A peaceful protest against Valentina Lisitsa's concert in Calgary on 6 June 2015. Photo: Inna Platonova
Valentina Lisitsa, an American pianist born in the former USSR mostly known for her grand YouTube following, was allowed to perform in Calgary, Canada on June 5 & 6, 2015. Despite various communities expressing their serious concerns over Ms. Lisitsa’s hateful and racist Twitter material, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) went ahead with the concert. Ms. Lisitsa was cancelled in April of this year by both the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto’s Lawrence Park Community Church for her appalling public comments. Another city in Canada (Oakville) cancelled her performance too.
Instead of issuing an expected public apology, Lisitsa launched a major PR campaign to defend her heinous views and to bring more Kremlin-backed propaganda into Canadian mainstream media space. As a cultural institution, CPO has a responsibility to their patrons and communities and has to respond to its donors, including Canadian taxpayers. The CPO administration had different options, but chose the least expected route: to endorse the hate and violence promoter Lisitsa by allowing her concert on both days and, what is worse, never speaking publicly against her hateful material. Instead, they chose to brush it off as freedom of speech to express political views, although Ms. Lisitsa went far beyond expressing a political view and published repeatedly numerous tweets of racist and xenophobic nature. The Calgary Herald, Calgary’s key newspaper and coincidently a CPO sponsor, issued several editorials to misrepresent the matter and confuse the public.
On June 5 & 6 before Lisitsa concert, elegant and creative protests were held bringing people of different ethnic backgrounds: Ukrainian, Russian, Jewish, Irish, Scottish, among others, to say no to the promotion of racism, xenophobia and violence in this peaceful city and country. The spectators were dazzled by Chopin, Mozart and Glinka masterpieces played on a piano brought to the protest. An exhibit of informative posters displaying Lisitsa’s xenophobic and racist tweets was set up outside of the concert hall. CPO patrons were interested to learn more and our designated ushers helped to guide people through the posters and were handing out a program created by award winning Canadian mezzo-soprano Stephania Romaniuk, which highlighted alternative “musical works” inspired by Lisitsa’s tweets under the titles: “Despicable” Prelude & “Canada is Filth” Rondo. Several tickets were returned after learning about Lisitsa tweets at our protest. All key Canadian national and local media reported about the protest under the title: “Calgary Philharmonic’s guest pianist hits sour note with members of Ukrainian community” and calling the protest “classy” in the evening news.
The June 6th protests against Valentina Lisitsa concerts in Calgary, Canada. Photos from the FB event
However, following the successful peaceful protest on June 5, a small group of very agitated Lisitsa/Putin fans attacked us verbally during the second day of the protest, tore a poster and pushed their poster into our faces while one of our children played Chopin on a piano. It stunned the CPO patrons and passersby. The Calgary Police had to intervene to ensure order. People there could see for themselves what Lisitsa’s hateful material does. It brings chaos, hate and aggression to our city in Canada.
At least four school buses were seen bringing Canadian children on a school trip to fill up the concert hall during performance of Lisitsa. Those asked had no idea about Lisitsa’s tweets. Senior CPO management stated in an interview to the Calgary Herald: “In a case like this, there would have been no decision that would have kept us from having some backlash, she [Heather Slater, CPO Director, Artistic Planning] said. “At the end, we recognize it’s about music. Of course, we support freedom of speech and we also, along those lines, recognized our audience’s freedom of choice. They could come hear this artist or not.” The questions to CPO and the School Boards of this city are: Did the bused to Lisitsa concert minors had a “freedom of choice”? Were both parents and the school authorities informed about whom children will be listening to?
What is clear, the scandal does not end with Ms. Lisitsa leaving Canada. The hatred and aggression she spews affects our communities here and we witnessed it first hand on June 6. We rely on our art institutions as CPO, which also receive public funding, to provide, as noted by Canadian opera singer and music educator Heather Meyers present at the protest, “ethical care” of the incredible works of the composers who are gone. Would S. Rachmaninoff ever appreciate a racist and hate inciting musician to play his timeless masterpiece? Music is to spread love and humanity not to be used as a platform to promote hate and xenophobia.
Some videos from the protests: