Philadelphia anti-Israel protest draws sharp Yannick response

Philadelphia anti-Israel protest draws sharp Yannick response


norman lebrecht

May 22, 2018

A persistent campaign to stop the Philadelphia Orchestra performing in Israel culminated in a concert disruption at the weekend.

According to the Inquirer’s report, it provoked music directorYannick Nézet-Séguin to slam his baton on the podium and walk off the stage. Some musicians began to leave, too, before the protesters, who were loudly booed by the audience, were forcibly removed.

One of the protestors played a pre-recorded message:

The concert continued and the tour will go ahead.


  • Anmarie says:

    My admiration for YSN grows deeper.

  • Annonymous says:

    Sorry, but the way the audience members, ushers, and even some musicians here treated this protester, who seemed genuine and kind and voiced her opinion, seemed really cruel and off-putting.

    • Tati says:

      voiced her opinion? kind? are you out of your mind? you don’t scream during the concert! protest elsewhere!

      • Sue says:

        You realize, don’t you, that you’ve just engaged with a primary school student who cannot yet spell ‘anonymous’ correctly? Only a child would make similar comments.

  • Caravaggio says:

    So YNS throws a hissy fit. Since we live in what’s left of a democracy (presumably), the protesters have indeed a right to try to prevent the Philadelphia from performing in right wing, apartheid Israel. By the same token, not in Gaza either. At least not until the leadership on both sides decides to grow up.

    • Edgar says:


      • Joan Wetherell says:

        So turnabout is fair play? Of course, the Palestinians were not the ones who committed genocide. But ignore that. The oppressed have become the oppressors. Another genocide is taking place. You can’t put a good spin on that. Apartheid is apartheid and world opinion and world action are the only effective reply to counter it and end it.

        • Michael says:

          There were about 700k Palestinians displaced from Israel in 1948. Today their population is around 5 million. If Israel is committing genocide, it’s really, really bad at it.

          Do the Palestinians have legitimate grievances with Israel? Sure. But using hyperbole and fabrication doesn’t help.

        • Jeffrey E. Salzberg says:

          Actually, Hamas does call for the death of all Jews, so this is a case of Israel’s being falsely accused of doing what their enemies would do if they could.

          • Tamino says:

            Hen or egg question. Hamas wouldn’t even exist, if the hardliners in Israel hadn’t made it big.

          • Michael says:

            Odd comment considering that Hamas was voted into power almost immediately after Israel withdrew from Gaza.

    • Michael says:

      They don’t have the right to disrupt a private concert.

    • Jeffrey E. Salzberg says:

      There are over one million Arab citizens of Israel, with full participation in every aspect of society, including the government, the courts,the police, and the military. For several years, the head of Israel’s elections commission was an Arab Israeli.

      Israel, apparently, really sucks at being an “apartheid state”

      • Sue says:

        Please, please, don’t confuse the Left with facts. If there’s one thing they hate (like Superman hated Kryptonite) it’s FACTS. Ask Thomas Sowell. They need to bleat, bleed, hand-wring, ball and throw toys from cots. But reasoning, with facts? That’s something they NEVER do.

        • Jeffrey E. Salzberg says:

          On the contrary: the problem with arguing with liberals over Israel is that they tend to behave the way conservatives behave when the topic is anything else.

        • jaypee says:

          Why don’t you keep your fox “news” rhetoric (“don’t confuse the Left with facts”) to your group of similar mentally-challenged deplorables?
          Or do you want me to provide example of “right-wingers” who need to bleat, bleed, hand-wring, ball and throw toys from cots?
          I could start with the orange cretin…

    • H says:

      I saw the whole thing. I was there backstage. He didn’t slam his baton. He put it down and walked off stage and was thinking about the musicians’ safety if the protest got out of hand. It was a little scary and everyone I think felt a tension. We were all worried things would escalate, especially since this was all premeditated.

    • Musician says:

      Yannick did not slam his baton down. That account is false and many eyewitnesses in both the orchestra and audience said that was untrue.

