A music director is criticised for mentioning ‘alternative facts’

A music director is criticised for mentioning ‘alternative facts’


norman lebrecht

February 01, 2017

Leonard Slatkin has received a hostile letter from Detroit Symphony audience members after observing, in a comment on Mozart’s disputed Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds, ‘We do not want to confuse you with alternative facts.’

Next day, this came in from offended patrons:

Last night, conductor Slatkin, whom I have always had the utmost respect for, ruined the evening for me and may have dissuaded me from attending any further concerts.

If you were unaware, he began the concert with a monologue (“joke?”) insulting our president by referring to his “alternate facts.” I am sure he thought he was a hit based on the applause and the laughter. However, he could not hear the half of the theater that was not laughing or applauding. He single-handedly insulted and offended half of the audience which paid good money to enjoy the concert.

Slatkin reflects: ‘I have tried all my life to avoid combining music and politics. But perhaps the time has come to begin to speak out more forcefully. I know that the threatened elimination of the NEA as well as privatization of NPR are subjects on which I must voice my opinion.

Our country was created on the principle of free speech. We all have the right to say what we feel, and those who believe otherwise are basically undermining the founding fathers.’

Read his full post here.

UPDATE: Protestor apologises.


  • Keeppoliticsoutofhallls says:

    The amount of money Maestro Slatkin was paid for his performances in Dallas equals more than what the Dallas Symphony receives from NEA. Perhaps he should keep the concert hall a politics free zone since the audience did not pay to hear his political opinions but his take on music. He is not part of the thought police.

    • MWnyc says:

      True, but the patron isn’t part of the thought police, either.

      • Gordon Freeman says:


      • Gordon Freeman says:

        Except that if one believes that politics doesn’t have a place in art or the concert hall and that musicians should stay out of politics one must also boycott attending concerts and purchasing recordings of Shostakovich, Schoenberg, Erich Kleiber, Bernstein, Barenboim, Yudina, Krystian Zimerman, John Adams, Beethoven… etc etc etc… Perhaps one will be left with significantly less than one had to begin with… but that is of course less important than believing artists should shut up and play! (???)

        I was only agreeing with the notion that if one wants to believe (why?) that artists are not to make these statements, then patrons shouldn’t either.

        Remember when alternative right was left?

        • OperaticFreedom says:

          Yeah? tell that to Verdi and Mozart… they didn’t subscribe to your theory about keeping politics out of the theatre. If they had, you wouldn’t know who the hell they were. We’re not dancing bears merely for your entertainment.

    • Sam McElroy says:

      My wife spoke out too. And they told her to shut up and play.

      She spoke out for the victims of homicide in the world’s most homicidal nation. They told her to shut up and play.

      She spoke out for the arbitrarily detained. They told her to shut up and play.

      She spoke out for the tortured. They told her to shut up and play.

      She spoke out against a kleptocratic narco-mafia. They told her to shut up and play.

      She spoke out for abused musicians. Even they told her to shut up and play.

      She spoke out against 800% inflation, 97% impunity, and metastasized corruption. They told her to shut up and play.

      She spoke out against the total collapse of her nation. They told her to shut up and play.

      She spoke out against those who chose to shut up and play — while taking the oil money as payment for their silence. They told her to shut up and play.

      She played. But she didn’t shut up.

      Now, there is no country left for those who did.

      Don’t just shut up and play…

    • Save The MET says:

      There is a long tradition of musical artists speaking out on a variety of issues of conscience, two Polish pianists immediately come to mind; Jan Paderewski and Krystian Zimmerman. Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin and pianist Maria Yudina were also famous for doing the same during concerts. Leonard Bernstein wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times in 1988 regarding the trashing of the word liberal. Arturo Toscanini in 1931 was attacked in Bologna by black shirts for speaking out against the Fascist government. So Slatkin is standing on firm ground. In an age when the funding for the arts are being slashed and Trump has announced closing, or privatizing the Federal organizations which fund the arts, Slatkin is doing the public a favor speaking out.

      Look, you are not going to please everyone all the time and it is a risk to speak out, by my hunch is Slatkins speech will drive more people into the hall and increase donations for his orchestra. It is funny how a little bravery usually works.

