. Second, attending a League conference doesn’t do anything to cancel out your disdain…nice try, though. Third, Cleveland is not far from Toronto! Come on down. Put your money where your mouth is. You still haven’t addressed all that business. Finally, I can stay under anonymity if I choose to – your blog allows it, free speech allows it, and I can still firmly show what I stand for. You argument is invalid…but your knee-jerk response is…well…telling.

    • william osborne says:

      If you want both sides of the story, then you should note that both sides are spreading hate. Overlooking the hatred on one-side implies a sympathy for that side’s hatred — which includes attempts to silence artists. No wonder you insist on anonymity.

      I don’t agree with Norman’s stance on the conflict, but he has consistently stood against efforts to silence artists — behavior that in this case might ironically be described as Putinesque.

  • Maria Los says:

    No, I think they are right; Putin pays people who support him. (www.gordonua.org Alesya Batsman)

  • Maria Los says:

    I think they are right to sack her; Putin pays people very well to support him: http://www.gordonua.org Alesya Batsman

  • Christopher Shih says:

    Can someone give me an example of something she tweeted that was hateful? I tried to look through her Twitter, and I saw several anti-Ukrainian government tweets, but I couldn’t find something overtly hateful. I’m not challenging here, I simply want to know, and maybe I just didn’t look long enough.

  • hypocritesgalore says:

    The TSO did not think before they opened the Gates of Hell. This is a classic strategic blunder.

  • David J Gill says:

    I’m not sure I can agree. If she has become a public figure due to her activism she should realize this will compromise her position with an orchestra that is also in the public eye. A pseudonym could have been used, in retrospect.

    Politics in the US and around the world is increasingly menaced by radical extremism, contempt and obstruction. Activists refuse to consider other points of view, debate an issue fairly, compromise or seek consensus. I’m asking myself if we can justify intolerance of intolerance and extremism.

  • David J Gill says:

    It may be a fair to test this issue with the Nazi question…

    In a different time and place would we have the same regard for her right to free speech if she were an outspoken Nazi activist?

  • Max Grimm says:

    “In a free society we cherish the freedom of speech, even when we disagree to the point of revulsion with the sentiments expressed.”

    I couldn’t name one single place on earth where that statement is truly the case. It doesn’t even apply to this blog at times.

  • Karen says:

    Controversy and conflict can become opportunities for progress. I believe we have both Lisitsa and the TSO to thank for opening up discussions on at least 2 important topics :

    1) Free Speech. On this, I offer a Chomsky quote as our guiding principle : “Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.” (Noam Chomsky).
    Dear TSO : please read the quote at least 10X and kindly review your decision again.

    2) The implications of U.S. aggression in the Ukrainian conflict. One of the problems here is the sole reliance by many on the dominant U.S./UK-controlled mainstream media for their information (or if you will, misinformation). I hope through this controversy, more people including the TSO will challenge their own limited perspective on the Ukrainian situation by reading alternative news sources and avoid oversimplifying a complex geopolitical situation.

    For starters, please consider the following :

    Dear TSO: please read these and other alternative sources and kindly review your decision again. It is not the role of a city’s symphony orchestra to become an (unwitting ?) geopolitical pawn.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      “Alternative” meaning “truthful”? Interesting. Since they come all from the same source, I don’t see much “alternative” here.

      • Karen says:

        Alternative to mainstream media (mainstream media being the likes of NYT, Washington Post, CNN, BBC etc.).

      • Karen says:

        Alternative to the mainstream media (the mainstream media being the likes of New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, BBC etc.).

        These articles are NOT from the ‘same source’. If you’d click on the links, you will see that ALL the articles are written by DIFFERENT independent writers and investigative journalists. Counterpunch is simply a site that posts these articles in one convenient place – but all the articles are from a variety of different independent and alternative news sources. As a matter of convenience, I use Counterpunch instead of going to 10 – 20 different sites everyday .

        • Gonout Backson says:

          As it happens, all of these “independent writers” represent the same, easily defined political tendency.

          As for the “mainstream media”, please add the French Le Monde (center-left). They all say more or less the same thing (Le Figaro, conservative right, would rather lean the other way, at least sometimes). Makes quite an impressive list.

          BTW: please, inform Mr Eric Draitser who, some 15 months ago, warned us against the rebirth of “fascism that Europe has seen since the fall of the Third Reich”, that he was absolutely right about the threat, not so much about the address. You will find the details in my exchange with Mr William Osborne.

        • Gonout Backson says:

          As it happens, all of these “independent writers” represent the same, easily defined political tendency.

          As for the “mainstream media”, please add the French Le Monde (center-left). They all say more or less the same thing (Le Figaro, conservative right, would rather lean the other way, at least sometimes). Makes quite an impressive list.

