Thursday, April 09, 2015

Art and politics collide (again)

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra's recent cancellation of a performance by controversial pro-Russian Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa has opened up a proverbial can of worms, hornet's nest, dog's breakfast, Pandora's box, call it what you will. The Twittersphere and social media in general is a-buzz, apparently mainly in Ms. Listsa's defence, but the reality is far from clear-cut and unequivocal.
Valentina Lisitsa may be a good pianist - and I really hope she is, after all this fuss over her - but she is also a notoriously outspoken, polarizing and contentious figure, with a huge following (and an almost equally large opposition) on social media. Frankly, the feckless TSO should probably have left her well enough alone in the first place, however good she is.
Her online pro-Russian, anti-Kiev rants flirt with hate speech, and certainly qualify as intemperate, ill-advised and irresponsible. Of course, like so many of these things, there are grey areas here too. Ms. Lisitsa claims that many of her Russian-language tweets are being misinterpreted in Canada, and that one particular image, of a heap of holocaust victims associated with the phrase "strong medication works", was cropped and its intended meaning skewed. Anyone using such imagery, for whatever political message, surely has trouble written all over them.
But, when all is said and done, is it the function of a respected arts organization like the TSO to wade into these matters at all? Many have argued that the TSO's cancellation amounts to censorship, which is frankly ridiculous: Ms. Lisitsa is free to say whatever garbage she likes online (indeed the TSO's cancellation has probably just increased her online profile many-fold); she is merely being told not to play the piano for the TSO's patrons, even though she is apparently still being paid for it.
Having already booked her, the TSO would attract flak from one side or another in the dispute whatever they did. Their mistake was in booking her in the first place. Let's just chalk it down to a learning moment, and put it behind us.

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