The LPO Four, Music & Politics

A row is fizzing in the London classical music world over the suspension of four musicians from the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO). Their crime? To have used the letters “LPO” after their names in a letter published in The Independent newspaper:-

Proms exploited for arts propaganda campaign

As musicians we are dismayed that the BBC has invited the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to play at the Proms on 1 September. The IPO has a deep involvement with the Israeli state – not least its self-proclaimed “partnership” with the Israeli Defence Forces. This is the same state and army that impedes in every way it can the development of Palestinian culture, including the prevention of Palestinian musicians from travelling abroad to perform.

Our main concern is that Israel deliberately uses the arts as propaganda to promote a misleading image of Israel. Through this campaign, officially called “Brand Israel”, denials of human rights and violations of international law are hidden behind a cultural smokescreen. The IPO is perhaps Israel ‘s prime asset in this campaign.

The Director of the Proms, Roger Wright, was asked to cancel the concert in accordance with the call from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott (PACBI). He rejected this call, saying that the invitation is “purely musical”.

Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians fits the UN definition of apartheid. We call on the BBC to cancel this concert.

Derek Ball (composer)
Frances Bernstein (community choir leader)
Steve Bingham (violinist)
John Claydon (saxophonist)
Malcolm Crowthers (music photographer)
Raymond Deane (composer)
Tom Eisner (violinist LPO)
Nancy Elan (violinist LPO)
Deborah Fink (soprano)
Catherine Ford (violinist, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment)
Reem Kelani (Palestinian singer, musician and broadcaster)
Les Levidow (violinist)
Susie Meszaros (violinist, Chilingirian Quartet)
Roy Mowatt (violinist, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment)
Ian Pace (pianist)
Leon Rosselson (singer-songwriter)
Dominic Saunders (pianist)
Chris Somes-Charlton (artist manager)
Leni Solinger (violinist)
Sarah Streatfeild (violinist LPO)
Sue Sutherley (cellist, LPO)
Tom Suarez (violinist, New York)
Kareem Taylor (Oud Player/Guitarist and Composer)
Miriam Walton (pianist, organist and French horn player)

When LPO management suspended them they (the management) made the claim: “music and politics do not mix”.

Presumably, if Henryk Górecki was alive, he would immediately tear up his Third Symphony, and we’ll hear shortly that Daniel Barenboim is to cease all work with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and devote his energies to “non-political” musical activities, e.g. conducting jingles for children’s TV programmes.

10 thoughts on “The LPO Four, Music & Politics

    1. I feel almost the same way. Good to see Debbie Fink’s name right there below those of Tom Eisner and Nancy Elan.

      Are the LPO Four the first of many, or the turning of the tide?

  1. Look, I love IMSLP, but that’s some seriously silly logic right there. It’s a legal issue to do with non-profit organizations. By using the LPO name, the performers in question have invoked a kind of authority, the authority of being in the LPO, and it may be contended in a hypothetical court that an “average Joe Reader” could be misled into thinking that they are representing, or attempting to represent, the LPO. It’s the same as if you signed a letter saying, “I think all purple hats should be banned. Signed, Philidor, IMSLP” without obtaining any other opinions from IMSLP colleagues.

    The bottom line is that if the London Philharmonic Orchestra as an organization has a policy of avoiding political stances (and I don’t know if that’s true), then anybody who appropriates their name for a political cause is in violation of a company policy.

    The cause that they’re arguing about is beside the point.

  2. @ Brian. On the point you’re making I broadly agree. It would have been better if the players had signed their names, and then stated “LPO – Personal Capacity.” It would have saved them a lot of trouble and expense.

    But the article’s not about that. It’s poking fun at the LPO management claim that classical music isn’t, or shouldn’t be, political – a patently ludicrous and untenable position.

    Philidor, IMSLP – Personal Capacity

  3. Had it been me I’d have likely put “orchestral violinist” or “” after my name.

    What they probably MEANT was that the orchestral playing of the LPO isn’t politically motivated. What they SAID…

  4. There’s an email exchange with LPO management here:

    See how confused they are? Which suggests to me (a) they’re ashamed of what they did (b) are fudging and obfuscating like billyoh to cover their embarrasment, and (c) once the fuss dies down they’ll quietly lift the suspension — which is up to nine months… which may, of course, turn out to be “six weeks” in reality.

  5. I agree with Brian 100%. I don’t see a problem with their suspension. They were not reflecting the LPO’s opinion but their own. Adding those initials after their names made it sound like they were, or that their own personal opinions had too little weight and that they had to add the “heft” of the LPO cachet to them for effect.

    I have seen lawyers get suspended for sending letters reflecting personal political opinions on their firm letterhead. I’ve seen university personnel do the same thing, expressing highly personal opinions with their institutional stamp on them, and they’ve gotten disciplined for it as well. This is the same sort of thing. If it’s your personal opinion, then you put it out there with YOUR name on it and YOU take the heat for it. Don’t try to pretend that you have a big brother standing behind you when you don’t — and don’t put words in that big brother’s mouth in the meantime.

    1. I agree that adding the LPO affiliation was a silly / risky thing to do, but this does look like a huge overreaction by the management. A ticking off and clarification that this was not an official LPO position would have done fine.
      The result is that the management of the LPO looks like it has in fact taken a political stance. To a lot of people in the London classical music world it’s hard to interpret this suspension in any other way than as a politically motivated act.
      So now we have people talking about protesting at LPO concerts, angry letters back and forth to newspapers, and all it’s all turned into a lamentable mess. I hope there are some quiet discussions going on behind the scenes to resolve it all.

    2. “I’ve seen university personnel do the same thing, expressing highly personal opinions with their institutional stamp on them, and they’ve gotten disciplined for it as well.”

      That’s strange, because in the UK I see university academics writing letters to newspapers on political subjects & routinely they give the name of the institution where they work. As in this, from the Guardian, opposing an academic boycott of Israel.

      There’s no suggestion that their views are those of their universities, & there’s no way on earth or anywhere else they could each have cleared that signature with their employers. It’s a conventional way for the signatory to situate herself professionally in the context of the subject under discussion.

      Whether, as universities in the UK come to rely more on private money, we’ll see LPO style ‘suspensions’ in academia is of course possible. The LPO’s decision is certainly political & apparently, since Tim Walker says it is (“This all became an issue when we started to receive emails and letters from supporters, a lot of whom are Jewish, and felt that the players were taking an anti-Jewish position. Some said they weren’t going to come to the concerts or give us any money”), the result of external, & again, political lobbying.

      If four LPO musicians had signed a letter as ‘X – LPO’ congratulating the BBC on inviting the IPO to the Proms no suspension would have followed.

  6. huge overreaction by the management

    Exactly. Catherine Ford and Roy Mowatt (Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment) and Susie Meszaros (Chilingirian Quartet) each signed, and included their organisations (without “Personal Capacity” type weasel words) and I’ve heard of none of them being suspended by their employers.

    What’s daft is if LPO management had kept their heads, and maybe administered a private ticking off, or ignored the whole thing, it would all have blown over by now. Instead they created an international controversy, just as Palestine appeared at the UN General Assembly!

    Maybe it’s a secret plot to support the Palestinian cause… Just joking! I go for cock-up over conspiracy but that doesn’t make it any less daft.

    I hope there are some quiet discussions going on behind the scenes to resolve it all.

    Me too.

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