Politics and music on a collision course

2 Sep

This evening I was aware that the Israel Philharmonic was performing at the Royal Albert Hall, but did not pass my mind that a disruptive demonstration would essentially cancel the live radio broadcast.

While I was looking through my Twitter timeline I started seeing tweeps mentioning Radio 3 and tuned in, only to listen to a recording instead of the live concert. When they returned the presenter just made a passing mention to audience disruption. I do wonder if the editors/controller of Radio 3 are believing to be running a service from the 1950s in the mold of The Hour.

The reaction of radio bosses was essentially to silence their staff on social media, the usual Proms cheerleaders fell oddly silent tonight. Very much like Radio 3’s deafening silence and unwillingness to rise up to the occasion and offer coverage live as the situation developed. The lack of bravery and nerve were truly shameful. Radio 3 just hid behind a recording and pretended that it would all go away. That is a damage limitation tactic that would only work in the 1950s. Today, and with the presence of an audience of over 5000 it’s a given that news will spread. So trying to have a hush hush reaction to it, as if responding to a damned inconvenience was a reflection of the vacuum that Radio 3 is operating in (it’s all about the music, silly, don’t rock the boat). As part of an organization that one of its main outputs is news, they really embarrassed themselves and lacked the reactive nerve that live broadcasting is supposed to call for.

The Royal Albert Hall is a very difficult venue to secure, when you have 12 entrances. I had worked there for almost two years and know first hand the amounts of manpower required to make the building secure. For some high profile events we were used to even having marksmen/women on the roof! The news that four groups of protesters made it in the auditorium was not a huge surprise. But the reaction of the BBC, to just pull the live broadcast was not the reaction we would expect from our national, tax funded, broadcaster.

I have always felt an affinity with the Palestinian cause but on the other hand find irrational bringing political protest into the artistic arena. Disrupting a concert is just a very childish way to make a very weak point that no one will take notice of. The arts are supposed to be one of the few unifying forces in this world, making it into a theatre of division and hatred is very sad. Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic deserved a warm reception despite of any grievances audience members had with the state of Israel. How would we feel if the London Symphony Orchestra were similarly attacked while on tour in response to the shoddy UK foreign policy? We would certainly think it was inappropriate and would seek to punish those individuals for disturbing the peace. Hope that some of those thoughtless protesters were indeed arrested on those grounds.

In my view Radio 3 gave in easily to the pressure of a handful of protesters and essentially stopped this wonderful orchestra from having a huge live audience across the country. Hope the BBC will think again in similar situations in the future.

PS It has to be noted that Radio 4 and BBC News have covered the incident soon after, but the stream from the Hall will not appear on the iPlayer.

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