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Berlioz meets Tatchell

Barbican Classical Music 2013-2014 season.

Last night I took a break from worrying about the death of liberty in Britain. I was at the Barbican to listen to the London Symphony Orchestra play Berlioz. I came late to live classical music but it has become my favourite artistic experience. 'Music hath charms...' and all that.

The orchestra already in place, we were waiting for the conductor Mr Gergiev to arrive. I knew nothing (and cared less) about his political views. I was there only for the music. Apparently he's a pal of VVP (President Putin of Russia) and shares his views on homosexuality and Pussy Riot. Some readers may remember that in exchanges on another blog at the time I disapproved of VVP's severe response to Pussy Riot's protest. You will certainly know that I do not give a damn about the sexual activities of consenting adults.

An elegantly dressed, well-spoken chap walked up on stage. I thought it was an announcement about a change of soloist but he started to rant about Gergiev and to denounce VVP as a tyrant. He was duly removed from the stage. The security people handled it politely and efficiently but a member one of the LSO's string section principal trumpet players [corrected with apologies as per comments] almost gave him the publicity he evidently craved by pushing him. Lacking the skills of a Premier League striker in a penalty area, he failed to fall and the incident was over.

Some of the audience applauded. Some booed. Most of us sat quietly waiting for it to be over. I made a mental note to check in The Guardian tomorrow to find out who the posh dandy was. From my position in the Circle I did not recognise him, but it was Peter Tatchell

I lived in Russia for seven years and am no fan of VVP. He is no saint except by the atrocious standards of their political class. However he is the recognised Head of a sovereign State which is an imperfect and broadly friendly democracy. It is also without our massive debts, has a balanced budget and a much better economic outlook in the years to come than the whole EU combined. We need Russia more than she needs us.

Even a busybody nation unwilling to let go of its long-lost imperial status as a global policeman must surely let such a country be? For myself, based on my own experiences there, I am confident Russians will sort out their own issues in their own way - perhaps rather better then we will. They are on a wobbly trajectory from Marxist authoritarianism to a free-ish market democracy. We sometimes seem to be heading the other way.

Based on an admittedly limited sample of those I befriended, I consider Russians to be amongst the most open-minded and well-educated people in the world. They are groping their way towards a better society in the face of such problems as endemic political corruption. It says a lot that some of my Russian friends liked VVP - to the extent they liked any politician - because they thought he stole less than previous leaders. Whatever the truth about him, the Russians are a proud and sensitive people resistant to outside interference. Usually it will be counter-productive. Nothing will unite them faster around Putin than foreigners telling them how to live.

Campaigners from outside would therefore do better to advise their Russian counterparts on tactics than to engage in grandstanding themselves. They should also refrain from financial or other material support as that will simply discredit their friends in the eyes of their countrymen.

During the interval, I wondered aloud on Twitter whether anything like this had happened to Russian musicians in London during the Stalin era. The Tatchells of those days were craven suck-ups to Uncle Joe. This, though he made VVP look thoroughly modern on most issues as, in fairness, did the British Left at the time. Tatchell, who famously has no life outside politics, has been tweeting at me since and trying to entrap me into saying something against one of the Left's protected species so that he can tweet "Aha! You're a ****ist". Just what you would expect from him really. Why reason when you can stereotype and dismiss en masse?

I would have been happy to see him with a banner in public space outside the Barbican. I defend to the death his right to say what he said. I simply think it was discourteous to the orchestra to usurp their stage. We were there, in a private space with paid admission, to see them play music, not him play politics.


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Quite. They must be laughing at us now though. Their ideology is driven by violent expropriation (aka theft when anyone else does it). Their campaigning methodology is based on fomenting hateful divisions between classes, races, sexes and sexual orientations. Their idea has killed more than any other in history and has impoverished billions. Yet here we are complaining about their manners. It's like commenting on how Stalin held his knife and fork, isn't it?


The left have some strange ideas about public space, the term as they use it means little more than "places we think we should be free to act as we wish but those we disapprove of shouldn't".

The worst offenders here are the pro Palestinian activists who reserve to themselves the right to disrupt the businesses and leisure activities of anyone with links to Israel, as they did at the Wigmore Hall with the Jerusalem Quartet


My apologies to the gentleman concerned and my thanks to him and his colleagues for a great performance. You have made concisely the point I have been trying to get over in my verbose way to Tatchell and his band of obsessives.

It's not that I disagree with him about Russian policy on homosexuals (although query whether foreigners protesting will do any good as it's entirely a matter for the Russian people, who tend to react badly to outside pressure). It's only that I thought him childish and narcissistic to make his point as he did.

He's a man with no life outside his political obsessions and no sense of balance. I am sure he genuinely does not know he has done wrong. I rather fear he thinks himself of such superior virtue as to be incapable.

His actions were a discourtesy to the artists. He keeps saying he was polite, but he's ignoring context. I could reasonably protest an action of his on the pavement outside his apartment, but it would be rude - however well-spoken my words - to force or trick my way inside for the purpose. If he thinks the hall was a public place because so many people were there, he's forgetting they paid for admission.

He could have made his point with a banner on the street. I might even have signed a polite and well-worded petition for the Russian Embassy though I am fairly sure the use of the word "tyrant" would not have done much good. Tatchell forgets that the Duma passed the legislation he objects to. Putin is a powerful man but he's not a Tsar or a Soviet-era party leader.

I have made such errors of judgement myself and blogged about them here - spoiling a friend's dinner party by politically attacking another guest, for example. I apologised for my behaviour because it was wrong. I certainly didn't tell my hostess she's lucky I was not more aggressive (richly though he might deserve it at another place and time).


It wasn't a string player you stated you were in the circle but one of our Principal Trumpet players. Who hails from Yorkshire ... Politics outside art venues please.


Just like Tatchell they are entitled to their views and to demonstrate in support of them, but not to invade a private space. Had they performed on the street outside the church and him outside the concert hall, I would have applauded in both cases. He is a lauded 'activist' today and rightly at liberty to make his case. They were imprisoned for far longer than their actions deserved. I can't agree they "got off lightly".

james higham

Some readers may remember that in exchanges on another blog at the time I disapproved of VVP's severe response to Pussy Riot's protest.

It was two things - the blasphemy in the sense of doing dirt on things others, inc a nation called dear and the cynically manipulated way they did it, not unlike TaTu.

They looked at the Russian soul [not the Soviet soul] and thought - now what would be the most offensive thing, not to Putin etc. but to the older generations, middle Russia which has suffered for generations. What could we do to do dirt on them?

And they did it. They got off lightly - they should have been put away and the key thrown away.

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