Tag Archives: Nigel Kennedy

Sound and fury at the Proms over “apartheid” remark

This article first appeared in the September 2013 issue of the BRICUP Newsletter, http://www.bricup.org.uk
Proms collaboration between Kennedy and the young musicians from Palestine Strings.  Credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Proms collaboration between Kennedy and the young musicians from Palestine Strings.
Credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Violinist Nigel Kennedy sent Israel’s apologists into a mighty spin during a Promenade concert in London on August 8 when he used the word “apartheid” to refer to the life circumstances of the young Palestinian musicians with whom he was sharing the stage.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Kennedy, addressing an overwhelmingly supportive audience for his innovative performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at the Royal Albert Hall, “ it’s a bit facile to say it, but we all know from experiencing this night of music tonight, that given equality and getting rid of apartheid gives a beautiful chance for amazing things to happen.”
Kennedy, an enfant terrible of the classical music world , had not played at the Proms for years but took advantage of a radical mix of programmes this time to revisit the Four Seasons with a number of jazz musicians, his own largely Polish Orchestra of Life and 17 players from the Palestine Strings wearing trademark keffiyehs. Aged between 12 and 23, these protégées of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music demonstrated considerable artistry in one of the world’s greatest performance spaces. No wonder the Zionist reaction to their mentor’s solidarity comment was so swift and strong.
Within days the Jewish Chronicle announced with satisfaction  that the BBC intended deleting Kennedy’s remark from its edited TV broadcast of the concert. Baroness Ruth Deech, a prominent Zionist and former BBC governor, had pronounced his words “offensive and untrue” and unfit to be heard during a Prom concert. The BBC, saying they did not“fall within the editorial remit of the proms as a classical music festival,” duly obliged. The critically-acclaimed concert went out on BBC4 on August 23 without the offending comments.  
In the interim BRICUP chairman Jonathan Rosenhead had joined supporters of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, among them actress Miriam Margolyes and writer/comedian Alexei Sayle, in signing a letter contesting the BBC censorship decision. It was published on August 22 in the Daily Telegraph (scroll down through the other letters to find it here) along with a fair-minded article by the paper’s Religious Affairs editor John Bingham.
The Jewish Chronicle named BRICUP and Rosenhead in its coverage.
The issue was taken up by wider activist circles with writers’ organisation PEN and Index on Censorship weighing in in Kennedy’s defence. Rock legend Roger Waters of Pink Floyd was moved to issue a long-awaited statement calling on fellow musicians to back the boycott.
petition calling on the BBC to revoke its censorship decision  quickly garnered more than 1,200 signatures.
Music commentator Norman Lebrecht, himself deeply pro-Israel, picked up the story, calling into question the provenance of a statement in which Kennedy described his comments as “purely descriptive and not political whatsoever” anddenounced the BBC’s “imperial lack of impartiality”. The flighty genius does not own a computer or use any new-fangled digital media so the statement was issued via a musician friend’s Facebook page. As a matter of interest, Lebrecht later posted YouTube footage of the concert, generating serious and largely favourable discussion on his blog.
Matters were complicated by Kennedy’s own manager Terri Robson – presumably with an eye to her charge’s potentially lucrative future bookings – publicly suggesting that the BBC was within its rights to censor him.
Thanks to links with pro-Palestinian classical musicians who are in contact with Kennedy – he does at least own a mobile phone – we were primed and ready when he once again re-iterated his pro-Palestinian stance in an open letter to the Palestine Strings.
He observed that his comment would surely not “have been censored if it had been referring to the benefits of the demise of the apartheid in South Africa when playing with an African ensemble”.
 
