Canada: Controversy over concert cancellation sparks public debate

13 April 2015


The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has decided to cancel performances by the Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa over what it calls her “deeply offensive language” and “inciting hatred” on Twitter because of her comments on the conflict in Ukraine. This has created an intense public debate in the country’s media and social media about artsfreedom and self-censorship.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra president and CEO Jeff Melanson confirmed to The Canadian Press that Valentina Lisitsa’s scheduled concerts had been cancelled due to comments she made on social media.

“This is not about free speech, this is not about a political perspective or persuasion, this is about very offensive, intolerant comments about people,” Melanson told The Canadian Press.

Civil rights advocates in Canada commented that the incident is part of a troubling phenomenon that could lead artists to self-censor.

“I think there is a problem with the message that this sends to artists that they may have trouble getting jobs or keeping jobs if they express views that are unpopular or controversial,” Cara Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association was quoted as saying by The Canadian Press.

“I’m totally for freedom of speech, for freedom of discussion, of argument, of heated argument. That’s what I’ve been doing on Twitter, delivering the other point of views. But what I didn’t expect that would ever happen is that my music would be silenced,” Valentina Lisitsa told RT News, a Russian television network.

Lisitsa had promised to perform a free concert in Toronto for her fans and supporters, but then tweeted that she thought she’d found a venue for the free concert but they backed out after being ‘threatened’.

» The Canadian Press | Vancouver Observer – 8 April 2015:
Symphony of Censorship: Twitter reacts to Ukranian pianist’s cancelled gig

“PEN Canada deeply regrets the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s decision to cancel the April 8–9 appearances of Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa due to a controversy over her political views on the conflict in the Ukraine.

“Ms. Lisitsa’s politics have nothing whatsoever to do with the TSO or her music,” said Philip Slayton, President of PEN. “It is a grave error of judgment, deeply contrary to freedom of expression, to cancel Ms. Lisitsa’s performances because her views may offend some.” Slayton called on the TSO to apologize to Lisitsa and reschedule her performances.””

» PEN Canada – 8 April 2015:
TSO Should not Censor Ukrainian-Born Pianist Lisitsa

  UPDATE | AUGUST 2015:  
» NL Times – 28 August 2015:
KLM bans pianist who allegedly praised shooting down MH17
“Airline KLM is removing music by Ukrainian-American pianist Valentina Lisitsa from the in-flight entertainment program following a complaint from a passenger stating that the pianists supports Ukrainian separatists and “celebrates terrorists responsible for taking down MH17″”

Home / News / Canada: Controversy over concert cancellation sparks public debate