Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, April 10, 2015

Art and Artlessness

"Words of bile and hatred bullied [him into declining a longed-for engagement with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra]. The media frenzy [over Valentina Lisitsa's cancelled performance sucked him too into its vortex of hatred]."
"What started out as one of the happiest moments of my life turned into a shattering display of mob hysteria. Her words offended many people who perceived her as pro-violence and anti-love."
"Free speech has consequences, and one must own one's position ... Her attitude, and the mob-like behaviour of her devotees, censures Rachmaninoff's 2nd concerto."
Stewart Goodyear, pianist, Toronto
Stewart Goodyear, seen here in 2012, says he has pulled out of filling in for Valentina Lisitsa after facing a furore for doing so after the controversy surrounding her views on Ukraine.
RANDY RISLING / Toronto STAR Order this photo
Stewart Goodyear, seen here in 2012, says he has pulled out of filling in for Valentina Lisitsa after facing a furore for doing so after the controversy surrounding her views on Ukraine.

"It's hard to see the connection between what she said and what the duties of her job are and how it would affect it. I think there is a problem with the message that this sends to artists that they may have trouble getting jobs or keeping jobs if they express views that are unpopular or controversial."
Cara Zwibel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association

"This is not about free speech, this is not about a political perspective or persuasion, this is about very offensive, intolerant comments about people."
"As one of Canada's most important cultural institutions, our priority must remain on being a stage for the world's great works of music, and not for opinions that some believe to be deeply offensive."
Jeff Melanson, president, chief executive, TSO
Ukraine-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa says she has no intention to stop criticizing her native country.
Vince Talotta / Toronto Star   Ukraine-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa says she has no intention to stop criticizing her native country.

Unfortunately, it seems that Mr. Melanson dropped the ball on the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's primary function of presenting as a stage for the world's great works of music. Presumably, the obnoxious but hugely talented classical pianist Valentina Lisitsa whose popularity has soared for the precision and beauty of her rendering of great musical compositions is acclaimed by music lovers for her talented expression on the piano, and not for her tasteless and odious opinions.

Richard Wagner, hugely admired as a favourite of the Third Reich for his presentation of the ubermensch, the Aryan ideal, remains a controversial figure, but even his music with its sturm und drang that so inspired Adolf Hitler, remains popular as the quintessential dramatic musical storytelling panorama of legendary superhuman figures. The man and his philosophy were wretched, but his music extraordinarily listenable, though many consider it tainted irremediably.

Ukraine-born, ethnic Russian classical pianist Valentine Lisitsa has gained a huge following for whom her controversial statements remain irrelevant; her musical ability speaks for itself as far as they're concerned. She had been scheduled to play as a guest star with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Protests lodged with the orchestra administration, however, resulting from her strongly-held views on world affairs, convinced the TSO board that her presence on stage with the orchestra would burden their reputation.

Her popularity with classical music aficionados is one that transcends her politics, however. And the orchestra has been both congratulated and damned by its decision to honour their retaining fee for her performance, while absenting her from the stage. As a replacement for Ms. Lisitsa, a Toronto pianist, Stewart Goodyear, was invited to take her place, and he was pleased to accept what to him represented a mouth-watering opportunity to advance his career.

Unfortunately, Mr. Goodyear too will not be appearing with the TSO. In a Facebook entry, he complained bitterly that the controversy had dragged him into its vortex "before I could blink." Since the cancellation of Ms. Lisitsa's appearance, critics of the decision have protested the aura of censorship, and have accused the orchestral management of surrendering to Ukrainian demands.

Without a doubt Ms. Lisitsa has offended with her opinionated and canted view of politics and human relations. Her sharp-tongued cuts have lunged at a wide range of subjects, from accusations of "atrocities" committed on the part of the Ukrainian regime against ethnic Russian Ukrainians, to the skepticism she expresses about the Holocaust, to mockery of Down syndrome individuals, even expressing a threat against NATO troops.

Open-minded and pleasant she obviously is not. But she is 41 years of age, an adult whose experiences have formed her perspective on many matters relating to the human condition. She has been endowed with an especial musical talent to offset her repugnant willingness to offend. And while it might be satisfying to some to just tell her to shut up and play the keyboard, she does have a right to express her ignorant opinion in a society that values free speech.

Valentina Lisitsa
Ukraine-born classical pianist Valentina Lisitsa is shown performing live on stage at the Royal Albert Hall in London on June 19, 2012. (Andrew Cowie/AFP/Getty Images)

Dislike her, like her music. Or, as the TSO has it, if the talented Ms. Lisitsis feels entitled to air her random and insulting thoughts revealing her personality as a rather nasty person, she does so at the expense of her professional reputation of a pianist of great original ability, and she has made her choice, just as the Toronto Symphony made theirs.

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