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Calgary Philharmonic’s guest pianist hits sour note with members of Ukrainian community
Ryan White, CTV Calgary
Published Friday, June 5, 2015 5:23PM MDT
Last Updated Friday, June 5, 2015 6:40PM MDT
The steps outside of the Jack Singer Concert Hall will host demonstrations throughout the weekend as members of Calgary’s Ukrainian community protest the decision of Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) officials to allow a controversial guest to perform.
World renowned pianist Valentina Lisitsa is scheduled to perform selected works of Rachmaninoff and Mussorgsky on Friday and Saturday evening as part of the CPO’s Masterworks Series.
It is Lisitsa’s politically motivated social media posts, not her musical stylings, that have some Calgarians of Ukrainian descent up in arms.
Dr. Inna Platonova, the founder of Russian Speaking Canada for Peace and the organizer of this weekend’s demonstrations, was once a fan of Lisitsa and introduced her young son to the pianist’s works.
“When I started seeing what kind of material Lisitsa is tweeting, my stomach just turned,” said Platonova. “I couldn’t believe that the type of person with such talent - a performer, a musician, an artist - would be going that route."
Platonova expects a group of between 50 and 100 protesters outside of the Jack Singer Concert Hall this weekend to oppose Lisitsa’s ‘promotion of violence and the spreading of hateful messages’ which includes the comparing of Ukrainians to dog waste.
“I don't think this is acceptable in a society like Canada where we strive to be tolerant and to be inclusive to everyone of different ethnicities.”
In December, Lisitsa, who was born in Ukraine but relocated to the United States nearly 20 years ago, expressed on Twitter her displeasure with the current Ukrainian government, the treatment of the country’s Russian minority, and her belief the citizens of Ukraine’s west were unwilling to accept progress.
Lisitsa stated the western part of Ukraine dreamed of “a hut with an orchard” instead of pursuing “industrial manufacturing might”. The pianist’s Twitter account included photos depicting Ukrainian politicians as pigs.
The controversy surrounding Lisitsa’s social media posts prompted the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) to drop the pianist from her scheduled performances in April. Officials with the TSO said the decision to replace Lisitsa was in response to her “deeply offensive” comments.
On her Facebook account, Lisitsa said her removal from the TSO shows was a reaction to complaints from a “small but aggressive lobby claiming to represent Ukrainian community”.
In a statement emailed to CTV, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra explained its decision to allow Lisitsa to perfrom.
“We understand that Ms. Lisitsa’s comments have offended members of the community, and of course we appreciate the sensitivity of political situations such as this one,” said Marie Pollock, CPO communications manager. “At the same time, as an orchestra, our business is to make music. The CPO engages guest artists based on artistic merit, and cannot take a position on an artist’s political views.”
“As a result, we will honour our contract with Ms. Lisitsa. It is important for us to keep our commitment to our patrons, who have been looking forward to these performances.”