Yannick to audience: Keep politics out of my concerts

Yannick to audience: Keep politics out of my concerts


norman lebrecht

May 25, 2018

The conductor’s closing remarks to the Brussels audience, after a pro-Palestinian disruption last night:

Les musiciens ne sont pas des hommes et des femmes des mots mais des notes et de la paix, l’expression d’une opinion politique n’avait pas sa place ici ce soir.

Musicians are not men and women of words, but of notes and peace. The expression of a political opinion had no place here tonight.

That’s telling ’em.


  • william osborne says:

    “Musicians are not men and women of words, but of notes and peace.”

    Well, not exactly. In fiscal year 2015, the US Defense Department is estimated to have spent $437 million on its ensembles. That’s close to 3 times the entire NEA budget. And around 10 times what the NEA spends on classical music. There are almost 6,000 military musicians in 137 ensembles, making the DoD by a magnitude the largest employer of professional musicians in the country. The DoD is also the largest purchaser of musical instruments in the country. It’s easy to forget that music has always been an integral part of cultural nationalism and war.

    • Olassus says:

      The NEA budget is so small it should be block-granted out to the states.

      (And PBS should be abolished altogether for its one-sided politics. Shields and Brooks? Disgraceful. MacNeil and Lehrer are rolling in their … eighties.)

      • william osborne says:

        I don’t watch Shields and Brooks, but I admire the efforts of PBS to create a show built around respectful dialog. I think we could all learn from that.

        • MacroV says:

          I watch the PBS Newshour (and listen to NPR) not because of its supposed leftward bias, but because they’re among the few outlets that discuss issues politely and thoughtfully, no bombast.

      • Bruce says:

        McNeil & Lehrer are both long gone from the show, FWIW, and it’s no longer named after them.

        • Olassus says:

          I know, Bruce. When it was “Gergen and Shields,” with Lehrer usually moderating, it was a great show. You had the left and the right viewpoints, and Gergen was as witty as Shields. That has all gone. Now it is Shit on Trump Method A versus Shit on Trump Method B, and ineffectual moderation.

    • MacroV says:

      And ‘The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band is worth every penny.

    • Francis Asissy says:

      That is completely irrelevant. Thank the government for all those jobs.

    • Sharon says:

      Originally instruments were used as a call to start the battle and for intimidation. Singing and music also helps maintain the morale, solidarity, and energy of the soldiers.

      Later, I believe that military bands were used for intelligence work. If trouble was suspected in a certain area the military band can provide free concerts in the locality gaining local goodwill while acting as a cover for some spying by people traveling with the band. It also warns potential revolutionaries that armed military can come to the area, if necessary.

      Frederick the Great said in his writings that military band members can also be used during battle as eighteenth century paramedics, transporting wounded soldiers to the army surgeons.

      Nowadays in the US military bands are used as propaganda vehicles to increase patriotism and recruiting, like in parades, as well as provide entertainment and improve morale for the troops themselves. This is how the military justifies spending so much money on them.

      In some cases they may even help in the community. Want live music for a community fund raiser? Call the band officer of your local national guard or military reserve unit. They may be glad to lend a free hand.

      I understand that the quality of most military bands is not so great however. When there is a major function, say at the Washington Mall, they tend to bring in big name bands and singers, not the military band. Nor do military bands play in concert halls in the US, even those under government sponsorship, like the Kennedy Center.

      I agree, however, that even though I would infinitely prefer military budgets to be used for instruments of music, not instruments of war, the money could be better spent funding civilian music programs.

      As far as “block grants” to states are concerned, unless the use is specified for arts or arts education states will surely use the money for other purposes.

      The NEA wisely makes sure that it allocates grant money (admittedly in small amounts) so that every Congressional district is covered. Since it provides jobs in every Congressional district it maintains a base in Congress in spite of Trump’s desire to eliminate it

  • Edgar says:

    Then let’s play Wagner and have a civil debate just as Daniel Barenboim and Staatskapelle Berlin did a few years ago while performing in Israel. Let’s further excise all politically motivated music from concerts everywhere, like, for instace, Beethoven’s “Fidelio”. The result is the silence most welcomed by tyrants. Sorry, Yannick, but your approach us at best and at the same time terribly naive.

    • Gareth Jones says:

      Well said

    • John Borstlap says:

      The value and meaning of Fidelio is not its political ‘message’ (which was too general to offend any political party, like the Eroica), but its universal psychological and musical qualities. We don’t play such pieces because of their ‘political message’.

      And concerning Wagner: his political ideas were quite flawed and fortunately, he was not explicit in his operas. They are performed for their universal and musical qualities.

