Protests are now expected at every concert on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2018 tour of Europe and Israel, in the wake of Thursday night’s interruption at the Centre for Fine Arts Brussels.
Pro-Palestinian protests against the orchestra’s forthcoming tour dates in Israel interrupted the Thursday Brussels performance during the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with pianist Hélène Grimaud, causing a 25-minute delay. After leaving the stage, the orchestra returned to complete its program.
Security on the tour is being increased at every turn, whether in hotels or at the concert halls.
“We realize that BDS [the international Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement] intends to stage protests at all of our concerts throughout the tour,” read a memo by general manager Kelvin Hill circulated to orchestra members on Friday.
“We hope the increased bag checks will keep [out] any sort of signs or banners but we really can’t do anything to prevent anyone making an outburst of some kind,” the memo continued.
Hill’s memo went on to say that Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin “feels our response of leaving the stage is still the most appropriate manner to address the issue and he will lead the exit from the stage.”
“We also believe an announcement from the stage at the start of each concert will be important,” Hill wrote, “and that should be made by a representative of each hall in the native language of the concert stage. Yannick feels this is the best way to manage the message to the audience and alert them that this could/will happen during the concert so that they aren’t completely surprised if/when it happens.”
The demonstration in Brussels was not part of the U.S.-based coalition Philly Don’t Orchestrate Apartheid (PDOA), wrote PDOA spokesperson Susan Abulhawa in an email, though the organizations were in contact. PDOA has held repeated demonstrations this spring outside the Kimmel Center protesting the orchestra’s Israel tour, and protesters inside the Kimmel disrupted the May 19 performance of Tosca.
“The disruption [in Brussels] was actually a surprise to us,” Abulhawa said. “We knew they were going to protest outside, though.”
“It gives me no pleasure to disrupt the work of artists of any form, including, and especially, musicians,” she added. “But even musicians — or those who manage or lead them — are accountable for the choices they make.”
Abulhawa said she rejects “the idea that music or art [or sports] … are sacrosanct realms that must be isolated and insulated from real and shocking human suffering.”
At a meeting held Friday afternoon for musicians in Luxembourg, the second city on the European leg of the tour, no one directly expressed a desire to leave the tour, according to a spokeswoman for the orchestra. “For safety reasons I would like to keep the additional details confidential,” said vice president of communications Ashley Berke in an email.
The orchestra’s scheduled performance dates in Europe continue through June 1, with concerts in Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem June 3-5.
Classical music critic Peter Dobrin contributed to this story.