Kennedy’s letter suggested that the Palestine Strings had been detained for 12 hours on their return to Palestine. This turned out to be a misunderstanding. The players were not detained but Edward Said National Conservatory of Music’s Orchestras Manager, Tim Pottier, was held for 12 hours at the Allenby Bridge. An official at the conservatory explained in a private email, “Tim is now sadly used to long interrogations and waiting at the Bridge, although the return from the Prom established a record. The occupying authorities who control all entries to Palestine know him far too well and, I suspect, do not like what he does.”
This incident, naturally enough, was not deemed newsworthy by mainstream media. Indeed, although the Telegraph’s Bingham refers to “a bitter row over alleged censorship”, others showed zero interest in the BBC censorship story.
One late entry into the fray was pundit Dominic Lawson who chose to use his valedictory column in the Independent on September 2 to slag off Kennedy and Waters as part of a sinister army of antisemites holding Israel responsible for all the evils of the world.
His attack highlights the care supporters of BDS need to take in the terminology they use. Waters has defended himself expertly when challenged, but drawing attention to Baroness Deech’s Jewish-sounding maiden name (“nee Fraenkel”) rather than referencing her vociferous Zionism, and shooting down a pig-shaped zeppelin emblazoned with a Star of David (albeit alongside other symbols of oppression), has handed ammunition to the enemies of BDS. A call from a small group of German Jews to boycott a forthcoming concert by Waters has won mainstream coverage denied to the injustice done to Kennedy.
It remains to be seen, at the time of writing, if any further controversy will follow Kennedy’s planned appearance at the Last Night of the Proms on September 7.
As he himself noted when news of the BBC’s censorship plan became known:
“ . . . the BBC has created . . . a huge platform for the discussion of its own impartiality, its respect (or lack of it) for free speech and for the discussion of the miserable apartheid forced on the Palestinian people by the Israeli government supported by so many governments from the outside world.”

NIGEL KENNEDY LOOKS FORWARD TO END OF “ZIONIST APARTHEID”

Violinist Nigel Kennedy, whose remark about the “apartheid” conditions faced by Palestinians was censored from a BBC Prom concert broadcast, has vigorously defended his comment, adding more fuel to the row about the BBC’s decision. See the Jewish Chronicle’s coverage here and here.

In an open letter to young  musicians of the Palestine Strings with whom he shared the stage to spectacular effect on August 8, Kennedy, who is billed to play at the Last Night of the Proms on September 7, wrote:

Your performance at the Royal Albert Hall was something to be proud of and demonstrated the benefits of people being treated equally as opposed to being decimated and robbed by an apartheid system.

As you have seen, there is huge support for stopping the abuse of your human rights. My short comment [about apartheid] was purely observational and humanist. It surely wouldn’t have been censored if it had been referring to the benefits of the demise of the apartheid in South Africa when playing with an African ensemble. Many thanks however to [everyone] for giving a world platform to the important discussion concerning Zionist apartheid.

I hope life is treating you ok. We all miss you over here. I’m sorry to hear that the “normal” treatment of Palestinian people by the Israeli authorities led to you being detained for twelve hours. I am looking forward to playing with you again soon and to the days when we can play on a level playing field in Palestine and throughout the world.

No further information is available at the time of writing about the detention of the young musicians Kennedy refers to.

The BBC has insisted that Kennedy’s “apartheid” remark was cut for purely editorial reasons. But an article in the Jewish Chronicle before the TV broadcast on August 23 referred approvingly to lobbying efforts by Zionists, among them Baroness Deech, a well-known pro-Israel advocate and former BBC governor.

The decision to censor has provoked serious online discussion in musical and activist circles, with writers’ organisation PEN and Index on Censorship weighing in in Kennedy’s defence. The Daily Telegraph published a letter signed by 32 Jews opposed to the BBC’s decision, among them actress Miriam Margolyes and writer/comedian Alexei Sayle.

An online petition – Don’t Censor the Palestine Prom – has gathered more than 1,100 signatures and remains open.

NIGEL KENNEDY CONDEMNS BBC’S “CENSORSHIP AND IMPERIAL LACK OF IMPARTIALITY”

The following statement has been issued on behalf of violin maestro Nigel Kennedy in response to the BBC’s decision to censor a remark he made  during a Prom concert with young Palestinian musicians on August 8 (see previous post for details).

Will the BBC now have the courage to restore Kennedy’s comment to its rightful place in the TV broadcast of the concert on August 23?  Will they continue with his scheduled appearance as one of the stars in the gala Last Night of the Proms on September 7?

As Kennedy says,  the BBC may have done us a favour by inadvertently generating “discussion of the miserable apartheid forced on the Palestinian people by the Israeli government supported by so many governments from the outside world.”

