In Digest, Ukraine

Ticket holders for the sold-out performance of Ukrainian pianist Valentina Lisitsa at Roy Thompson Hall on April 8 were offered a free ticket if they showed up for the altered performance after she was banned, but the hall was half empty.

By Daniel Otis, Toronto Star, April 8, 2015

Valentina Lisitsa

Valentina Lisitsa

A small group of protesters gathered in support of pianist Valentina Lisitsa outside Roy Thomson Hall Wednesday night. They came with signs: “Music can’t be silenced,” “Keep the music separate from politics,” and “Toronto Symphony, let Valentina play!” Each of the dozen or so protesters wore a Canadian flag. Some taped their mouths shut.

“She shouldn’t be discriminated against for her political views,” said Vlad Alexeyenko, a Ukrainian studying at the University of Toronto. “She should be allowed to play for her audience.”

Wednesday night’s protesters — an eclectic group of Russians, Ukrainians and free-speech advocates, organized via Facebook — congregated outside Roy Thomson Hall. Most didn’t have tickets.

“In Canada we have democracy? We don’t,” an agitated Anna Radojevic said outside the concert hall. “This is a slap in the face from a country that I chose to call home.”

Valentina LisitsaOriginally from Bosnia, Radojevic was one of the few protesters who had been looking forward to seeing Lisitsa play. “She’s an artist,” she said. “How can art live without freedom?”

TSO chief executive Jeff Melanson, who regularly introduces concerts and thanks sponsors before performances, made no appearance before the night’s concert. Melanson has been with the TSO since last autumn.

After Monday’s surprise announcement that Lisitsa was not going to perform, Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear was asked Tuesday to step in and play the Rachmaninoff piece but backed out several hours later, citing what he called the “mob-like behaviour of (Lisitsa’s) devotees.”

Lisitsa had planned to perform a free solo concert at a downtown Toronto church Wednesday night in protest over the TSO decision, but that too was cancelled. [A free performance planned for April 11 at Lawrence Park Community Church was also cancelled when church minister John Suk decided not to honour a rental agreement that had been made. Story here.]

With only Mahler’s Fifth Symphony being performed on Wednesday — a fraction of the original program — ticket-holders were offered refunds if they chose not to attend. Those who did show up were given free tickets to an upcoming event of their choice. The symphony was conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste of Finland, a former TSO music director.

“If the TSO had kept her, I wouldn’t be here,” Marion Raycheba said from her balcony seat before the concert. “Hate speech must not be tolerated, and it should not be confused with freedom of speech.”

Seated nearby, Linda Wells was a bit more ambivalent. “I’m having trouble getting revved up about this,” she said, shrugging. “I’m here to enjoy the music.”

Scott Bradshaw, a local guitarist and former Roy Thomson Hall usher, bought a last-minute ticket for the concert. “I think it’s very unfair,” Bradshaw said of Lisitsa being dropped from the bill because of her political views. Still, he was glad to get a second concert ticket out of the deal.

“This is the kind of luck I’ve had lately!” he said with a grin. Then his face dropped. “But I’m sympathetic.”

Go to weblink above to see three photos.


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