      The point is not whether musical works are political or not, but in which way they are political. Performing Beehoven IX at the fall of the Berlin Wall was certainly a political gesture but in the first place, a universally cultural one: only in freedom can civilization, including culture, blossom

      Disrupting a live concert because of political implications of an orchestra’s tour, is the wrong way to deal with it, they should have protested in front of the hall or after the concert, or write letters to the staff.

      • Sue says:

        Great comments!! But you are liberated from ‘orthodoxy’ and feel free to express your very OWN opinions – not some borrowed from this group or that. Please; spare us from conformity!!!

    • Brian says:

      Exactly. Musicians have been politically involved for hundreds of years. Read the history of Beethoven’s Third Symphony.

      More recently, when Iván Fischer has spoken out about Orban, for instance, he’s been roundly praised around here. But when it comes to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, musicians must suddenly be steadfastly apolitical.

  • collin says:

    Context matters.

    An orchestra performing for the Third Reich is not an orchestra saying nothing.

    An orchestra composed of musicians from across the Middle East founded and conducted by a conductor who takes a specific political position is not an orchestra saying nothing.

    An orchestra touring Israel sponsored by right-wing Israeli sponsors in not saying nothing.

    One may disagree with exactly is being said by such an orchestra, but no one can disagree that it such an orchestra is not utterly neutral by its very performance in the place and context in which it is performing.

    So let’s not be wilfully blind and deaf and say, the Philadelphia Orchestra, in the context of its tour of Israel, is no different than the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, which is NOT going on a tour of Israel. If Yannick and his musicians think they ARE, then they are truly tone deaf.

    • JoBe says:

      I think you deserve at least a Godwin Point for bringing up the Third Reich and Israel in the same line of thoughts. Well done, Heinrich.

      • Doug says:

        LOL! That’s all the left has these days: bogeymen in their closests.

        • John Borstlap says:

          A very stupid & uncivilized comment from under the rock.

          • barry guerrero says:

            Bogeymen in the closets? . . . you mean Humphrey Bogart!?!

            By the way, I think ALL sides are wrong. Argue all you want.

      • collin says:

        Read Eichmann in Jerusalem.

        The connection is not made by anyone, but by a German, a philosopher, a Jew.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Err…the Godwin point doesn’t apply to Collin’s original statement since he was explaining that deciding to perform, or not perform, can be a political act.

    • John Borstlap says:

      All of that is true. It is a matter of context.

    • Yev says:

      Everything can be seen as political. That does not make a concert an appropriate venue for debating politics, while musicians are trying to perform and while the majority of attendees are trying to listen.

      There can be no sympathy for vermin that have no means of advancing their cause except through disruption and intimidation of the public.

  • Doug says:

    Can someone answer a simple question: if the Philadelphia Orchestra is performing in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, why aren’t they stopping over in Cairo, or Istanbul?

    To those on the left with their irrational islamophilia: if your childish ideas become reality, classical music will be banned!

    • Gareth Jones says:

      Ah yes, the voice of undifferentiated reaction: I’m surprised you didn’t call us “libtards” and have done with it.

      As to our conductor: I’d have more respect for him if he said, ‘The writing and performance of music is always political… but tonight we decline to engage and we ask that you do not either.’

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Actually, the tour is to Europe and Israel, and is already rather long (I think they are repeating the programme nine times).

    • MacroV says:

      Because 1) they can’t go everywhere; and 2) maybe there wasn’t a presenter able/willing to book them. Tour performances are generally done through mutual agreement between performer and presenter, factoring in scheduling, logistics, audience interest, etc.. Lots of orchestras perform in Istanbul; not sure about Cairo.

      Who is “The Left” and where is their irrational Islamophobia? I thought these days “The Left” was anti-semitic and soft on radical Islam. Keep your broadsides straight.

    • Patrick Gillot says:

      They go to Israel because Israel is a placev where people likes the music they play. I would suggest you go back to a political forum. Here we are interested in Music.

    • Galen Johnson says:

      Don’t think Americans are allowed to enter Turkey right now.

      • Bill says:

        You would be incorrect. There was a temporary situation where the Turkish government had a US consular employer arrested based on allegations that he had ties to someone the government doesn’t like. The US stopped issuing visas at the consulates in Turkey in protest, so naturally the Turkish government stopped issuing visa for US citizens to enter Turkey in retaliation. Both parties got their knickers untwisted eventually, and US citizens may once again obtain Turkish visas.

    • esfir ross says:

      Maybe Cairo and Istanbul can’t afford to bring USA orchestra. It’s not cheap affair.

    • Sue says:

      Agree. There’s nothing ‘rational’ about the regressive Left so it’s futile looking for explanations. As Thomas Sowell told Dave Rubin recently, when the latter asked why he’d abandoned the Left (after being born in poverty)…


    • barry guerrero says:

      “To those on the left with their irrational islamophilia”


      I thought it was those on the right who were the Islamophobes (?) . . . or maybe it’s the ones pointing north east, or those living on the south pole, or those up in the space station! Who knows!