A spokesperson for Nigel Kennedy said:

“Nigel Kennedy finds it incredible and quite frightening that in the 21st century it is still such an insurmountable problem to call things the way they are. He thinks that once we can all face issues for what they really are we can finally have a chance of finding solutions to problems such as human rights, equal rights and even, perhaps, free speech. His first reaction to the BBC’s censorship & imperial lack of impartiality was to refuse to play for an employer who is influenced by such dubious outside forces.

Mr Kennedy has, however, reminded himself that his main purpose is to provide the audience with the best music he can deliver. To withdraw his services would be akin to a taxi driver refusing to drive their customer due to their political incorrectness. He, therefore, is not withdrawing his services that he owes to his audience, but is half expecting to be replaced by someone deemed more suitable than him due to their surplus of opportunism and career aspirations.

Mr Kennedy is glad, however, that by censoring him the BBC has created such a huge platform for the discussion of its own impartiality, its respect (or lack of it) for free speech and for the discussion of the miserable apartheid forced on the Palestinian people by the Israeli government supported by so many governments from the outside world.

Mr Kennedy believes his very small statement during his concert was purely descriptive and not political whatsoever.”

BBC PLANS TO CENSOR NIGEL KENNEDY PROM BROADCAST

This picture from the Proms website beautifully illustrates  the collaboration between Kennedy and the young musicians from Palestine Strings. BBC/Chris Christodoulou

This picture from the Proms website beautifully illustrates the collaboration between Nigel Kennedy and the young musicians of the Palestine Strings. BBC/Chris Christodoulou

In an astonishingly supine display of cowardice, the BBC has bowed to pressure from Zionist lobbyists and said it intends to cut out an allusion to Israeli apartheid  when it broadcasts a Promenade concert by the brilliant and mercurial violinist Nigel Kennedy.

Kennedy, a long-standing supporter of Palestinian rights, used the word “apartheid” in a brief reference to the hostile life circumstances of young Palestinian musicians performing with him at the Royal Albert Hall in London on August 8.

At the end of a warmly received re-working of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons involving Arabic, Jazz and many other styles, Kennedy said:

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a bit facile to say it, but we all know from experiencing this night of music tonight, that given equality and getting rid of apartheid gives a beautiful chance for amazing things to happen.”

The concert had indeed shown that, in the face of adversity, Palestinian musicians could hold their own on one of the most prestigious of world stages. Audience reaction on the night was rapturous and reviews by music critics in the TimesGuardianIndependent and Telegraph were overwhelmingly favourable.

An in-depth advance piece in the Financial Times had offered a valuable insight into the way music and politics are intertwined in the lives of Palestinian players.

It must have been fury at the granting of a such a high-profile platform to Palestinian cultural self-expression that sent the pro-Israel camp into a vengeful frenzy. Marcus Dysch, political correspondent at the incorrigibly Zionist Jewish Chronicle, wrote that former BBC governor Baroness Deech had demanded an apology from Kennedy for his “offensive and untrue” remarks.

Tweeting about the story he had written, Dysch celebrated a deliberate attempt to undermine the growing boycott movement directed at Israeli crimes:

“Another #BDSfail – BBC to cut Nigel Kennedy’s anti-Israel rant from Proms broadcast”

Even the JC editors thought “anti-Israel rant” was a bit strong, preferring to label Kennedy’s innocuous words a “slur”.

The BBC said: “Nigel’s comment to the audience at his late-night prom on August 8 will not be included in the deferred BBC 4 broadcast on August 23 because it does not fall within the editorial remit of the proms as a classical music festival.”
 
This excuse is similar  to the BBC’s lame justification for beeping out rap artist Mic Righteous’ shout  of “Free Palestine” on Radio 1Xtra in February 2011 and for the last-minute pulling of an advertised TV documentary about archaeology in the Holy Land earlier this year.

A campaign is now underway to stop the BBC redacting Kennedy’s offending truths from its August 23 Prom broadcast.

Sign the petition.

Comment on the Proms Facebook page

Write to BBC chairman Chris Patten (chris.patten@bbc.co.uk or lord.patten@bbc.co.uk), copying the BBC Trust (trust.inquiries@bbc.co.uk) and asking them to make sure your letter goes to Patten and relevant executives.