Dear friends, I need your help! Please make a stand with me for the freedom of speech! https://t.co/7Aep5ajkAO pic.twitter.com/Owi6uP4Cg2
— NedoUkraïnka (@ValLisitsa) April 6, 2015
Ukrainian - American pianist Valentina Lisitsa is the very definition of a virtuoso artist. She plays the repertoire from which most pianists shy. The works of Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin are among her most sought after performances, and she has developed quite a name for herself on the concert circuit around the world. Almost all of her recordings are available on YouTube from her official channel, and she shares her talent gladly with any who appreciate it. Watching her play Liszt's Sonata in B Minor, for example, gives us a small glimpse into her magnificent technical ability, which I daresay is scarcely equaled anywhere in the world.
Lisitsa is of Ukrainian birth and lived there for a time. At present Ukraine is torn by civil war with Russia, ever anxious at the expansion of an empire and thirsty for natural resources, backing one side of the fray, those who should like to see Ukraine once again a part of Russia. On the opposite side, there are those who love Ukraine's independence from Russia, yet many of them love independence and crave foreign aid or belonging to a greater entity such as the European Union or NATO. What does this have to do with Lisitsa, you ask? Since the uprisings in 2014, her Twitter account, in addition to promoting her work, has been a voice commentating on the situation in Ukraine, and she has done so prominently for over a year now. Just as an American, Canadian, or British expatriate might do, she has commented on the state of her native land to the world through Twitter.
It came to light Monday that the Toronto Symphony, possibly Canada's best and most known orchestra, had canceled Valentina Lisitsa's performances of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 for April 8 and 9, 2015. According to Toronto Symphony's president, Jeff Melanson, Ms. Lisitsa's appearance was canceled due to "ongoing accusations of deeply offensive language by Ukrainian media outlets." However, reports of an e-mail to Lisitsa's agent said that original missive was quoted as reading, "the Toronto Symphony Orchestra received some messages from ticket buyers and others expressing concern over pianist Valentina Lisitsa’s public political statements," so it may well prove that offensive language has turned into unpopular political statements. From Slavyngrad.com, a source with which I am highly unfamiliar and not overly likely to believe as of yet, it is also reported that the e-mail went even further to accuse Valentina of publicly inciting hate, which is, apparently, against the law in Canada. It is also alleged that a brief from the Toronto Symphony's counsel with the firm Borden Ladner Gervais, LLP, and copies of her Tweets were attached to this e-mail to her agent as cause for the cancellation.
In response to this shocking decision from the Toronto Symphony, many at Lisitsa's behest took to social media to argue whether or not she had made statements to the gist of what many had accused her of doing. I have followed her on Twitter for years now. Have I seen some morbid Tweets from her? On occasion, yes, I have seen some Tweets that are distinctly against a certain political presence operating in Ukraine. Much of what she Tweets is repeated from some news outlet, public figure, or general feeling in that part of the world, and is not necessarily indicative of her stance on anything. Insofar as I am aware, Valentina wants only for the Russians to cease trying to reclaim Ukraine through force or election and for these United States and the European Union to cease attempting to use Ukraine as a strategic piece in a political game for whatever end. If that is truly her stance, I can easily respect it. I may not agree with her entirely in how she makes her argument or in her reasoning for it, but it is a position I can respect.
However, the real issue at hand is not what political affiliation or beliefs one shares with the world. Focus on this portion of this matter is a diversion and distraction from the true issue at hand. Does the Toronto Symphony Orchestra fancy itself to be the judge of correct speech in any capacity? Moreover, does the Toronto Symphony Orchestra believe it holds the key to understanding appropriate political stances and those who may disagree are unwelcome to collaborate with it? If this is the case, is the Toronto Symphony taking a stand to never play the music of Wagner? Shall Valery Gergiev, close friend to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is certainly by no account the most popular man in the world at present, be dismissed from future concerts? Is Anna Netrebko barred from performing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra due to her support of Putin? Dear readers, this decision from the Toronto Symphony is in direct contradiction to the aims and ideals of the arts, which is to collaborate together, despite political affiliation, despite nationality, despite disagreements, to create something of beauty. Moreover, who is the Toronto Symphony to dictate what a person may or may not say? Is freedom of speech no longer a basic human right? To the Toronto Symphony, I say that I am ashamed of its behavior in this case, and the relative lateness of this action indicates two points to me. To release the decision as close to the performance date as it did, the administrative branch of the orchestra did so to create as little a scene as possible in the public eye so that the episode might go unknown, but they kept Lisitsa on the schedule for as long as possible to attract as many ticket sales as they could at the cost of her immense fame throughout the world. Such behavior is most discourteous and reproachful to both the patrons and the artist.
