Valentina Lisitsa is a famous pianist who also actively comments in respect to the Ukrainian conflict on her Twitter account. She was scheduled to perform at the Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto on April 8 and 9 but the Toronto Symphony Orchestra decided to silence her music and her political views.
Members and friends of the RCC strongly disagree with this bias approach and expressed their resentment in an open letter addressed to the TSO.
Dear Mr. Melanson,
We, the Russian Congress of Canada, on behalf its members and friends, in no uncertain terms, express our total disagreement with your recent decision to prevent Valentina Lisitsa from playing at the concert.
Not only you have deprived the public of the opportunity to listen to one of the most prominent pianists of the day, but you also crossed boundaries when making your decision based on denunciation of her comments on social networks by a group of people who supposedly found her views derogatory.
In your interview with Musical Toronto on April 8, 2015 you stated: “Torontonians approach us with great concern […] Over the course of the last four months the concern over these deeply offensive and intolerant tweets has built to a chorus of a very large group of Torontonians, of not just Ukrainians. We are in the world’s more ethnically diverse city – a tolerant city.” You also revealed a “seven-page document” that contained Ms. Lisitsa’s Tweets and a link to an article written by Adrian Bryttan for a Ukrainian website in Edmonton.
Both your statement and your sources of information that influenced your decision making are questionable, to say the least.
If you speak of tolerance, then your tolerance is completely one-sided, since you did not show any towards Ms. Lisitsa after she voiced her opinion on the issue. It is clearly not the concern of the TSO or its administration, especially when it is occurring in another country. There is absolutely no relation between the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as a cultural institution and political events in Ukraine or Ms. Lisitsa’s position on the subject. Her tweets referred strictly to the situation in Ukraine, where she was born. For obvious reasons, she cannot remain silent about this.
Considering the complex nature of the Ukrainian conflict, hundreds of people have resorted to making similar comments not only on Twitter but other social networks as well. Ms. Lisitsa is far from being an exception. If we follow your kind of logic, a huge number of individuals all over the world should be fired from their jobs and dismissed from their work places for making allegedly controversial comments on the political situation in Ukraine.
We do not believe that musicians who come to perform for the TSO fall under legal or moral obligations to refrain from commenting on social networks in their spare time. We also do not believe that the TSO administration should take on the task of musicians’ character assassination and become the judge of their social activities.
You are trying to persuade the public that politics has nothing to do with your decision. Yet, it remains political one way or another. You bowed to the pressure of those who consider Ms. Lisitsa a vicious enemy due to her strong opposition to the current Kiev regime. The TSO just took another step in creating an environment in Canada, where people are “to say only good things or say nothing at all” when it comes to the military coup and the civil war in Ukraine.
As we know, favouritism and ostracism are unacceptable in Canadian society. However, this is exactly what the TSO administration demonstrated in the case of Ms. Lisitsa. Unfortunately, you favoured a relatively small group of people, who are intolerant of any opinion that is different from theirs. You ostracized Valentina Lisitsa because she did not go along with the views of your benefactors. As the media reported: “Ms. Lisitsa showed The Globe and Mail an e-mail from her agent, Tanya Dorn at IMG Artists, dated Feb. 27, in which Ms. Dorn said she had spoken with Loie Fallis, TSO vice-president of artistic planning, who told her (in Ms. Dorn’s words) a ‘Ukrainian donor wants to pull his sponsorship.’.”
It seems as though your administration has inappropriately tried to take over the role of the Supreme Court of Canada when declaring her comments as “hate speech” without any court verdict and your legal representation inappropriately tried to speak on behalf of Canada Customs and Immigration and CBSA when they forwarded an e-mail to Ms. Lisitsa saying that she “could be stopped at the border … and deemed ‘unacceptable’ to Canada.” That is a broad range of responsibilities for a music company, isn’t it?
Despite your denial in the media, it appears that the reason for cancelling Ms. Lisitsa’s performance was to ensure that the TSO does not lose one of its sponsors. You might have saved your sponsor but you have lost a lot more. You have lost your reputation not only in Canada but throughout the world. You have lost dozens of your patrons and supporters. You have lost peaceful existence and non-affiliation with political events and, most certainly, the opportunity to host renowned artists in Toronto, many of whom will now think twice before coming here.
We, the Russian Congress of Canada, stand with thousands of people both in Canada and abroad who condemn your actions. We also hope that your action did not set a negative precedent of mixing politics into other aspects of human life.