          BTW: please, inform Mr Eric Draitser who, some 15 months ago, warned us against the rebirth of “fascism that Europe has seen since the fall of the Third Reich”, that he was absolutely right about the threat, not so much about the address. You will find the details in my exchange with Mr William Osborne.

          P. S. I love the “matter of convenience” part.

        • Gonout Backson says:

          Just for fun :


          There are others there (bona fide Left, pray you) on the same subject.

          Imagine I lived happy all these years, ignoring the existence of this… organ!

  • MWnyc says:

    Isn’t the right of the presenter to buy out a visiting artist’s contract usually written into said contract?

  • Philip Lingard says:

    The greater the artist, the worse the behaviour managements and public will endure. In this case, the odiousness of her utterances (possibly paid for as a Kremlin troll) is not compensated for by the level of artistic merit in my opinion. Toronto didn’t do their homework before hiring her and hence the deserved uproar but as a music lover, my decision is now to avoid her actively because of her affiliation as opposed to never previously going out of my way to hear her as I considered her a not particularly interesting artist beyond her remarkable Youtube story- that presumably puts me as a concert going member of the public in the same odour as Melanson.

    In the meantime, a friend of very significant artistic merit who originates from the East of Ukraine is going through a living hell because of the people this pianist lionises.

  • burton says:

    I am amazed at the high dudgeon of those on both sides of this question. It seems to me a far more straightforward matter. Performers of any genre who use their celebrity to promote controversial political views proceed at considerable risk to their reputations – and those of the organizations that engage them. No one disputes VL’s right to express those views and few will deny that propaganda, corruption and cruelty exist on all sides of major conflicts. In the end, however, it’s for TSO – and only TSO – to decide whether presenting VL in concert is worth the fallout. This has nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with the perceived health and survival of a particular arts organization. Just because one artist chooses to thrust herself into the center of controversy doesn’t mean her colleagues and associated organizations must be dragged along. They’re perfectly entitled to disengage, which they have done in this case. I am no more surprised or offended at this than I am at seeing a pianist stake out a passionate, high-profile position on a controversial political issue. It all goes with the territory (so to speak).

  • V.Lind says:

    Listening to Lisitsa on As It Happens on CBC Radio. She is not making a very good fist of presenting herself as a rational human being. Pretty sure that the Ukrainians have a lot to answer for, but she sounds like a whack job.

  • Julian Rowlands says:

    Unfortunately this is the fashion these days and it seems that anyone who doesn’t like the opinions or identity of a performer can get them banned. Last year there were the two Israeli companies cancelled from the Edinburgh Festival because of campaigning by anti-zionists. Then recently two performances by Gilad Atzmon, in Nottingham and at RNCM, were cancelled after agitation by opponents of his views. In some of these cases, the excuse for cancelling was that the performers safety couldn’t be guaranteed, although to my knowledge the police were not involved. Now we have the cancellation of Lisitsa’s concerts in Toronto.

    Those of us who support freedom of speech and artistic expression, and the rights of artists to employment without discrimination based on politics, gender or ethnicity, must oppose ALL of these acts of censorship equally and unequivocally in my opinion. The solution is simple if promoters are worried about controversy: bind the performer contractually to make no political statement during their appearance. They are being hired to make music, not to give a speech.

  • Andy says:

    Her opinions and words haven’t been silenced by the Toronto Symphony. Far from it.

    And the music she was engaged to perform for TSO patrons – specifically Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 – will be performed, most likely in a very fine fashion by Mr. Goodyear.

    And the ever-inventive and PR-savvy Mrs. Lisitsa has promised to perform in Toronto, so her music won’t truly be silenced. Far from it.

    Thus, I’m having a hard time with the word “censorship” being bandied about so flagrantly by all and sundry.

    The amount of attention and free publicity garnered by the TSO and Mrs. Lisitsa over this little scandal is way, way, way out of proportion.

    And now, silly me, I’ve joined the fray.

    Mea maxima culpa.

    • Karen says:

      Andy, with all due respect – you are joking, right ?

      If you were fired from your job due to your employer disagreeing with your politics, that is discriminatory and patently unjust. Sure, you can continue to talk about your political views after you were fired, but you have lost your job. Moreover, your employer publicly announced your firing to the world; it has in effect let current employees and prospective employees know what consequences will befall those who express views that the employer disapproves of. Not only were you punished for speech that your employer disagrees with but every current and prospective employee also knows about what it – it leaves a chilling effect in the organization. It certainly is a form of censorship.

      And sure, the job you were engaged to do will subsequently be performed by someone else in a ‘very fine fashion’…so what ? Are you saying because someone equally competent replaced you at your job, that makes your discharge acceptable and equitable ?

      Don’t be absurd.

