Would you agree to be conducted by a right-wing radio host?

Would you agree to be conducted by a right-wing radio host?


norman lebrecht

August 01, 2017

A protest by musicians in Santa Monica, objecting to being conducted by the right-wing radio host Dennis Prager, appears to be spilling over into a bigger row about free speech.

Prager has his say in his column this week. He writes: ‘This is a new low for the illiberal left: It is not enough to prevent conservatives from speaking; it is now necessary to prevent conservatives from appearing even when not speaking. Conservatives should not even be allowed to make music.’

He goes on to explain that ‘I conduct orchestras because I love making music. But I also do so because I want to help raise funds for local orchestras (I have never been paid to conduct) and I want to expose as many people to classical music as possible.’

Since he does not take a fee, this enables Prager to pose as a benefactor of orchestras.

There is just one point he overlooks.

Prager is not a trained musician, let alone a conductor. He claims to ‘have studied classical music since high school, when I first began playing piano and studying orchestral scores’, but that does not qualify him to stand in front of a group of highly-trained professionals and expect them to do as he directs.

The issue, as we see it, is not his politics but his fitness to practice.

For Prager, it is only about politics: ‘I have devoted this column to this subject to expose the latest attempt of anti-liberal leftists — the real haters — to shut conservatives out of every form of intellectual and artistic endeavor.’




  • Frederick West says:

    Let’s get this right then – a political commentator isn’t allowed to conduct an orchestra but a conductor (let’s say Barenboim for instance) is permitted to use a public concert to pass what some might see as a political comment.
    Funny old world

    • Holly Golightly says:

      It’s called HYPOCRISY. Read my lips.

    • Sarah says:

      Total apples and oranges. Prager doesn’t know the first thing about conducting. Maybe he should put his energies towards supporting the NEA and other arts funding organizations.

    • MacroV says:

      Expertise in conducting vs. politics are very differing. Performing as a musician, as anyone participating in this blog should be well aware, requires years of training and even then only the best generally get to do it. Meanwhile we even elect political novices President. And Barenboim isn’t exactly ignorant or inexperienced in political matters.

  • Scotty says:

    Contrary to what the Blogmeister has written above, the musicians’ statement is clear that their objection is to his bigoted, hateful speech rather than to his musical incompetence, which they mention only in passing.

    • Scotty says:

      Amendment to my comment: I should have said something like “alleged hateful speech,” since Prager is more a run-of-the-mill conservative than a venomous hate engine like Alex Jones.

      That said, at some point a line has to be drawn. If, for example, it were Alex Jones conducting, even as a fundraiser, I’d refuse to play.

  • John McLaughlin Williams says:

    Right-wing, left-wing; it shouldn’t and doesn’t matter. This is a concert performance to raise funds that is no different than the thousands of similar events that occur regularly in symphony seasons. There is no coercion involved and prospective audience members may attend or not as they wish. That the musicians would put their virtue-signalling above the well-being of the orchestra is not a sign that they grasp the unsound economic structure they inhabit. Does anyone protest when Garrison Keillor appears with their orchestra?

    Mr. West above has this exactly right, as does Prager: “…It is not enough to prevent conservatives from speaking; it is now necessary to prevent conservatives from appearing even when not speaking.”

    When does politics stop? Does this mean that if a musician of conservative leanings shows up at their audition, he or she will not be given a fair hearing? These musicians should carefully contemplate the implications of their actions.

    Perhaps they already have, in which case they need be very careful because this kind of needless and malicious action can work both ways.

    • Holly Golightly says:

      The jack-boots and Thought Police of the Left have been in control so long (all their other plans to change the world have failed) and they’re squealing like stuck pigs. Predictable.

  • John says:

    I don’t really care about things like this, but wonder if asking someone who is pretty controversial is such a good idea if this group is looking for wide support. If it was my group, I’d no more invite Prager than I would Jane Fonda, unless I actually wanted to turn off what could be a sizable portion of my base of support.

    When I lived in LA, Walter Matthau regularly guest conducted a local chamber orchestra that he supported to help raise money for it.

  • Rented Unguent says:

    A workable definition of leftist politics in one sentence would be:

    “The individual is unconditionally subordinated to the collective.”

    “Free speech” is allowed, as long as it conforms to the collectivist dogmas. Conservative or traditional values are to be marginalized or destroyed, thus creating a perfect utopian society where everyone is equal.

    “Right wing” is by definition anyone who dares to express a differing opinion from the above.

