Thursday, May 20, 2010

After Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana & Gil Scott-Heron Cancel Israel Concerts - Time for Sun City Album 2010?

Elvis Costello's cancellation of two upcoming summer concerts in Israel is just the latest 2010 musician's repudiation of the apartheid state. Carlos Santana and Gil Scott-Heron cancelled winter and spring appearances there. Costello seems to have gone further than Santana or Scott-Heron, by issuing a long, eloquent statement:

Then there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.

I must believe that the audience for the coming concerts would have contained many people who question the policies of their government on settlement and deplore conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security.

I am also keenly aware of the sensitivity of these themes in the wake of so many despicable acts of violence perpetrated in the name of liberation.

Some will regard all of this an unknowable without personal experience but if these subjects are actually too grave and complex to be addressed in a concert, then it is also quite impossible to simply look the other way.

Sometimes a silence in music is better than adding to the static and so an end to it.

I cannot imagine receiving another invitation to perform in Israel, which is a matter of regret but I can imagine a better time when I would not be writing this.

Inside Israel, the response to this latest cancelation is more strident than the responses to the withdrawals of Santana and Scott-Heron:

Costello’s cancellation drew an angry response from his Israeli fans. “There is an enormous group of people in Israel who are humanists and hunger for peace, who yearn for a normal life and are prepared to make painful concessions. And they are also sworn culture-lovers,” one disappointed ticket-holder, Shai Lahav, wrote in the Maariv daily, noting that he had listened to Costello every day since he was 15. “With this miserable decision of yours, it is this group of people you have weakened.”

“Sometimes, a musician ought to focus just on music. At least that is a field in which he has some knowledge,” Lahav wrote.

Ah, yes, Israel, where everyone just wants to focus on the music. No doubt, somebody is preparing a Tel Aviv performance of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg as I write, eh? I seem to remember that the greatest violinist of all time, Jascha Heifetz, had a negative experience in Israel, while attempting to "just be a musician, focusing on the music":

On his third tour to Israel in 1953, Heifetz included in his recitals the Violin Sonata by Richard Strauss. At the time, Strauss was considered by many to be a Nazi composer, and his works were unofficially banned in Israel along with those of Richard Wagner. Despite the fact that the Holocaust had occurred less than ten years earlier and a last-minute plea from the Israeli Minister of Education, the defiant Heifetz argued, "The music is above these factors ... I will not change my program. I have the right to decide on my repertoire." Throughout his tour the performance of the Strauss sonata was followed by dead silence.

Heifetz was attacked after his recital in Jerusalem outside his hotel by a young man who struck Heifetz's violin case, Heifetz resorting to using his right hand to protect his priceless violins from the crowbar. As the attacker started to flee, Heifetz alerted his companions, who were armed, "Shoot that man, he tried to kill me." The attacker escaped and was never found. The incident made headlines in the press and Heifetz defiantly announced that he would not stop playing the Strauss. Threats continued to come, however, and he omitted the Strauss from his next recital without explanation. His last concert was cancelled after his swollen right hand began to hurt. He left Israel and did not return until 1970.

And current Israeli Culture Minister, Livor Limnat, seems to be taking the strength of Costello's written statement as something that needs to be sternly addressed:

Israeli Culture Minister Limor Livnat said a singer who boycotts Israeli fans “is not worthy of performing in front of them.”

When Gil Scott-Heron was approached by people encouraging him to terminate his agreement to perform in Israel, he was reminded that he had performed on the groundbreaking 1985 album, Sun City, which notified the world that prominent artists were ready and willing to commit against the South African apartheid state, even giving up some of the most lucrative contracts available at the time.

Regarding Costello's cancellation, Adam Horowitz, writing at Mondoweiss, noted that a Forward article by Nathan Gutman on this development claims:

[A] music industry insider confirmed that the winds could be shifting. The music executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity in light of his ongoing business ties with artists, said that in recent months he had approached more than 15 performing artists with proposals to give concerts in Israel. None had agreed. The contracts offered high levels of compensation. He called them “extreme, big numbers that could match any other gig.” [emphasis added]

Horowitz' Mondoweiss article is titled "What's Hebrew for 'Sun City'?" In the comments, the Mondoweiss community, one of the most fascinating commenting families around, debates whether a cultural boycott of Israel, organized to the level of that in the 1980s directed toward South Africa, might or might not be a good thing.

Madonna. Paul McCartney and Leonard Cohen have all performed recently in Israel. Elton John will perform there next month. Will Elton John sing about Bono's "Palestinian Dream"? Will Sir Elton show the courage of Heifitz, and play from banned repertoire?

Are there enough prominent artists out there, upset by continuing Israeli apartheid, West Bank expansion and by the inhumane siege of Gaza, (where the inmates receive only 40% more calories per day than did laborers at Auschwitz) to come up with an album that might rival Sun City or The Concert for Bangladesh, in cultural impact?

Perhaps not in 2010. But the album will be made soon. The impetus for breaking on through to the other side on this might happen as soon as late May or early June, when we witness the response to the nine-vessel Gaza blockade-running mission.


AKjah said...

Artists don't have to be political in their work to be sensitive to where they bring influence and also money.I hold great respect for these artists and their work.

darkblack said...

'Will Sir Elton show the courage of Heifetz, and play from banned repertoire?'

I doubt it. Outside of their subjectively narrow scope of social concerns and personal charities, most of that echelon of entertainment personalities are quite timorous when the question of saying 'no' to money over principle arises.


Ann Wine said...

Wow progressive is definitely not the word for it. This article is full of garbage. Was this just paid propoganda? Does anyone believe this stuff? By the way - there is a border bewteen GAZA & EGYPT??? Have you "progressive" people never looked at a map?????