A Canadian pianist scheduled to perform tonight at a Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert after a Ukrainian-born pianist was dropped for tweeting "deeply offensive" comments says he was "bullied" into declining the engagement.
In a statement posted on his Facebook fan page, Toronto pianist Stewart Goodyear says he found himself "in the middle of a social media frenzy" with words of "bile and hatred" hurled at him from all sides.
- Ukrainian pianist says Toronto Symphony dropped her due to political views
- Valentina Lisitsa and TSO president talk to CBC's Carol Off about her comments and the backlash
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra initially said Goodyear would play Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2 on Wednesday and Thursday after Valentina Lisitsa was told she wouldn't be performing, but announced late Tuesday that the Rachmaninoff piece would not be played at the concerts.
'My dream was shattered'
Goodyear says he was accused of supporting censorship and what began as one of the happiest moments of his life turned into a "shattering display of mob hysteria."
Lisitsa, an ethnic Russian born in Ukraine who now lives in the United States, said in a Facebook post that she has been accused of "inciting hatred" on Twitter because of her comments on the conflict in Ukraine.
In her post, Lisitsa said she has been speaking out against the "atrocities" of the civil war, particularly those committed against the Russian minority in Ukraine's eastern and southern regions.
In an interview with RT News, a Russian television network, Lisitsa noted that she always separated music from politics.
"Partially I think it was my mistake in a way, because now my tweets have caught up with me," she told the media outlet.
Goodyear said being asked to perform Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto in Toronto with the orchestra was a dream come true.
"Yesterday, my dream was shattered," he wrote.
"With all due respect to the pianist who I was going to replace ... one must own one's opinions and words, and have the courage to defend her position without hiding behind the pseudonym, 'NedoUkarinka.'
"Free speech has consequences, and one [must] own one's position," added Goodyear. "Dragging other people who have nothing to do with her position does nothing constructive."
Refunds offered to ticketholders
The symphony said ticketholders who attend the concerts to hear Mahler's Fifth Symphony will receive a free ticket to an upcoming concert, while those who don't wish to attend can request a refund.
Toronto resident Adir Krafman — who says he's a fan of Lisitsa's playing — has already received his refund and says he's disappointed that the TSO dismissed her for her political comments.
'This is about very offensive, intolerant comments about people' - Jeff Melanson, symphony president and CEO
Krafman says he hopes Lisitsa will play a promised free concert in Toronto, but she tweeted Tuesday night that she has so far been unable to secure a venue.
Lisitsa is scheduled to play the same piece with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in June. Heather Slater, the CPP's director of artistic planning, told CBC News in a written statement that "whether or not one agrees with Ms. Lisitsa's political views" she is still scheduled to perform as a guest artist. She is scheduled to perform Friday, June 5 and Saturday, June 6.
Toronto Symphony Orchestra president and CEO Jeff Melanson says Lisitsa was replaced following complaints from "hundreds" of people and after the TSO compiled seven pages of "offensive" Twitter posts.
"This is not about free speech, this is not about a political perspective or persuasion, this is about very offensive, intolerant comments about people," Melanson said.
However, civil rights advocates said the orchestra's decision is part of a troubling phenomenon that could lead artists to self-censor.
"I think there is a problem with the message that this sends to artists that they may have trouble getting jobs or keeping jobs if they express views that are unpopular or controversial," said Cara Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.