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UPDATE | TSO Pulls Concerto in Wake of Controversy

By Michael Vincent on April 7, 2015

Embattled pianist Valentia Lisita in a war of words with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Embattled pianist Valentia Lisita in a war of words with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

The Toronto Symphony have announced that they have pulled the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 from the program, and will be only presenting Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Jukka-Pekka Saraste will still be conducting.

“In light of this week’s events, the TSO has taken a decision to remove Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 from this week’s programme.” the statement reads on the event website. “The concert for Wednesday, April 8 and Thursday, April 9 will focus entirely on Mahler’s monumental Fifth Symphony. The concert begins at 8pm and will have no intermission.”

The TSO will be providing ticket holders with a complimentary ticket to a future performance, or a full refund upon request.

Pianist, Stewart Goodyear Photo: Andrew Gam
Pianist Stewart Goodyear Photo: Andrew Gam

In response to the cancellation, replacement pianist Stewart Goodyear made a formal statement on his Facebook page:

Last Thursday, I was asked to replace a soloist playing Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto. I was excited because I just recorded this work, along with the 3rd piano concerto. I was excited to perform it because the orchestra was one who I had a very close relationship with since I was 12 years old. Rachmaninov’s 2nd concerto is a work that is very personal to me. Most recently, I met my girlfriend and love of my life when I last performed it in Prague. This work, to me, was the ultimate expression of love, and it was a dream of mine to perform it in Toronto with the orchestra that I thought I had a close relationship with.

Yesterday, my dream was shattered. I was told that morning that there was more to my substitution. The full story was not explained to me until then, and before i could blink, I found myself in the middle of a social media frenzy. Words of bile and hatred were hurled in my direction from all sides. Suddenly I was accused of supporting censorship, and bullied into declining this engagement. What started out as one of the happiest moments of my life turned into a shattering display of mob hysteria.

Today, I had the most emotional musical experience of my life. The conductor, the orchestra and I shared a special, beautiful moment of music making. I knew that this would be the last opportunity to play Rachmaninov’s concerto in the near future with that orchestra. I made that afternoon rehearsal a performance of a lifetime.

With all due respect to the pianist who I was going to replace, one must own one’s opinions and words, and have the courage to defend her position without hiding behind the pseudonym, “NedoUkarinka“. Her words offended many people who perceived her as pro-violence and anti-love. Her most recent “plea” to her fans and followers to attack the orchestra that released her of her performance schedule was unfortunate. Free speech has consequences, and one most own one’s position. Dragging other people who have nothing to do with her position does nothing constructive.

Her attitude, and the mob-like behavior of her devotees, censored Rachmaninoff’s second concerto. It is no longer on this week’s program.

Many people demanded that I respond to their Twitter tirades. Here is my response: I am an artist, not a politician; a lover of all people, not an ambassador for hatred; a human being with a name, not a pseudonym.

Responses to Goodyear’s statement were mixed, with one commenter stating, “Great that you withdrew from playing Rachmaninoff! This composer was outspoken against the putsch (or revolution) and subsequent repressions in his birth country, and he hated Nazis. If Ms. Lisitsa is banned for that, Rachmaninoff must be banned too!”

In a further development, the ever defiant Youtube pianist Valentina Lisitsa told the Toronto Star on Tuesday afternoon, that she plans to play the Rachmaninoff concerto in an alternative venue: Church of the Holy Trinity at 10 Trinity Square. However, shortly after the article was published, Lisitsa confessed on her twitter that the alternative venue had also canceled.

While this story continues to evolve, we can confirm we have conduced an exclusive interview with TSO CEO Jeff Melanson on Tuesday evening, and will be reporting further details soon.

Michael Vincent
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