In examining the decision to cancel Lisitsa's performance, one final point must be brought to the forefront. Lisitsa was scheduled to visit Toronto for one purpose only, which was to play Rachmaninoff's music. She has hardly any opportunity to speak before the audience within the Toronto Symphony's venue, nor has she made a history of doing so in her previous concerts. The line of separation between whatever her personal views are, views to which she is freely entitled as a member of humanity, and her performances has remained clear in all of her performances. If she wanted to make a statement regarding Ukraine or anything at all, she could and does make it more effectively through her social media following, which has one of the most devoted bases of supporters of diverse backgrounds and composition. To insinuate that Lisitsa might make some political statement during her performance is complete disregard of the facts concerning the matter and a grievous error in logic to the point of inane fallacy on the part of the Toronto Symphony. Let it be known, dear readers, friends, and acquaintances, that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra does not value freedom and fancies itself a better gauge of what is right, appropriate, and good than every other orchestra in the world with which Valentina has played without political outburst or incident. Toronto is shamed by this decision.
I say, #LetValentinaPlay.
The Globe and Mail
The Toronto Star
Faced with a barrage of criticism @TorontoSymphony is forced to cancel Rachmaninoff altogether. pic.twitter.com/CxmcIa7sns
— NedoUkraïnka (@ValLisitsa) April 8, 2015
Due to the negative reaction to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's disdain for the freedom of speech and its arrogant self-appointed status of political appropriateness, it has canceled the performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 that was to have been paired with Mahler's Fifth Symphony.
UPDATE APRIL 9, 2015:
Despite the Toronto Symphony's despicable, totalitarian behavior, Valentina Lisitsa shall still perform in Toronto. Tomorrow evening, Friday, April 10, 2015, Lisitsa will give a free concert at Lawrence Park Community Church. According to a conversation on her Twitter account, Lisitsa had secured an alternate venue previously, but she was later barred from performing there, as well, when all of the press began to appear on this subject. This report of her forthcoming performance is confirmed by The Canadian Press. Furthermore, Lisitsa's performance with the Calgary Philharmonic in June is still scheduled. I suppose the Toronto Symphony finds that orchestra morally inferior to itself.
UPDATE APRIL 9, 2015, P.M.
BREAKING: Apparently, the pastor of the Lake Park Community Church says that Valentina Lisitsa never had authorization to use his church as an alternative venue for a free concert to be given tomorrow. Read the Tweets:
Sir, please tell us - we're you threatened? Why such a change of mind? This is devastating. @DrJohnSuk @LPCCtorontoIs there anyone who will stand and support the right to freedom of speech in Toronto? I do not know who made the error, told an outright lie, or else reversed his or her decision, but I am saddened to see this sort of behavior in Toronto. It greatly affects my desire to ever want to visit its world-class symphony and city.
— NedoUkraïnka (@ValLisitsa) April 10, 2015
As Tweets continue to develop, and the situation unfolds, it appears that Dr. John Suk, who, from his Tweets in response to Lisitsa, claims to be the minister of the Lake Park Community Church, is himself stating that the performance will not be allowed at his church in Toronto. A Tweet he wrote in response to Lisitsa's inquiry of whether or not he had been threatened exhibits a curious bit of detail about this affair. Read for yourself, dear friends and acquaintances:
@ValLisitsa @LPCCtoronto They left a message on the phone after the manager left for the day, and proceeded without a reply. Most irregular.
— John Suk (@DrJohnSuk) April 10, 2015
As you read in the Tweet, Dr. Suk divulges a bit of odd information, and when one combines it with his initial response to the concert announcement from Lisitsa, an understanding of events gets rather muddled. Prior to his original Tweet, Lisitsa's concert announcement on Twitter came from her personal account approximately three and one-half hours before he responded. Answering Lisitsa's question, he replies that the manager in charge of facilities rental was out when the message was left and that no one ever returned the inquiry for booking. However, by saying it "is not happening," he suggests that he is one in authority to make a decision on whether or not the space is rented to anyone. Professing knowledge of the message, then, why did he choose to publicly confront Lisitsa to tell her the concert was canceled? Presuming the call had to have been made some time prior to the press release from CTV News and The Canadian Press, he simply refused to contact her agent or whatever third party represents her in this matter of finding a venue? Such is an utter lack of professionalism and etiquette at the very least, and, at the worst, it could very well be construed to indicate some ulterior motive or agenda is at work or that he was, indeed, threatened or harassed to deny permission for Lisitsa to perform, which Dr. Suk denies.
Nevertheless, this Tweet slightly contradicts a statement Dr. Suk is said to have e-mailed to The Canadian Press. From their updated article, CTV News reports that Suk assures them that the concert announcement comes about as a result of someone else renting the sanctuary for Lisitsa's use, which he claims the church will not allow. Now, if the message regarding inquiry of renting the sanctuary went unreturned, and the concert announcement was made without having secured the venue, then how could someone else have rented the sanctuary on Valentina's behalf? He obviously knows there was an inquiry made, for he admits as much, yet he denies permission was given via Twitter, and delivers a press release saying permission was given, but to someone else? Something sounds dishonest here, and I am sorry to say as much regarding a church and its leaders. Dr. Suk has some explaining to do. Thus far, he has declined to comment in response to my inquiries made to him through Twitter.