Tonight I was at the Royal Albert Hall to hear the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta perform some of my favourite works, including Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, and the popular Bruch violin concerto with Gil Shaham as the soloist.
Unfortunately, a small number of people in the audience chose to spoil the concert with protests against Israel. During the first piece, Webern’s Passacaglia, a group started to sing some sort of protest chant. The orchestra continued to play, being the fine professional musicians they are, and the people causing the disturbance were escorted out. However, further interruptions followed, although these all occurred between pieces of music, so all the remaining musical works were heard by those who had gone to the hall to hear them, and indeed the Israel Philharmonic are an orchestra with a splendid sound.
I’m not going to link to the BBC’s story about the disruption to the Prom, as it is (at least at the time of writing) somewhat misleading as it suggests the audience booed the performers. In fact, no-one booed the performers. A small number of people in the audience, who clearly have no interest in music, shouted slogans that were more or less unintelligible, which simply caused disruption. At this, the rest of the audience booed the protesters and shouted for them to be thrown out, which they were. Each time, the performance then continued, and the performers received rapturous applause at the end.
As far as people in the hall were concerned, the protest was pretty pointless. I have no idea what the protest was about or what the message was, other than that they are, obviously, against Israel. Most people in the audience, like me, were not there because we support Israel, but simply because we are music lovers. Many people attend regularly; some even attend every single concert. So when people booed the protesters, they were on the whole not doing so because they are pro-Israeli, but because they are annoyed and angered that someone should disrupt a concert like that. Those causing the disruption probably have no idea about the Proms or classical music and do not care. However, the disruption failed to get across any message about why people should not go and see the Israel Philharmonic perform, and I suspect the majority of people leaving the hall this evening will feel at the very least a little less sympathetic towards the Palestinian cause.
Some people travel long distances to attend the Proms. Others, from all corners of the world, might be staying in London and decide to drop in to catch a concert. Often they will have no clue who is performing, but just go there for the experience. As a Proms regular myself, I know only too well the mix of music buffs and foreign visitors found in the arena. This evening it was exemplified by the young, foreign woman whom I overheard ask the man next to her who the people were who disrupted the first piece. It was her first Prom and probably her last. Hundreds of people have now had their taste of what’s ordinarily a piece of quintessentially British culture ruined. To quote a tweeting twit, I think the protesters should try thinking of people other than themselves. It’s also just as well all the idiots were in seated areas. Had they chosen to stand in the arena, I doubt they would have lasted five seconds.
There is a time and place for protesting, but a concert attended by thousands who have no connection with Israel is not it. Perhaps if they had found a more appropriate time and place, their message might have reached people. As it happened, it’s hard to see that anyone was the winner.