      • barry guerrero says:

        Oh I yes see, “philia”, not “phobia”. Same difference.

        Frankly, I’m sick of this whole affair and I’m ashamed that I’m getting sucked into it. All this is free publicity for the Philadelphia Orchestra, but I hope it doesn’t back-fire on them. I don’t think it’s really the orchestra’s fault.

        And for those of you who pull out your maps, and your 1947 this, that and the other, all I can say to you is this: trade places with these people who have been shoved onto a narrow strip of land with few resources, while having the stronger force building right on top of you, and see how you feel about it.

        Frankly, Israel – of ALL places – should know better.

        • Heath says:

          Frankly Barry, you don’t know your history. For some insight check out Palestinian Media Watch. Read it daily, and the truth will be revealed even to a thick head such as yourself. http://www.palwatch.com

          • barry guerrero says:

            The Serbs make the same sorts of arguments based on events that happened clear back in the middle ages. Thick headed? . . perhaps, but proud of it, if it keeps me from jumping to knee-jerk reactions based upon what clan or religion I belong to.

  • Scott Rose says:

    The “pro-Palestinian” protesters are continuing the Nazis’ war against the Jews. When the lion’s share of mandatory Palestine was made the country of Jordan in 1921, all Jews were expelled, (though their families had lived there for centuries) their belongings and assets confiscated and never returned, and no Jews were allowed into the country.
    Of the 1/4th of the Mandate that remained in 1947, Middle Eastern Jews accepted about 50% in a proposed two-state resolution.
    The Arab response was a war of annihilation with the announced intent of driving the Jews into the sea.
    In that war, Jordan wound up taking possession of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem, including the ancient Jewish quarter.
    The Arabs then drove the Jews out of the Jewish quarter of the city, and furthermore, expelled all Jews from the West Bank.
    Many of the same families forced out of Jordan in 1921 were forced out of the West Bank in 1947.
    It cannot be emphasized enough that if in 1947, Arabs had accepted the two state proposal then on offer, there would have been no Palestinian refugees, and two countries, one Arab, one Jewish, living beside each other in peace and mutual prosperity.
    The people now demanding boycotts of Israel and saying “free Palestine” in protest against the Israeli Philharmonic should be told to go fuck themselves.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That may all well be (apart from the last sentence), but the founding of the state of Israel is based upon an injustice: the expelling of local people. Only if Israel comes clean with this injustice and offers some form of compensation, a real solution could be found. Merely generalizing about ‘the Arabs’ muddles the picture.

      • Mike Schachter says:

        The point to note is that there are several dozen states that describe themselves as Muslim, some of which do not allow Jews to enter and the majority do not allow other minorities equal rights. But it is the single Jewish state which is “racist”. I think this tells us all we need to know about the integrity of many if not most of BDS “activists” and their fellow-travellers. Mr Rose’s last sentence seems entirely fair and justified. As for the idea that these people would satisfied with anything less than the liquidation of Israel most of us stopped believing in fairies some time ago.

        • Will Duffay says:

          Those Muslim states which ‘don’t allow Jews to enter’ are illiberal, but the huge difference is that Israel has usurped Arab people from their OWN lands, and claims that this is justified when it clearly isn’t.

      • Sue says:

        That’s exactly what happened in many other colonized nations. They’re not leaving either!! Including the Americans.

      • Heath says:

        John Bortslap, a local people were not expelled. Without typing out the entire story, which you should know by your age, take a look at Palestinian Media Watch, http://www.palwatch.com, which will give you interview after interview, on video that is, of Palestinians who tell the truth about how they were told by their own people to leave and take up arms in order to annihilate the Jewish State. As mentioned above, they were offered their own state, but turned it down in favor of violence, their middle name. They were offered a state other times since, but always turned it down in favor of fighting. There are no excuses.

    • Bill says:

      “It cannot be emphasized enough that if in 1947, Arabs had accepted the two state proposal then on offer, there would have been no Palestinian refugees, and two countries, one Arab, one Jewish, living beside each other in peace and mutual prosperity.”

      Well, that’s an appealing image, to be sure. I don’t think history is firmly on the side of it really working out that way, though. Either some people are forced to move (“they stole our homeland”) or become minorities (“they aren’t treating our people right”) and someone uses that to stir up trouble. See just about any history book for examples…

    • barry guerrero says:

      “The people now demanding boycotts of Israel and saying “free Palestine” in protest against the Israeli Philharmonic should be told to go fuck themselves”

      Accomplishing what? . . . more outsiders becoming sympathetic to your cause?

      You should just come to a final solution by nuking the Palestinians off the face of the earth! . . . oh wait, the fall-out would be all over Israel too.