      TSO’s decision and actions here are, to me, discriminatory and highly problematic in a free and democratic society that purports to respect equality & freedom of expression. And I am not alone. Check out the outrage expressed by Canadians in the “Globe and Mail” link that Norman posted above. The Globe and Mail is a National newspaper in Canada.

      • Andy says:

        Karen, dear, don’t be absurd.

        Mrs. Lisitsa has never been employed by the Toronto Symphony. She was hired and contracted by the TSO as a non-resident independent contractor. And she has already been paid in full for her services. Comparing the morass in which Mrs. Lisitsa finds herself with the scenario you describe, wherein (presumably) full-time, gainful employment is lost is ludicrous. But perhaps you “win” arguments by arguing with yourself.

        I can tell you that if I publicly posted incendiary and discriminatory language similar to Mrs. Lisitsa’s on social media, and if those posts in any way embarrassed or did damage to the organization for which I work in the judgment of my superiors, yes, I’d be fired. Bad for business. Are you immune to such a possibility? Lucky you, Karen.

        The Toronto Symphony has done nothing that curtails Mrs. Lisitsa’s freedom to express her views. In fact, the orchestra’s ham-handed behavior has drawn an enormous amount of attention to her “tweets” and dramatically amplified everything she has chosen to express. She seems to be granting wall-to-wall media interviews, in multiple languages. No shrinking violet, today she is all made up and posing for photographers on the streets of Toronto. I’d not be at all surprised to learn tomorrow that she was in attendance at the TSO’s concert this evening. No doubt visits to her Twitter, Facebook and YouTube channels have increased. And I wonder what of her record sales?

        No, Karen, Mrs. Lisitsa is a busy bee, milking this tragic, tragic situation for all it’s worth in terms of PR, and doing so with considerable skill.

        But here’s the real tragedy. I feel deep compassion for the suffering that has been visited upon the people of Ukraine, as well as their families and friends. I choose not to amplify their pain. Mrs. Lisitsa has chosen a different path. Consider those TSO musicians who might have relatives in Ukraine, relatives who are suffering on the wrong side of Mrs. Lisitsa’s discriminatory rhetoric, but who also choose to remain silent. Would you expect them to contentedly make music with Mrs. Lisitsa in celebration of Canada’s free and democratic society? How righteous of you, Karen.

        Being a Canadian myself, I well know The Globe & Mail. Do you truly expect that I should be swayed by the opinions of you and others in Karen’s phantom regiment? What a wonderful world of weaklings you must live in. I take it that Mrs. Lisitsa, meanwhile, can remain steadfast and immune, freshening her make up and changing her blouse in preparation for her next interview.

        Oh, and Karen, please feel free to continue arguing with yourself, dear.

  • Milka says:

    The hypocrisy that surrounds this latest nonsense is not to be denied. That Lisitsa can be
    viewed with contempt is a given , that the TSO played into her hands is another given .
    There is a large Ukrainian population in Toronto both pro and anti Putin who cannot abide each other is what this game is all about and Lisitsa is making hay out of this . Just as
    the Boston sym . shamefully bowed to local pressure in the Vanessa Redgrave affair so TSO has done here except they were not aware how devious this Lisitsa creature is and
    how well she turns the table on the TSO in presenting herself as a victim . Now that she is
    found out let us hope we never hear of her again and the TSO hires a more intelligent
    PR group .

  • muslit says:

    Perhaps she should keep her political views to herself. For her career, that is. Just saying.

  • Gershon says:

    See also NL on Tamar Iveri; see also still NL on the “LPO4” (ad nauseum). Free speech when it suits [redaced: abuse].

  • justin bartels says:

    Norman, my wife and I play in the Colorado Symphony, I’m American, she is from Kiev. At this time, I personally support the TSOS decision. Freedom of speech is a great right that we have here, but there are always consequences to what someone says.

    Justin Bartels

  • Davif says:

    All these comments assume she is wrong. Most of the spewing of hatred I hear is aimed at the much persecuted Russian speakers. Perhaps she is right.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      “Much persecuted” by whom? Where? When?

      • George Porter says:

        By Ukraine govt forces & militias bombing and shelling them in their villages, towns and cities, for many months.

        • Gonout Backson says:

          Correct me if I’m wrong, but if I understand well, you mean that suddenly, out of the blue, the Ukrainian army started bombing civilians in the East because they were speaking Russian, is that right?

        • Gonout Backson says:

          Please, give us the list of “provocations” on the Ukrainian side.