  • william osborne says:

    One of the articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer surprised me due to its somewhat critical tone toward Israel. Comments like the below are very rare in American newspapers – perhaps a result of growing indignation in the States with Netanyahu’s politics and its correlations with Trump’s. A couple examples from the article:

    “And then there is the reputational risk of appearing to take sides by visiting Israel so soon after the anguished last week, with at least 60 Palestinian deaths and hundreds of injuries Monday, and the controversial opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.”

    So an orchestra has to be concerned with its reputation when it visits Israel?

    And this:

    “In an official statement, the orchestra said, ‘We understand and acknowledge the sensitive nature of certain current events. Through the universal language of music, we hope that we can speak out against violence and bigotry and express our hope for unity and tranquility in the region.’”

    “Violence and bigotry” would certain describe Hamas, but in the context of the article the comment seems directed toward both sides. Is something new afoot in the American arts world? The full article here:

    Forgive me if I don’t debate the conflict itself. My questions is if there has been a change of opinion in the arts community about it.

    • william osborne says:

      Another example for disucssion would be the comments of Zubin Mehta in an article in Haaretz in April 2016, which at least in my view, were astounding for someone who has been the GMD of the Israel Philharmoonic for about the last 40 years:

      “I admire the Israelis… for their patience at the status quo policy their present government leads. A situation in which nothing progresses. I am worried a great deal about it, as someone who knows Israel’s image around the world very well. Israel is isolated, and I will say it again: Isolated.”

      His comments then veer into thoughts that are even more controversial:

      “I hate to imagine what would happen if one of the settlements had to be evacuated. After all, the settlers say they will be removed only ‘over their dead bodies.’ I say: Think about the human aspect. You cannot take land from someone else and explain it is yours according to the Bible. It is as if we, the believers in the Zoroastrian religion, now demand land in Iran because a thousand years ago we lived there.”

      I’m wondering what the response to this was in Israel. And in the orchestra. The full article is here:

      • Edgar says:

        “I admire the Israelis… for their patience at the status quo policy their present government leads. A situation in which nothing progresses. I am worried a great deal about it, as someone who knows Israel’s image around the world very well. Israel is isolated, and I will say it again: Isolated.”

        Thank you for bringing Zubin Mehta’s critique to our attention. Indeed, the greatest and most dangerous source of the isolation of the state of Israel and the people of Israel sits in the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem: Bibi Nentanyahu (and quite possibly, once Bibi leaves for prison, Naftali Bennett), who cannot wait to have his war with Iran (“sooner than later”).

        It is heartbreaking to have to witness how Israel’s very own government becomes ever more the internal existential danger to its survival as a democracy which respects the law and the human dignity of all who live within its borders as well as outside them (even though, outside its borders, there are also regimes which are equally ruthless in oppressing human dignity).

        I am reminded of Nelson Mandela, whose approach to adversaries was “to smother them with love”. Sadly, Netanyahu is more interested in manufacturing Apartheid (and, worse, anti-Semitism), thereby repudiating the Sacred Tradition of his Jewish faith, flouting the Law and the Prophets.

        Which is why those Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, who engage in overcoming division and hatred and isolation within and outside Israel are the people whom their Holy Scriptures call “righteous”.

      • william osborne says:

        For those who feel they are losing faith in Israel, I recommend Haaretz. Your heart will be renewed. The paper represents the very best traditions of Israeli democracy and Jewish humanism.

        • hmp49 says:

          NOBODY in Israel reads Haaretz.

          It’s clickbait for the Israel bashers, nothing more.

          • william osborne says:

            It’s considered the paper of record in Israel.


          • hmp49 says:

            “Paper of record?” Ancient history

            “As of June 2011, readership was 5.8% of the public, down from 6.4% the prior year.[34] In 2012, amid falling circulation, Haaretz was undergoing severe cuts (reportedly firing around 20% of its total workforce, and lowering salaries by between 15 and 35%), and cuts continued through 2013”

            Almost gone by now.

          • william osborne says:

            Papers of record are seldom the most widely read. And the trend is getting even worse as the media is more and more dumbed down.

