Ukrainian-born pianist says Toronto performance cancelled over political views
A screenshot of the message and photo posted Monday by Ukrainian-born pianist Valentia Lisitsa (Facebook)
Jesse Tahirali, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, April 6, 2015 8:13PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, April 6, 2015 8:38PM EDT
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has cancelled an upcoming performance by Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa, apparently over her outspoken political views.
Lisitsa, who was born in Kiev, Ukraine and now lives in the U.S., was scheduled to play at Roy Thomson Hall on April 8 and 9 with conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste. As of Monday, the venue’s website now lists Stewart Goodyear in her place on piano.
Late Monday morning, Lisitsa wrote a lengthy post on her Facebook page telling her fans about the pro-Russia views she shares on Twitter under the handle “NedoUkraïnka,” and how the TSO was set to replace her in the symphony’s planned performance of Rachmaninoff Concerto #2.
“Toronto Symphony is going TO PAY ME NOT TO PLAY because I exercised the right to free speech,” she wrote. “Yes, they will pay my fee but they are going to announce that I will be unable to play and they already found a substitute.”
A statement from TSO president and CEO Jeff Melanson seemed to confirm Lisitsa’s account, saying the pianist was replaced “due to ongoing accusations of deeply offensive language by Ukrainian media outlets.”
“Valentina Lisitsa’s provocative comments have overshadowed past performances,” the statement read, possibly referring to a small protest that formed outside of a Pittsburgh performance last year.
“As one of Canada’s most important cultural institutions, our priority must remain on being a stage for the world’s great works of music, and not for opinions that some believe to be deeply offensive.”
“I am not a bloodthirsty person, but....My fellow compatriots, arise! Stop this gang of thieves before it's too late,” she also wrote, apparently in response to the country’s farm land being put up for sale.
As a musician, Lisitsa has a fairly large following online. In addition to more than 9,000 Twitter followers, the pianist has 177,000 YouTube subscribers. Sixteen videos of her performances have more than one million views, with her performance of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata eclipsing nine million views.
As of Monday evening, Lisitsa’s Facebook post about her cancelled Toronto performance had been shared nearly 1,500 times, prompting a wave of backlash on the TSO’s own page.
A photo of the artist with duct tape superimposed over her mouth covered the comment section of many of the symphony’s posts, along with the words “Toronto Symphony, let Valentina play.”
The majority of posts expressed concern over the decision, citing the decision as an affront to free speech.
“Are you an orchestra or political censors?” wrote one commenter. “How can you discriminate against a prominent musician just because your government has different opinion than she.”
Others, though, supported the symphony’s decision to replace Lisitsa.
“This isn't censorship, this is exactly what is necessary,” said another commenter. “Promoting hate speech by letting this woman play in Toronto would be horrible on the part of the TSO. Good job!!!!”