          Forget about the so called “Russian language” law of Feb. 23 2014, used by Russian propaganda to justify the agression. It has never been signed by the president, and, in any case, wasn’t even what the Russian propaganda claimed it to be in the first place. The text repels the “Yanukovich language law” of 2012, reestablishing the former legal situation (the 1989 law “On the languages in the Ukrainian SSR”) which has never provoked any war in the East…

  • David Conway says:

    Norman, look at her actual tweets http://imgur.com/a/gDJLo?hc_location=ufi , including her use of holocaust images, racism, and explicit wish for death for Ukrainians, and tell me whether you would want her in your house, (or to play at a family bar-mitzvah?) – I wouldn’t. This goes way beyond the political support given to Putin by Gergiev etc., which, whilst it might make me personally avoid their concerts, does not justify removing them from concert platforms. The mistake was hiring her in the first place – but having made that mistake, the orchestra was also willing to pay not to have her play – their choice, and I think a wise one.

    • David Conway says:

      I add to the summary above of Ms. Lisitska’s charming tweet her implicit taunting of Jews (Kasparov, Kolomoisky) and her tasteless comments re Down’s Syndrome. ‘Perhaps she is right’ per your correspondent Davif, but it doesn’t appear so to me.

      • V.Lind says:

        Her media appearances in Canada since this started — thus introducing her name to all but the few hundred concert-goers who would have known it — have increasingly exposed her as a demented fanatic. And all her own fault — she is getting a gentle start from interviewers who think ‘freedom of speech’ and assume the big, bad institution, Gabriela Montero’s contra-indicated social model, must be in the wrong. She is condemning herself out of her own mouth, with wild rhetoric and denials of things on her reprehensible twitter files.

        And the irritating thing is that she may well be right to a large extent; there is a massive ignorance of the kind of people who would run Ukraine, and have run it recently — but she has done no-one on either side of this crisis any favours by her flamboyant interventions.

        People may or may not agree with the TSO position, but I think, despite increasing her recognition factor, she has utterly shredded her gravitas as an artist. I will be very interested to see who, if anyone, in this country invites her in future.

        • Mark Morrison says:

          The people running Russia (OK — person!) now are not exactly saints. The idea of calling the Ukrainian leadership Nazis, coming from Russians, is almost amusing. Have they forgotten Lenin, Stalin, the gulags, Siberia???

  • Slava says:

    With all due respect,i`m not sure if you ever read her posts,as many Ukrainians ,alas,have done lately.Otherwise,you would find the self-incriminating evidence laying bare ,right on the surface…So ,please do not blame TSO-they did an absolutely right thing by not promoting an artist whose words /tweets for a long while have been infused with HIFI chauvinistic rhetoric…

  • Gonout Backson says:

    I have submitted to you a rather troublesome fact (Putin being supported by all the European fascists and proto-fascists, and some fascistoid left). You avoid the fact, throw some blatant nonsense at me (“much more dominate far-right activity in the Ukraine”? the Ukraine far-right parties haven’t made 2% together in the presidential election – while Putin got, officially, 63%) and you refuse any further debate, closing with an insinuation.

    I think it makes your position and your methods painfully clear.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      This message was addressed to Mr. William Osborne, April 7, 2015 at 7:28 pm.

    • william osborne says:

      Far-right and neo-Nazi militias are a central part of the war on the Ukrainian side. There are also far-right groups on the Russian side, though to a lesser extent. Amnesty International has documented the abuses by the Ukrainian far-right and noted they are creating ISIS style atrocities. Surprisingly, there was a report about this in Newsweek, though for the most part Americans are getting one-sided reporting of the war:


      If this bothers you, just turn to Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. They’ll put the world back in order for you…

      • Gonout Backson says:

        There is no worse blind than the one who doesn’t want to see.

        You still refuse to address the basic fact I gave you. Here it is :

        The “far right and neo-nazi” groups (Praviy Sektor and Svoboda) have participated in free elections in Ukraine.

        In the presidential elections they got tiogether less than 2%, less than an independent Israeli citizen of Ukrainian origins no one knew before.

        In the parliamentary elections they got together something like 6% and have 7 MPs out of 423.

        In Russia, where they are, according to you, present “to a lesser extent”, Mr Putin got elected with 63% and, according to polls, has something like 80% of support.

        It’s the same Mr Putin who, and that’s the point you wouldn’t touch with a ten feet pole,

        1. has the unqualified and enthusiastic support of ALL of the European far right and neo-nazi parties, while the “fascist” Ukraine has none;

        2. overtly and covertly finances some of these parties (recently, a huge loan accorded to the French Front National);

        3. receives in Moscow a Parteitag of some of these parties, organized by his own vice-prime minister;

        4. fabricates propaganda of the kind that follows – and that has probably poisoned poor Valentina Lisitsa’s mind (there are subtitles for you) :


        5. Invaded a neighbour, annexed part of its territory, and boasts about it in TV.

        The Newsweek article contains two little phrases you seem to have missed. Guess what they are.

        As for your insinuations (Limbaugh and stuff…) – please, stop, they’re just plain silly.

  • Brian says:

    They were right in canning her butt. She needs to pay a heavy price against her career until she apologizes, and then completely shuts her stupid mouth on politics for the rest of her life.