Tag Archives: Politics

Common sense the Swedish way

12 May

I don’t usually reproduce articles on here but reading Malena Ernman’s brave and unequivocal article in Sweden’s Aftonbladet I was compelled to share it here in all its machine translated glory. She makes some great points about Europe’s wealth and how it should be shared. Her abhorrence to the far right parties that spring up across the continent is well justified based on her experience as a nomadic opera singer.

A great idea to use the Eurovision Song Contest as an opportunity to celebrate what brings us together and to condemn the peddlers of hate and division.
malena-ernman-editorialThe original article can be read here: http://www.aftonbladet.se/debatt/debattamnen/eu/article18848873.ab

Vacuum packed opera

23 Sep
Image courtesy of Andrew Rudin via Twitter (@groveguys)

Image courtesy of Andrew Rudin via Twitter (@groveguys)

Yesterday Peter Gelb, the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera wrote for Bloomberg:

Throughout its distinguished 129-year history, the Met has never dedicated a single performance to a political or social cause, no matter how important or just. Our messaging has always been through art.

You can read the rest of his argument for not designating the opening gala for Onegin as an occasion to support LGBT people in light of Russia’s recent anti-gay legislation. While reading it I was overtaken by a sense of misplaced propriety by Mr Gelb and also made me wonder what arts bodies like the Met should stand for.

I don’t think arts organisations can be operating like social zombies…happy to hoover public funding but not keen to fulfill a social function. In the world of North American opera Houses the funders are the gods of the circuit. But what do they buy by giving millions to an opera house…a glitzy gala and access privileges or do they also castrate the ability of the organisation to have ideals and to pursuit them?
An organisation of the global reputation and reach of the Met Opera  has more responsibility than smaller houses to set an example. The world of opera cannot afford to be seen in total removal from the reality. The real world is meant to be reflected in its work, outreach and education is part of it but also it should be brave enough to have moral values and to stand by them regardless of what the fat wallets have to say.

Life is political by definition (Aristotle defined it as being part of the Polis, the ancient Greek word for city. Being a citizen one is a political being) and art reflecting life should ideally have an engagement with what means to be human and to be ready to fight for gross injustice and inequality. The arts have traditionally been a fertile field for shady governments to find a fig leaf to cover their dehumanising policies and use artists as the disseminators of propaganda. In a democratic country like the US it is puzzling to me why Mr Gelb will post an open letter essentially presenting the Met Opera as a sympathetic but crucially inert behemoth. Many will say the anti-gay agenda is only part of Putin’s pursuit of his own people and neighbouring nations, which is understandable. My main protest against the Met is its happiness to be seen as a political blank slate. A company that has nothing to say with its work to a world audience, a brain-dead showbiz establishment with no social nous.

Art and artists have found ingenious ways to protest against oppression over the years. Due to the funding basis of the Met being largely private I can understand Mr Gelb wanting to please them by being seen to skirt controversy. But running a major institution can at times be a testing and political business. I was proud when British art establishments from National Museums to the Royal Opera  House came together to fight the imminent budget cuts by an unsympathetic government and not sit and wait for it to happen with fatalistic abandon. If arts institutions don’t have anything to say about our wider environment and life they become a fossil, perpetuating emptiness and pushing themselves into a niche of irrelevance and deference.

Please do go and sign the petition on here which has reached over 9.116 signatories already.

Tonight’s opening gala for Onegin at the Met Opera and despite the management’s numb reaction. Has the potential to be a watershed moment, I hope a lot of the patrons present will wear the rainbow ribbons to show support for the campaign. What is more worrying is that Valery Gergev who is a close ally of President Putin has not deemed the campaign worthy of a statement in the New York Times or any other publication to date. His silence becoming more of a puzzle as the days go past.


A good recent example of applying political pressure are those two blog posts on the Royal Opera House website encouraging direct action across the country to make the government take notice:

The Royal Opera House did urge readers of their blog to lobby their MP

A call for support to make the case for the arts

If you fancy supporting the cause on your social media accounts feel free to use the avatar picture below

ribbon avatar

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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