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Navigating Backlash Over Artists Expressing Political Views

By Michael Vincent on October 23, 2023

When classical music collides with the fervent realm of politics, the results can have serious consequences for artists. While revered for their artistry, they aren’t immune to the repercussions of voicing their opinions.

A recent example is Turkish pianist Fazil Say, who took to his social media last week to call Netanyahu a war criminal and accused Israel of genocide in relation to the bombing of a hospital, which U.S. intelligence has reported was the result of a misfired Palestinian rocket.

According to Slippedisc, The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Migros Concerts in Switzerland have cancelled his upcoming shows.

Fazıl Say responded, stating he believes in freedom of speech and expressed disappointment at the cancellation.  He emphasized his commitment to peace and music as a beacon of hope.

Let’s delve into five times when artists found themselves center-stage in political controversies, from concert cancellations to media storms.

  1. Valery Gergiev’s Political Pause

  • Who: Valery Gergiev, renowned Russian conductor.
  • What: Openly supported Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • When: 2014
  • The Backlash: Protests disrupted his concerts, leading to some cancellations.
  1. Roberto Alagna’s Operatic Outburst

  • Who: Roberto Alagna, French-Italian tenor.
  • What: Walked off the stage at La Scala after being booed, citing political reasons.
  • When: 2006
  • The Backlash: His walk-off made headlines and stirred debates about artist freedom and audience expectations.
  1. Daniel Barenboim’s Borderline Beethoven

  • Who: Daniel Barenboim, celebrated conductor and pianist.
  • What: Played Wagner, a controversial figure in Israel, as an encore in Jerusalem.
  • When: 2001
  • The Backlash: It sparked a heated debate about the separation of art and politics. Some praised his bravery, while others criticized the choice.
  1. Joyce DiDonato’s Rainbow Recital

  • Who: Joyce DiDonato, renowned American mezzo-soprano.
  • What: Dedicated a performance at Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow to the LGBTQ community during Russia’s anti-gay law controversy.
  • When: 2013
  • The Backlash: While she faced no direct repercussions, her statement made waves in the media and was a bold stance given the political climate.
  1. Dmitri Shostakovich’s Silent Symphony

  • Who: Dmitri Shostakovich, Russian composer.
  • What: His work was often seen as a critique of the Stalinist regime.
  • When: 1930s
  • The Backlash: Shostakovich faced official denunciations, and his works were banned. He lived in fear of arrest.

Michael Vincent
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