    • nimitta says:

      I guess that makes me ‘right wing’…

      …but no. Prager isn’t the jacket-and-tie ‘thoughtful conservative thinker’ he claims to be – he’s a provocateur and troll on the order of Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos. Here’s a recent claim of his from a FOX interview: the NY Times is more of a threat to the United States than Vladimir Putin. This from a correspondent for Newsmax, a cesspool of fake news and snake oil commerce.

      Despite some posters’ assumptions above, we’re not talking Republican-Democrat here – if Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed to conduct the Santa Monica players, for example, they’d have been all for it. Enough with the false equivalencies.

  • PaulD says:

    So, should I now be looking at the Facebook/Twitter pages of the musicians of the orchestras I support, to see if any of their political views offend me? And, if I am offended, should I keep my checkbook closed?

  • Halldor says:

    Considering the careers of some fairly major conductors, I’m bemused by this idea that only qualified individuals are now permitted to conduct orchestras. What are the qualifications? Which body bestows them? Is a certain level required to conduct in Santa Monica but a higher level required for, say Vienna? Perhaps they could be colour-coded. I remember reading a few years ago a book in which certain conductors involved with the period instrument movement (and who have since gone on to work at the highest international level) were mocked as “semi-conductors”. Now, what was it called again, and who wrote it..?

  • Gary says:

    Prager is an amoral buffoon.

  • Bruce says:

    He makes it sound like they’re trying to stop him from conducting. They’re not trying to get his invitation rescinded, as far as I can tell; they’re just encouraging people not to go to the concert. I suppose a “for the good of the organization” rationale would be that, if inviting him turns out to be an unsuccessful fund-raising move, then the invitation won’t be repeated.

    Anyway, it seems quite possible that the uproar may attract more conservatives to the concert than would have otherwise come… thus raising more money for the orchestra.

    As for the “we don’t want money if it comes from such a source” sentiment, I’d say money is neutral — it has no wish or will of its own; and in fact you could consider it a kind of victory if money from a repellent source is subverted to a good cause. Only if a donation comes with strings attached should it be rejected.

    IMHO it would be more effective for musicians to show up and play, but wear a big ol’ obvious rainbow arm band or some such symbol, to show the world where their sympathies lie. That way, people who were attracted to the concert by Mr. Bigot Stand Up For America might find out that a disgusting liberal can be just as multi-faceted as they are.

  • Steve P says:

    Impossible to imagine he could be competent at music without attending a liberal conservatory or college. I mean, gee, how does anyone do anything without being taught by a liberal how to do it correctly?
    Musicians in this case are simply liars: claiming an apolitical stance, yet refusing to play solely because of the condcutor’s beliefs. If the dude were Muslim would that be a reason to not perform? Since when did belief figure into making great music?

  • Jasper says:

    Did the members of the NY Philharmonic object to being conducted by a left-wing music director? (Check twitter.com/gilbertconducts if you think that I mis-characterize.)


    • MacroV says:

      Really? Gilbert is a trained musician. A very silly comparison to Praeger. Another question might be whether an orchestra would refuse to work with a prominent professional conductor with strong right-wing views. I don’t see any orchestra likely to refuse to work with Christian Thielemann.

      • Jasper says:

        If Gilbert had used gilbert-opines rather than gilbertconducts as his handle, I would have no objection to his spouting his political views via Twitter.

        As regards musical talent, even Gilbert’s NY Times fanboys have concluded that he has lost his luster.


  • William Safford says:

    Translation: he finds anyone who calls him out for his intolerance, intolerant.

    (He writes: ‘This is a new low for the illiberal left: It is not enough to prevent conservatives from speaking; it is now necessary to prevent conservatives from appearing even when not speaking. Conservatives should not even be allowed to make music.’)

  • BPS says:

    Prager is a triple threat to the left: white male, conservative, and a jew who supports Israel.

  • John says:

    It does sound like old Dennis is trying to get some real mileage out of this. I did a search online and he’s authored numerous articles for various publications. Never miss an opportunity!

  • bmmg39 says:

    Follow-up question: “Would you agree to be conducted by a left-wing television personality?”

  • Saxon Broken says:

    Given he is conducting Haydn, the orchestra should be able to play the music without a conductor and will likely mostly ignore the man with the stick at the front. Personally, however repellent his opinions are, I can’t see any reason to object to his contribution as long as it isn’t used as a platform for his political views. And surely any musician who didn’t want to play could always call in sick.

    As for amateurs conducting major orchestras. What about Kaplan conducting Mahler 2 with both the LSO and Vienna. Many consider these landmark recordings, and Kaplan had no formal training whatsoever.

    • Nydo says:

      “Many consider these landmark recordings”. No musicians that I respect have ever considered those landmark recordings. Kaplan was considered to be there only because he ponied up all the money for any event he conducted, along with generous donations.