Valentina Lisitsa’s triumphant return to Toronto

RCM_Lisitsa Many of us had the pleasure to attend the concert of the Ukrainian pianist Valentina Lisitsa, which took place on Sunday, April 10, 2016 at the Koerner Hall of the Royal Conservatory of Music.

It was an undeniable landmark event both for Valentina and for our community when common sense and justice prevailed over attempts to politicize arts in Canada. Certain individuals from a small but loud group of Russophobic Ukrainian political lobbyists launched an unprecedented campaign of political persecution of the pianist through active engagement of extremist nature in social networks. Since 2015, these ideologically driven activists have put an unparalleled pressure on the administration of various concert halls in Toronto in order to force them to cancel Lisitsa’s performances in their venues.

This year, we put a lot of efforts to make sure that Valentina’s concert finally took place without incident. The Russian Congress of Canada proactively sent letters to the concert organizers where we expressed our gratitude for providing the stage for Valentina Lisitsa’s performance. We also got in touch with Valentina to offer our moral support for her artistic professionalism and civic stance.

Valentina Lisitsa’s concert surpassed all our expectations. The talented pianist enchanted the audience with her virtuoso performance of the all Russian masterpieces by Scriabin, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. In his review of Lisitsa’s performance published in the National Post newspaper and on the New Cold War portal, a renowned Canadian music critic Arthur Kaptainis noted that it is impossible to deny ” the most complicated technique, the extensive sound palette and comprehensive scope” demonstrated by Lisitsa.

Unfortunately, to our great dismay and just as Arthur Kaptainis noted in his review, we have to express our regret over the decision of the Royal Conservatory of Music chairs to include, in the printed program, a gratuitous disclaimer that once again brought into focus Valentina’s political views on Ukraine, and the way she expresses them. Although overall this statement contains a positive message in support of democratic right to freedom of speech in Canada, the choice of words can’t help but cause bewilderment in relation to the statements that Valentina Lisitsa has allegedly made about the Ukrainian people. Here is the excerpt from the note:

« Last year, Ms. Lisitsa chose to exercise her right to free speech in the most public of ways. The tone and nature of these expressions were crude, inflammatory, and highly disrespectful. Ms. Lisitsa chose not only to express her opinion but also to denigrate, humiliate, and insult the people of a nation».

We certainly understand a rather delicate position in which the administration of the Royal Conservatory of Music finds itself in due to the pressure from certain individuals and organizations. More so, we are grateful for the determination to hold the concert despite increased counterstand. However, we want to emphasize our strong disagreement with such inflammatory accusations against the famous pianist. As a Ukrainian, Valentina was deeply affected by what had happened in her homeland – an armed coup and ensuing full-scale war waged by the Ukrainian government forces against people of Donbass. Her deeply passionate and, perhaps, at times hard-hitting statements were always directed against the Ukrainian government that illegally seized power and who does not represent the interests of the people in the country. Being Ukrainian herself, Lisitsa never intended to insult the people of Ukraine, who are also the victims of the current junta.

Our community also expresses our deepest gratitude to Mr. Mehta, the Executive Director of Performing Arts of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. From the very beginning, Mr. Mehta took a principled position on signing Valentina Lisitsa to perform in Canada. He spoke out against censorship and persecution of artists based on their political views. Certainly, in each case we have to draw a clear line beyond which political views of an artist cease to be his or her own private matter.

In this respect, we would like to remind his last year’s telephone interview, when Mr. Mehta said that he believed that drawing such a line should come from our Canadian legal system, and not from political lobby groups. In his words, “…If there is legally defined hate speech or incitement to violence, I think, clearly, there is a line there. And if that is the case, then of course… that’s why we have courts and police.”

On censorship, Mr. Mehta said, “We certainly don’t want to scuttle anyone’s ability to express themselves. Part of who we are as presenters is to have alternative views on our stages. In this case, it’s not her point of view on stage – she’s playing Rachmaninov.” He also added, “I think the issue here is it’s such an emotional issue for people from Western and Eastern Ukraine, of which there are many here in Toronto, so it’s very hard to have a rational debate about this where people are losing loved ones, and so I think if we can divorce ourselves from the emotion and really look at the issue of artists’ rights, hopefully, we can come up with some kind of rational policy decision.”

The full article can be read here: http://www.musicaltoronto.org/2015/04/15/feature-the-politics-of-music-programming/.

We, the admirers of Valentina Lisitsa’s talent, are proud of her high civic stance and love for her country of origin, for the honor and freedom of which she speaks up.