The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Is the Toronto Symphony censoring freedom of speech? Read about the Twitter Wars in Toronto that involve two pianists who have played in Madison. | April 18, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Tweets — those messages that comes via Twitter — may be short, containing a maximum of only 140 characters.

Sample Tweet from space

But they can sure pack a wallop and get people riled up.

Consider what is happening in Toronto with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra  (below top, in a photo by John Loper) that canceled an appearance – with full payment of a concert fee  — by the Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa (below bottom).

Toronto Symphony Orchestra USE CR John Loper

Valentina Lisitsa

Lisitsa tweeted about the political situation in her native Ukraine and that apparently caused quite the stir among symphony sponsors. So the symphony canceled her performances of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff – and paid her concert fee anyway. (Rachmaninoff and this concerto are specialties of Lisitsa, as you can hear on the YouTube video at the bottom)

Locally, Lisitsa — known for her power, endurance and phenomenal technique as well as her savvy use of YouTube to establish a career — has played several times at the Wisconsin Union Theater and at Farley’s House of Pianos.

Then the Toronto Symphony tried to engage pianist-composer Stewart Goodyear (below), who is famous for doing marathons in which he plays all 32 piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven in one day. He has performed several times with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.


Anyway, here is a terrific account of the story — with great reporting and writing from Anastasia Tsioulcas — that was posted on Deceptive Cadence, the outstanding classical music blog that is on NPR (National Public Radio).

Here is the link:

What do you think of this dust-up?

Was Lisitsa treated fairly?

The Ear wants to hear.

1 Comment »

  1. There’s been an extensive discussion on this topic in the website Piano World (PW) when it first was made public. Suffice it to say that neither the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) nor Ms Lisitsa come off smelling like roses in this sordid affair. It is important to note as a prefacing remark that Canada has a large Ukrainian population with both financial and political clout, and particularly in Toronto. Briefly put, I tend to believe the PW Canadian contributors, who indicated that the Toronto Symphony is not a powerful entity, and is financially vulnerable. So, in spite of what Mr Melanson said, the chances are good that a few politically and financially powerful not-to-be-named Ukrainian/Canadians forced his hand late in the game. And possibly this was deliberate: evidently the TSO knew about Ms Lisitsa’s political Internet activities for quite some time, but evidently didn’t see it as being that concerning. They were rudely, uh, corrected in that assessment.

    I’m also amazed at both the TSO and Mr Goodyear for assuming they could just simply go ahead with a substitution. Did the TSO honestly believe that Ms Lisitsa would accept payment “to keep this little matter quiet” In this day and age? And that Mr Goodyear’s last-minute replacement really would be a viable “solution”? C’mon!!

    At the same time, I can’t work up much sympathy for Ms Lisitsa either. Some of her Tweets were simply raw, insulting, obscene — in the category of what many have come to call “HateSpeak”. And in addition she seems to support Putin’s agenda to re-Russianize the Ukraine, which would obviously put her at odds with the Ukrainian/Canadians, who I suspect are predominantly pro-West in their sympathies. To then “play the martyr” and claim censorship just doesn’t square well with the content of her Tweets. What does she expect — no pushback at all with such outrageous “satire” (her words, not mine!)?

    Well, until things heat up again in Ukraine, I suspect this will blow over pretty fast (at least here in the US). Frankly, I see bad guy vs bad guy vs bad guy vs… in this scenario, and it’s certainly not a defining moment for Art vs censorship.

    Comment by Tim Adrianson — April 18, 2015 @ 8:44 am

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