      Planet Earth – you gotta love this place.

  • anon says:

    I hate it when conductors are wilfully naive.

    “I’m just a dumb musician reading notes. That’s the only thing I learned to read after attending the top universities and conservatories of the world. I can only read notes, I can’t read newspapers, and I can’t read between the lines. I can read 5 languages, but I can’t read the political climate of my time.”

    I can’t think of another highly intellectual profession that regularly embraces naivity as their primary trait.

    • barry guerrero says:

      In my opinion, the most intelligent post here so far. Couldn’t agree more.

    • Sharon says:

      I understand that James Levine did not allow his Levinites to read newspapers and said in interviews through his fifties that he did not read them himself because they were too distracting from their and his work. Material concerns such as politics would distract the mind from focusing on “celestial’ music.

      At the same time he said in an early interview that with all the problems in the world why are people taking the time and energy to criticize concerts?

  • Charles says:

    I’m with the conductor. You can read whatever you want to into the music. . . and
    I hope that you go crazy doing it.

  • Ben says:

    Flying to Vienna in a few days to hear Philly in Musikverein. I have asked my Jewish buddies to spear-head a few pro-Israel rallys before and during both concerts on the street.

    Hopefully this diversion will help me getting an protest-free, interruption free experience inside the hall.

    • Sue says:

      Lucky you. Enjoy.

    • Heath says:

      Excellent! Keep the misinformed away from music, our refuge.

      • barry guerrero says:

        “I have asked my Jewish buddies to spear-head a few pro-Israel rallys before and during both concerts on the street”

        Really? . . . you think that that, somehow, isn’t going to be provocative and will help to keep the peace? In Vienna? Good luck with that.

  • Sue says:

    Bravo YNS: resisting the overwhelming pressure to conform!! Love your work. Not just because you are an individualist.

  • Father Hennepin says:

    Stuff all your intrusive politics you-know-where! How do you think it feels for Jewish members of the orchestra to have disruptions by anti-Semitic protestors? It’s an outrage. And all these so-called do-gooder phony liberals supporting evil by protesting should have their noses rubbed right into the lies they are dispensing. It’s just like the “commie pinkos” who supported Stalin even after his evil was exposed.

  • Bennett Melzak says:

    Very glad and respectful that Arturo Toscanini repeatedly stood up against Mussolini, Hitler and their regimes.

  • Dave T says:

    If any of these assholes found themselves seated next to me at a concert, they would end up very much regretting their antics. I would make sure of it.

  • Sharon says:

    There is a question here that no one seems to be asking. Will a cultural boycott of Israel do anything constructive to improve the situation of the Palestinians or advance peace in the Middle East?

    Absolutely not. It will just backfire by creating more ill will among the Israeli government and its supporters. Those who are protesting are shooting themselves and their cause in the foot.

    There has been far, far too much posturing on this situation. Activists need to determine how to make a difference, for ex. by fund raising for legitimate economic development projects in Palestinian territory, not protesting concerts,

    Although there may be exceptions, see my comment on military music, music in general decreases stress and tension which will decrease violence.

    There is a wonderful documentary about Leonard Cohen in a Woodstock like concert in England which was in danger of erupting into violent rioting because concert goers were upset about being charged admission. After three days of prayer Cohen gave a great concert and defused the violence.

    • MWnyc says:

      Sharon, I think that the general presumption (usually unstated) is that a widespread boycott worked on apartheid-era South Africa and that it can work on Israel the same way.

      It’s very debatable, of course, to what extent it was sanctions from outside that brought an end to apartheid and to what extent 21st-century Israel is analogous to 1980s South Africa. But I’m pretty certain that the logic of the international anti-apartheid campaign is what’s being applied to the current Israel-Palestine situation.

      • Heath says:

        MWNYC, to even suggest that there is apartheid in Israel is a psychotic state of mind. Why don’t you try visiting the country. In Jerusalem you don’t know if you’re walking next to a Jewish Israeli, an Arab Israeli, an Arab Christian, a Palestinian etc. Yes, everyone mixes. How do you think the Palestinians commit all their acts of terror? Six months of stabbing Israeli civilians every day last year in the streets, and all these decades of attacks. Palestinians work with Israelis in the West Bank. That was the irony of the Sodastream factory shut down by BDS: 50% Israeli, 50% Palestinian, everyone getting along, a model of peace. But even that wasn’t good enough for people like you. Gaza, which is controlled by a terror organization, you may have heard of them, Hamas, is blockaded, yes, because they are a terrorist entity bent on the annihilation of every last man, woman and child in Israel. It’s their raison d’etre. Yet Israel lets in tons of humanitarian aid every day. Enough of the Palestinians being the darlings of the world media, and time to call them out as what they really are: a non-people (every hear of them before 1967? I don’t think so) who are not interested in peace.