Political protest descended on the Royal Albert Hall last night. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s Proms concert was interrupted by pro-Palestinian hecklers to the extent that BBC Radio 3’s live broadcast was taken off air.
Trouble had been anticipated. The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign encouraged a boycott of the concert, citing the orchestra’s relationship with the Israeli army. There were protests outside the hall from both camps, while the Proms management beefed up security in an attempt to keep out trouble-makers.
Unsurprisingly it was a futile attempt. Different pockets of protestors made a nuisance throughout the evening, with some holding up banners and singing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Around 30 were removed by security. Meanwhile, disgruntled Prommers booed the interruptions and the orchestra, and conductor Zubin Mehta, soldiered on.
This kind of protest is by no means new in classical music. Last year the Jerusalem Quartet was severely barracked at the Wigmore Hall in a similar demonstration. Ahead of this concert, musicians, including members of the London Philharmonic, wrote to the Independent stating their opposition to the Israel Philharmonic's invitation to the Proms.
Commentators have been quick to condemn the protests though. Veteran classical music writer Norman Lebrecht blogged last night: “We now know that it is possible for two dozen well-organised agitators to wreck a cultural event at will. There is nothing that can be done to prevent them. Nor does it make any sense to engage with them in any meaningful way.”
For a thoughtful view on the whole issue, another classical music journalist, Jessica Duchen, has some interesting things to say.