  • collin says:

    What, Daniel and his East West Divan Orchestra hasn’t yet brought everlasting peace to Israel?

    Yannick and the Philadelphians will get the job done.

    Just like the New York Philharmonic denuclearized North Korea and set the grounds for Trump’s Nobel peace Prize later this year.

  • Helene Kamioner says:

    I wonder if the Philadelphians would play Gaza if the were properly hired? Their fee must be immense.

  • Sharon says:

    Most US aid to Israel never leaves the US. It is used to pay off previous loans. Israel is now rich enough to more or less make it on its own and if the US cuts off aids it will be hurting itself and especially the large banks much worse than it will be hurting Israel.

    My point is that Israel does not have to respond to foreign pressure and will not do so if they believe that their security is threatened which, rightly or wrongly, their military believed was the case in the Gaza killings.

    Nevertheless, Israel has Trump and the US Congress largely in its pocket so why does it care what American or European leftists believe?

    Targeted divestment might work against certain companies which are providing goods which directly impact the occupation, for ex. Caterpiller Tractor whose tractors are, or at least used to be, involved in demolishing the houses of suspected terrorists.

    However, ending cultural exchanges will not impact the Palestinian situation in any way except to backfire by making the Israeli government angrier at the Palestinian government which they believe is fighting Israel though a foreign propaganda war.

    • Jeffrey E. Salzberg says:

      Much of the aid we give Israel is in the form of research grants, from which we get the benefit. If you’re ever taken to an emergency room with severe trauma, there’s a good chance that a lot of the technology and treatments that save you will have been developed in Israel.

      If the US is ever attacked by missiles and successfully defends against them, there’s likewise a good chance that the technology was developed in Israel.

      Now, take a moment to consider why the Israelis are world leaders in those two fields.

    • hmp49 says:

      You have NO idea what you’re talking about.

      By US law, every cent of US aid must be spent on US manufactured armaments. It’s not a “slush fund.”

      The only thing you’re right about is that money never leaves the states. It’s a subsidy for US armament manufacturers.

  • Steven Honigberg says:

    What frightens me is that pre-recorded message played on a recording device from the second row could just as well have been a bomb. Far fetched? Not in these times. There are no metal detectors at the entrances to our major halls in this country. Does it have to take a disaster to make this all change? Get to work on installing something now. Please.

  • JoBe says:

    Well done, Mr. Nézet-Séguin! Thank you!

  • Thomas Godfrey says:

    Present the night in question. Too much has been made of YSN’s reaction. It was first ‘what’s going on’ and then exiting stage left followed by a number of orchestra members. I don’t know if the lady in question was naughty or nice but as YSN was about to give his downbeat, a recorded voice started speaking in a low to moderate tones about “you don’t know what it feels like to…etc. etc. ” There was confusion about where this was coming from. It was certainly nothing Puccini inserted at the start of Tosca. I think it caught everyone off guard in a country where public shooting are as common as rain. The offending recording was in a handbag so everyone was looking around at everyone else wondering what was happening. The lady in question was in the front row second seat from the end. The person next to her seemed to ‘out her’ and after much ado the ushers escourted her out. The audience became quite vocal. There were calls for the police to intervene. Half the orchestra was out of their seats looking around. Some of the comments from the audience became fairly raucous. Then as it seemed the crisishad passed, it began again from the left side of the front row. At that point members of the audience were screaming at the protestors. Again there was search and seizure. The protesting group had been out side both doors in large numbers accosting ticket holders and handing out flyers. Most fairly civilly in line with free speech. The acting CEO came out and gave a surprising tolerant speech asking for decorum so the opera could proceed. The orchestra members who had left then returned. YSN reemerged and Tosca began with everyone waiting to see if more mischief was in store. Did YSN’s opening of Tosca display an extra ounce of adrenalin? I thought so, but all went well from there on in, with YSN extracting all the passion and humanity Puccini loaded into his opera. No hissy fits. The voices warmed up as Tosca unfolded, anxiety was dispelled and YSN and the cast and Philadelphians were loudly cheered at the end. Whatever your point of view about the Israel trip and suurrounding controversy, disrupting the concert was not a great way to win over folks with no opinion. I was wondering if it would be cancelled for safety reasons at one point. If the 20th Century taught us anything it taught us that politics and music-making should not mix. When it does, everybody loses. Curtis Rittenhouse.

