I made an engaging discovery last night. You know… bored out of your skull, sick of all your old shows, and looking for something to help ride you through the pandemic. It was one of those nights…

Luckily I fell back on one of my staples, namely, Beethoven piano sonatas, but this time around I discovered a new player. And it seems I’m a real latecomer because she has zillions of YouTube hits.

After listening I did a Wikipedia search to see if Valentina Lisitsa was a known entity. That she surely is. I guess I’ve fallen behind the times a bit in the classical world. There was a time when I was up on all the latest. But my interests have branched out, and you cannot be current on everything… unless you’re God perhaps.

What struck me about her Wikipedia entry is how the Toronto Symphony banned one of her performances due to her political views about Ukraine and Russia.

Political views[edit]

Lisitsa has received criticism for her vocal opposition to the Ukrainian government and support of pro-Russian separatists since the 2014 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine and the ensuing armed conflict.[18] In April 2015, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra cancelled concerts with Lisitsa, citing her “provocative” online remarks on her Twitter account; the orchestra initially did not specify which tweets or other commentary it believed crossed a line.[19][20] Later, on 8 April 2015, the CEO of Toronto Symphony, Jeff Melanson provided a PDF document of seven pages listing the most “offensive” tweets. Melanson alleged that the document would “help people understand why we made this decision, and understand as well how this is not a free speech issue, but rather an issue of someone practicing very intolerant and offensive expression through Twitter.”[21]

In response, the Toronto Star criticized the orchestra’s decision in an editorial, noting that, “Lisitsa was not invited to Toronto to discuss her provocative political views. She was scheduled to play the piano. And second, banning a musician for expressing “opinions that some believe to be offensive” shows an utter failure to grasp the concept of free speech.”[22] Lisitsa said that the orchestra threatened her if she spoke about the cancellation.[23]

According to Paul Grod, then president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress: “Ms. Lisitsa has been engaged in a long campaign on social media belittling, insulting and disparaging the people of Ukraine as they face direct military aggression at the hands of the Russian Federation“. Grod elaborated that “Most disturbing are Ms. Lisitsa’s false allegations that the government of Ukraine is “Nazi“, and stating that the Government of Ukraine is setting up ‘filtration camps.'” The New Jersey-based Ukrainian Weekly has described her postings as “anti-Ukraine hate speech.”[9][19] In response she commented that “satire and hyperbole [are] the best literary tools to combat the lies”.[9][19]

Should we ban performers because we don’t agree with their politics and tactics?

Hmm. I’m not sure. But I think it would be interesting to view the financial portfolios of the Toronto Symphony members and TSO admin. Are they entirely above economic exploitation and riding on the backs of others? Are any of us? And what about those wealthy donors to the symphony—donors that the symphony not only enthusiastically encourages but actually lauds in public statements. Where’s all that cash coming from?

Taken years before the pandemic. Note the empty seats.

Should the International Space Station stop cooperating with Russia because someone doesn’t like Putin’s policies on the ground?

For that matter, should Canadian hockey teams boycott Russian teams? Hell, we played Russia back in ’72 when they were still communist Soviets.

I think we all know the answers to the above questions. And like space and sports, classical music has the potential to transcend politics.

But clearly, the Toronto Symphony did not agree.

No wonder that symphony is in dire straits. With almost no noteworthy recordings and in deep financial trouble, maybe it’s time the TSO dropped the ‘holier than tho’ attitude and stuck to the music.

After all, practice makes perfect. And believe me, as someone who has been at Roy Thompson Hall many times, the TSO is very far from perfect!

That’s something the internet has made abundantly clear. But even before listening to classical music on the web, most of my classical purchases and library borrows were anything but the TSO. And when I did go to Roy Thompson Hall, I was just filling in for someone who could not make it. I’m cheap and could not let a good ticket go to waste.

Maybe we can blame the TSO’s mediocrity on the cold weather. Nobody of note wants to live here!

Whatever the cause, It would be a frosty Friday before I shelled out of my own pocket to hear these sometimes alright, other times limp players play.