In the sentiment of Laura Ingraham’s famously penned “Shut up and Sing,” the injection of politics onto ill-prepared audiences who naively assume they will be entertained is both offensive and highly divisive. Music is music, and there is a largely misplaced assumption made by entertainers and musicians that their fans look to them for political guidance rather than simply enjoying their musical talents.
Violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy and his quartet performed Vivaldi’s Four Seasons last Thursday at the Royal Albert Hall. They were joined by the Palestine Strings in a concert broadcast live as part of the BBC Proms series. The Palestine Strings are comprised of young students attending the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music.
There’s a statement implicit within the collaboration, but it must have been too subtle for Kennedy. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a bit facile to say it, but we all know from experience in this night of music tonight that, given equality, and getting rid of apartheid, gives beautiful chance for amazing things to happen.” Just a week earlier, Kennedy pontificated on a BBC Radio4 broadcast on the topic of “apartheid” in Israel, and how it should be dealt with similarly to South Africa.
One could dissect the illogic of Kennedy’s argument, that if apartheid did actually exist in Israel, those Palestinian musicians would not have been present, but that would be asking a lot. One could address the glaring fallacy of his comment, since Israeli law guarantees Arab citizens equal rights and they are well represented in higher offices and political parties; but the simpler point is that an evening of classical music is not the environment for political statements, fallacious or not. Moreover, the BBC has aired the broadcast on BBC 3 with the comments intact, and plans to rebroadcast the concert in its entirety on BBC on Aug. 23, thus exposing an even wider unsuspecting audience tuning in to hear Kennedy’s music.
Madonna famously received boos and jeers following a bizarre political rant during an election season concert, replete with curse words and admonitions. Her audience wanted to hear her sing, not rant. Perhaps in his next concert, Nigel Kennedy will choose to highlight a current event and just as sincerely address the massacres of innocents in Syria, the brutal treatment of the citizens of Sudan, Nigeria, or Mali, or perhaps even Egypt. Perhaps he will undertake a new political cause with every concert and even donate his proceeds to such worthy causes.