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September 6, 2011

Singing Protesters Disrupt Israeli Orchestra

New York Times:

For the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, marking its 75th anniversary, it was a jarring first, and in a city that has been one of the orchestra’s most welcoming hosts: the repeated disruption of its concert at Royal Albert Hall in London on Thursday night by pro-Palestinian demonstrators, to the point that the BBC cut off its live broadcast and played recordings of the evening’s program instead.

The protesters included a core group of professional musicians, who gave what amounted to a counterconcert, breaking into vocal choruses in a bid to drown out the orchestra. A statement by the protesters said that they were members of “a new vocal ensemble” called Beethovians for Boycotting Israel, and described their behavior during the concert as a “debut performance.”

The statement quoted one of the singer-protesters, Deborah Fink, whom it identified as a soprano, describing the group’s first disruption as “intricately interwoven” with the Israel Philharmonic’s first piece, Webern’s Passacaglia.

“We thought we’d liven up the Webern a bit,” Ms. Fink was quoted as saying. “The performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the previous night’s Prom was so exciting that we decided to treat the audience to our own version of the ‘Ode to Joy.’ ” She then cited lines from the protesters’ bitterly satirical version of the 18th-century poem by Friedrich Schiller that is sung to Beethoven’s score:

Israel, end your occupation:
There’s no peace on stolen land.
We’ll sing out for liberation
Till you hear and understand.

The possibility of disruption had already been well flagged. Earlier in the week, a letter signed by 23 professional musicians, including Ms. Fink, a music teacher who has been active in Jewish groups opposing the Israeli occupation of pre-1967 Palestinian territory, was published in a newspaper, The Independent, castigating the BBC for inviting the Israeli orchestra.

“Israel deliberately uses the arts to promote a misleading image of Israel,” the signers said. “Through this campaign, officially called ‘Brand Israel,’ denials of human rights and violations of international law are hidden behind a cultural smokescreen.” The conductor, Mr. Mehta, kept his thoughts to himself after the concert, declining all requests for interviews. But perhaps anticipating trouble, he had given his views on the orchestra’s political and social significance in an interview with the BBC before the performance.

“The I.P.O. is a cultural ambassador for Israel, and it is not ‘whitewashing Israel’s crimes,’ ” he said, quoting a pro-Palestine boycott campaign. “People who make music have to be politically aware; we have to know what’s going on. We have to bring people together. In Israel, for Arab and Jewish audiences, and on quite a few occasions every year, at least for two-and-a-half hours, there is some sort of peace in the hall.”

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Posted by acapnews at September 6, 2011 9:51 PM

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