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A deeply counter-productive protest

Today was our last day at the Edinburgh Festival, overshadowed by yesterday's extraordinary protest at the Queen's Hall. It is difficult to imagine a more peace-loving, well-behaved audience than that which frequents the Festival's finest chamber music. Most of us not only were polite to the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign demonstrators on the pavement, but also took and read their handbills, afterwards submitting cheerfully to the unprecedented bag search on our way in to the concert.

By the time the performance of Haydn and Smetana by this talented and delightful young quartet had been disrupted by loud, ignorant shouting not once, but five times over, systematically, we were all feeling a lot less tolerant. The accusations of "Gaza genocide", "Israeli army musicians" and worse were wholly misplaced. Good grief, would Barenboim have lent his dear dead wife's cello to Zlotnikov if he didn't approve of the cellist both personally and politically? And with two quartet members also belonging to the Arab-Israeli West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, what possible purpose did it serve to shout abuse and spoil the concert for 900 music-lovers who had paid to hear this wonderful, but uncontroversial, programme of classical music?

Since the protesters had bought seats scattered about the hall, the authorities were powerless to know where the next outbreak would come from. Indeed members of the audience started looking sideways at the stranger sitting next to them, wondering if it was safe to continue listening. The event security staff had to manhandle the protesters in order to eject them, so elderly concert-goers had to clear the row to avoid being injured in the fracas. The audience demonstrated its hostility to the protest with slow handclaps and shouts of "get them out", but the noise and disruption still meant that the quartet had to leave the platform each time a protest surfaced. Fortunately they resumed thereafter, apparently undaunted, with unruffled professionalism, so we heard most of the Haydn and Smetana twice: great value!

We also had the benefit of impromptu speeches from the viola player, and from Jonathan Mills, who reminded us that the Festival's theme was "Artists without borders" and pointed out that they had hosted performers from Iran and Palestine, as well as Israel. Alas, the appeal against interruptions went unheeded until the second half, when we heard the Brahms in blissful peace.

The audience demonstrated their whole-hearted support by sitting out the concert (which lasted nearly three hours) and closing with a standing ovation. I've never witnessed such a thing at the Queen's before, and it showed how much damage the misplaced SPSC protest did to their cause. We were rewarded with an encore of the wonderful slow movement of Borodin's first String Quartet.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 30, 2008 10:17 PM.

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