Ukrainian pianist has rallied support on social media after being axed from two performances.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has found itself in the eye of a twitter-storm today, after dismissing Ukrainian pianist Valentina Lisitsa from two performances of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 later this week. In a statement released by TSO’s President Jeff Melanson, the reason for the axing was “ongoing accusations of deeply offensive language [used by Lisitsa], by Ukrainian media outlets”. Melanson’s claims were in reference to Lisitsa’s outspokenly pro-Putin comments on social media platforms, and with particular regard to Russia’s military involvement in the ongoing conflict in her native Ukraine.
However the decision to remove the soloist from Wednesday and Thursday evening’s concerts was not, apparently, an amicable one. News of the dismissal was broken by Lisitsa herself on Monday evening via a lengthy post on her twitter and facebook pages. The statement also appealed for readers to petition TSO to reinstate her in this week’s performances. “Someone in the orchestra top management, likely after the pressure from a small but aggressive lobby claiming to represent Ukrainian community, has made a decision that I should not be allowed to play,” she wrote. “I don’t even know who my accusers are, I am kept in the dark about it. I was accused of “inciting hatred” on Twitter.”
Lisitsa continues “the orchestra based in one of the freest democratic countries is bending over… to assassinate me – not as a living person yet, but as a musician for sure.” She also claimed that the TSO had threatened reprisals if she went public with her dismissal, although she confirmed that the orchestra had agreed to pay her performance fee for the engagement.
Due to the artist’s significant online popularity (youtube videos of the pianist have racked up millions of views for example), news of Lisitsa’s sacking quickly prompted hundreds of responses on twitter and facebook, with the hastag #letvalentinaplay accompanying a barrage of tweets in support of her reinstatement. These were soon also joined by messages supporting the dismissal, and advocates on both side of this argument have since clogged the TSO’s social media platforms with messages.
Lisitsa is not the first musician to be vilified for pro-Russian sympathies. Maestro Valery Gergiev, opera superstar Anna Netrebko, pianist Denis Matsuev, and viola virtuoso Yuri Bashmet have at various times publically declared support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military involvement in the Crimea and have consequently lost engagements and suffered protests at their performances.
However, it remains unlikely that the orchestra will kowtow to the online demands for Lisitsa’s reappointment, with the announcement earlier today that Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear will now perform the Rachmaninov concerto, to be conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste. “As one of Canada’s most important cultural institutions,” TSO President Jeff Melanson said in a statement. “Our priority must remain on being a stage for the world’s great works of music, and not for opinions that some believe to be deeply offensive.”