      For the fellow who wrote the letter, he will not be missed.

    • John Mayall says:

      “Alternative facts” is a term introduced by Trump’s spinners. It is idiotic and offensive to any one who has brain. I remember artists standing up to apartheid, communism and fascism. They have the same right to stand up to lunacy.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    Bravo maestro Slatkin! Toscanini took on Mussolini, after all.

    • Daniel F. says:

      Please, sir! A little perspective. Mussolini was at least competent in his nefariousness, and Mr. Slatkin is not about to leave his country or to stop conducting in it. (That’s how AT and Pablo Casals “took on” fascism.) And then there is the prominence factor. And the talent factor (v the nepotism factor).

  • JL says:

    Detroit Symphony, not Dallas…

  • Steve P says:

    Please, artists, stay on the pedestal and make art.

    • Mikey says:

      So artists shouldn’t pay taxes then?
      Because if you pay taxes, you get to have a say in the political life of the country.

    • Peter says:

      Artists are not prostitutes.
      The fact that you pay to witness their artistry does not mean that you are their boss and that they have to dance to your whistle.
      So sad to see your country and most of its population having lost touch with its humanity.
      Money is not the most important thing in life.
      Art is much more important.

    • May says:

      Steve, these are dangerous times that we live in. Artists are not just people unusually talented in some skill, they are also leaders and provide a voice for others. Morality, decency, not to mention a responsibility to our children, and lastly plain common sense demand that we speak up against the belligerent incompetence of Donald Trump and resist his fascist behavior. The current US President has long since overstepped his bounds and must be beaten back so that he respects the US Constitution and the separation of powers defined in it. Who is better prepared to speak to the people than artists? Obviously our politicians, who normally assume this role, have failed us.

    • David says:

      Absolutely Steve, an educated and successful guy like Slatkin needs to keep his mouth shut. We should only listen to mouth-breathers like Kellyanne and Cletus and Billy Bob.

    • Howard Dyck says:

      No, do not remain silent. Art is about life, about humanity. Now, more than ever, artists must speak up, advocating for decency, for compassion, for knowledge.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Reading Slatkin’s reaction to the fool who could not stand a reference to the most foolish comment ever emerging from the White House (i.e. to date), a comment offending every normal person hearing about it, he was much too polite. Such fools should not attend concerts at all, since concert halls represent a civilized sphere where intelligence and decency are supposed to reign. The conductor should have told this audience member: you better keep out of classical music concerts.

    • Daniel F. says:

      “since concert halls represent a civilized sphere where intelligence and decency are supposed to reign.”

      Save for the ones in Berlin ca. 1933-1945 I guess? Some incredibly wonderful performances from that era available on YouTube. “Intelligence and decency” reign in every measure, but……

      • John Borstlap says:

        Imagine you are a player in the Berlin Phil in the early thirties, you have worked hard to get there, you have a family at home in the Victoriastrasse, and politics gradually take-over the orchestra. Emigration is quite an undertaking, and very expensive, and full of pitfalls that you don’t want to expose your family to, so you think: it can’t get worse, I’ll just wait and see, after all we’re in Germany. Then it gets worse, and the violinist next to you disappears, probably because he’s a Jew, and you think: I just have no contacts in England or the US, I’ll wait and see, it may all blow over. Then it gets worse again, and by that time there is nothing you can do but playing and close your eyes. It would be silly to expect the B Ph to either settle in England or to go on strike and risk not being paid or worse.

        We have seen the fall of the Soviet Union before a stunned world; we may soon see a comparable event happening in America, the break-down of the USA. Such things have happened before and they were always quite unlikely. This merely means that also artists need to keep their eyes open and not think that it will blow over as long as they shut up and play.

  • Patrick says:

    Bravo, Maestro! Encore!

  • George says:

    Bravo, Mr. Slatkin. What he said was a completely harmless joke but he’s right in reflection: will history come to remember today’s conductors as the next Toscanini or the next Karajan?

  • Will Duffay says:

    It was just a joke. Can’t right-wing crazies take jokes any more? I thought it was lefties who were supposed to be humourless. Anyway, it wasn’t Trump himself who came up with the ‘alternative facts’ line, but his poor press secretary.

