Blimey, who'd have thought you'd get this sort of thing in Wigmore Street? The Jerusalem Quartet found themselves at the centre of a political protest yesterday as they played Mozart and Ravel at the Wigmore Hall. The ruckus was such that the BBC pulled the live broadcast and played a record instead. You can find viewpoints of the protest from both sides of the fence here and here. My chums at Classical Music report that the Wigmore's head honcho says:
"I want to make the point very strongly that we can’t possibly condone any kind of disturbance to an artistic event. Wigmore Hall is a totally non-political organisation, and by disrupting performances the protesters completely take away the whole meaning of an artistic event, which is something that transcends politics."
Let's think about that for a second: "an artistic event... is something that transcends politics."
Can the Arts really shut themselves off from politics? Certainly the Great and Good are happy to lobby for funding when there's a general election in the air. It's a bit difficult to claim that the Jerusalem Quartet stand apart from politics when their biography points out their proud serving in the Israeli military. They are promoted as ambassadors for Israel, and so I'm not sure anyone can reasonably complain if people who oppose that country's policies want to protest at their event.
I'm not standing up for the protesters' views here. I don't know enough to be able to offer an informed opinion on that. But I do think the right to protest is a valuable and important one that's under attack in this country at the moment, and I applaud anyone who stands up for their right to demonstrate in a non-violent fashion. I also have to admire the quartet for having the balls to complete their programme in the face of the protest.
Art encompasses (or at least can encompass) a larger world than political squabbles, but it's at best naive, at worst disingenuous to say that it's too high to concern itself with such everyday concerns. Music certainly has been called into the service of some very dubious acts in history. It's important for artists and musicians to engage with the world around them. The Wigmore Incident (should we call it Wigmoregate perhaps?) demonstrates that you can't shut out the world. Art has to confront if it is to have any meaning beyond a bit of entertainment for the middles classes. At the very least the Wigmore Hall audience must have been considerably more engaged in the moment than some people lead me to believe is often the case.
Want to hear this exciting event for yourself? You can't: the concert was supposed to be broadcast live on Radio 3 but got pulled when the disruption occurred. The quartet later recorded patches so when it's repeated all you'll hear is the music, which seems a tad of a Stalinist approach to the historical record by the Beeb.