    • Patricia says:

      Keep your politics out of the concert hall and save them for the street. Get a permit, don’t harrass passers-by and then go home. In the end, most people don’t give a tinker’s dam what you think. (I know this will come as a jolt, but there it is.)

  • john kelly says:

    Philadelphians are so much more civilized in their reactions than New Yorkers I must say……………

  • Ben G. says:

    When it comes to disrupting a concert, this one takes the cake:

    Totally different context I agree, but here’s the rundown:

  • Ben says:

    I was there. There were TWO protestors playing pre-recorded message. The first one (orchestra front row right) played it very loud and got IDed quickly. That person was escorted out without a fuss.

    The second one (orchestra front 2nd row left) played the message at an much subdued volume, thus taking more time to get IDed. He was also resisting escort. A few big men pushed him out of the hall.

    YNS and a few senior players did the right thing by walking off the stage. I think this will become the protocol during its European tour: If any protester pops up, the principals may just lead the charge and walk off the stage.

    YNS obviously was frustrated but I don’t see him slammed his baton. He just put it back on the stand more forcefully but no way an ‘slam’.

    I also think Kimmel Center also instituted full bag check for its Sunday concert before the tour. Yea, agree with the poster about Lincoln Center’s security policy: Just install whole bunch of metal detectors / body scanners at the entrance.

  • Marc says:

    In Denver, the 3,000-seat Buell Theatre installed several metal detectors and (friendly) guards to make sure that no one brought in drugs or weapons to performances of “Hamilton.” Patrons were advised to come early in anticipation of clogged lines waiting to enter the theater. A sad sign of the times. No one seemed to object. Maybe no one dared. Reminds me of an old Buffalo Springfield song: “Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep. Starts when you’re always afraid. Step out of line, the man come and take you away.”

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    It’s a no win, no win; but I hope I’m wrong.

    • Jeffrey E. Salzberg says:

      I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, but whenever someone posts something like that, it comes across as, “Here’s a Jew who disagrees and he must be right, because everyone knows all Jews stick together.”

      • Van says:

        Another trite canard. Any legitimate criticism of Israel’s apartheid policy is branded as anti-semitism. I know plenty of Jews who are disgusted by Israel’s unjust treatment of the Palestinians. They’re branded as self-hating Jews.

        • Jeffrey E. Salzberg says:

          Just telling you how it comes across.

          By the way, there are over one million Arab citizens of Israel, with full participation in every aspect of society, including the government, the courts,the police, and the military. For several years, the head of Israel’s elections commission was an Arab Israeli.

          So, as an “apartheid state”, Israel kinda sucks.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Err…it is a bit more complicated than that since not all these non-Jewish Palestinians have full rights to own property, or fully participate in the military. Their citizenship is subtly different.

          • Jeffrey E. Salzberg says:

            Arab citizens of Israel have the right to own property and serve in the military (the main difference there is that, unlike Jews, they’re not *required* to serve). It’s Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza whose rights are restricted, mainly because those areas are the sources of most terror attacks.

            There have been several high-ranking Arabs in the Israeli military.

  • Anthony Kershaw says:

    This is nothing compared to the protestors at the two Moscow Phil concerts (with Kitaenko) in London RFH 1981. I was there with TCM students. Norman remembers the concerts, too.

    Screaming protestors (‘free Anatole Scharansky’ ad nauseum).

    We had fist fights, screaming, protestors shackling themselves to box railings and conductor’s podium, KGB minders with box cutters, and lots more. Crazy.

    Kiteanko decided to raise the volume of the orchestra and the very supportive crowd went wild (Invisible City of Kitzeh).

  • Avi says:

    It took them too long to put an end to this vandalism