  • MWnyc says:

    What’s telling is that the patron thinks Slatkin’s crack about “alternative facts” is “insulting our president” rather than seeing Kellyanne Conway’s use of the phrase as the problem.

    • Tristan Jakob-Hoff says:

      Spot on. How could using the White House’s own words be insulting to the White House, unless the White House itself was an insult to the nation?

    • V.Lind says:

      You beat me to it. This is the nub of the debate. If they use the term, they should own it — or, preferably, own up and disown it. But nobody was using it before this shower of LIARS came in, believing that whatever they say takes on the mantle of truth. I had not realised how many barns in the flyover sites were used for raising children.

  • Andy says:

    Come on, mistakes happen. Just point it out politely (like a couple of other people have) and it will get fixed. If you have genuine contempt for the author I don’t really understand why you’d use the site anyway.

    • Andy says:

      My post was a reply to a post that now seems to have been removed, so it looks odd here! Apologies!

      • Anon says:

        That was my post, which of course was removed because a certain “writer” can’t take an ounce of criticism. Sorry, but I will continue to call out his mistakes and hold him to task. He would be the first to do it to anyone else. The contempt runs freely on this blog. Needs to be countered with contempt.

  • Jonathan says:

    Is not lack of humour a sign of lack of humanity? This was hardly a radical satirical or political statement, merely a witty comment.

    Kudos to Mr Slatkin for the original comment as well as the dignified response but the latter does cause some concern – surely the fact that someone in such a position feels the need to justify such a comment is an indication of a society headed for the rocks, towards oppression, fear and bullying?

  • jaypee says:

    Pro-Trumps are such snowflakes…
    Make a joke, and they start crying… or sending tweets at 3 AM…

  • Scott Rose says:

    Here’s what the audience member who wrote the letter is saying. Trump has to be believed no matter what insane lies he tells. If photographic evidence proves that the attendance for his inauguration was relatively small, then we MUST repeat as gospel Trump assertion of the “alternate fact” that it was the most-watched inauguration in history.

    Slatkin’s response — instead of a polite letter and an apology — should have been “Sieg heil!”

    • arundo says:

      Slatkin was my boss from the late 70’s, all through the 80’s and half of the
      Don’t ever call him LENNY!! He stopped being called that the 1st. day he became
      music director of the st. louis symphony!

      Leonard has been used ever since!

  • Ballerina says:

    Way to go Lenny!

  • Sixtus says:

    I think Slatkin and his band should perform the Sinfonia concertante in question so that his audience can have all the evidence. Much like those incontrovertible inauguration-crowd photos.

  • Linda Grace says:

    This shunning of the Detroit Symphony, which is in the peak of form with interesting programming, will deprive the shunner of the high point of his life each week, over
    a two word joke.
    I’m enjoying the dso.org live broadcasts each week, thanks dso.

  • herrera says:

    If Trump were smart, he would use the National Endowment for the Arts to fund orchestras, because it is through public funds that dictators control conductors: Gergiev, Dudamel, Furtwangler…

  • Chen K says:

    Every nasty political event on earth, as its first prerogative, attempts to silence the arts. And that is the power of art. When an artist sees something awful happening s/he must speak out or will be reduced to a murmur. Should arts be governed by the whims and fancy of the politicians? “No, and I am very sorry about it.” (D. Shostakovich about his belief in God). Fight it or be reduced to a murmur! An artist’s murmur is not powerless.

  • Robyn Reaburn says:

    Goodness, isn’t this person a bit sensitive? Apart from not knowing the difference between”alternate” and “alternative”. If people cannot make jokes like this then they are not living in a democracy.

  • EricB says:

    They are so funny all those who adamantly affirm that “politics should stay outside of the concert hall”, as if politics were in no way related to real life…
    “Politics” is about, among many other things, individual and global rights, it’s about issues that concern and affect real people in their real everyday life
    Kudos to Maestro Slatkin. We’re at a(nother) turning stand in Humanity’s History, where people who make a stand will count against the forces of darkness.
    Looks like some people forgot the lessons of History !!