Saturday, March 23, 2013

The South Africa Jewish Report has an article by Yossi Reshef, the Israeli-born pianist whose concert was shut down by haters at Wits University earlier this month:

The sight before me on the evening of March 12, 2013 was one I will never forget. As I was trying to overcome the sound of noise, singing and vuvuzelas coming from the outside with Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, I was already feeling quite ill from stress.

The moment the perpetrators broke in [to the hall] was somewhat of a relief; at that moment I could stop this fight knowing they had beaten me. Never before as an artist did I ever feel that I needed to fight evil and ignorance but here I was forced to confront a moment in my life where I had to face ugliness and chaos. The music stopped, chaos prevailed.

A classical pianist schedules performances months (sometimes years) in advance. This tour was planned a long time ago after months of hard work and preparation on both my side and that of the organisers.

The Israeli Embassy took no active part, but assistance was offered by Tararam, the South African/Israel Culture Fund, solely with my airfares. Anyone who knows the cost of coming to South Africa and the relatively low fees paid, would understand my gratitude when offered this assistance.

I also felt that it was important for me and for the organisers to show another side of Israel - that of culture - which is not often portrayed in the media. I was warned that there might be protests, but at no point was an “Israel Apartheid Week” (a ridiculous idea in itself, as Israel is one of the world’s finest
democracies) mentioned.

At no point was I ever asked by anyone to postpone or cancel my performances. This fact alone proves that my concerts were a mere platform on which this organised act of violence could occur.

I am a musician, not a politician. I am an Israeli (and a very proud one), but does this make me a representative of my country’s policies? The fact that in many places it is mentioned that I live in Germany (and I am very happily making music there) seems to have no relevance. Had I been living in Tel Aviv, would
that have justified any of these protests?

It is also quite obvious that the perpetrators are fully unaware of my activities which support dialogue and the peace process in the Middle East, among them my eight-year coaching of Israeli and Arab students (Palestinian, Syrian, Jordanian and so on) in the “Playing for Peace” project organised by the Apple Hill Chamber Centre in New Hampshire, USA and my concerts with an Egyptian pianist as part of the European Mozart Academy.

However, this clearly made no difference to those bent on disrupting my performances simply because I originate from Israel.

My mission as I see it, is to deal with beauty. I spend most of my waking hours trying to decipher the meaning and content of the great masterpieces, their technical solutions, and their metaphysical realm.

Interrupting with the sound of vuvuzelas at the very end of a Beethoven sonata, one of humanity’s greatest treasures, is no less than a clash of cultures. The violence and hatred seen in the perpetrators’ eyes is something I will never forget.

I feel more hurt for the many people who came to the concert than for myself. An artist can earn no greater honour than the people who display their gratitude by coming to listen to him.

And for this, in fact I am thankful.

I am thankful for all the support I received during this tour, and I want to return to this beautiful country once again to play my music.

On my concert in Stellenbosch, three days later, heavy security was put outside the hall. The demonstrators were already confronted by some of the concert-goers and the concert took place without interruption. I feel there is still hope.
There are also come details on what happened outside the Wits concert:
I have never felt so ashamed to be a Witsie tonight. The artist/pianist who lives in Berlin and carries an Israeli passport, came to Wits as one of (the Department of Music’s) scheduled concerts to give a performance in the Atrium.

Our concert organiser, Prof Malcolm Nay, acted in good faith and was assured by the acting dean, that if there were to be protests, (and it was likely that there would be), the mob would be kept behind a barrier away from the guests and audience who had paid to come and hear an international pianist of repute.

Guests and the audience arriving for the concert, were manhandled, shoved by the student protesters and utterly traumatised - some were in tears and shaking.

What values do we espouse at Wits? We talk glibly about freedom to express oneself. A protest does not mean freedom to smash windows to get into the basement, nor does it mean breaking the door to the Atrium, so that a mob can break through into the hall where a civilised classical music concert was in progress.

The music department was assured that the public and the students at the concert would be protected. A group of wellmeaning but utterly helpless security guards could not control the mob.

Our music students were traumatised by the swearing, threats and intimidations in the Atrium when the mob burst in screaming and with vuvuzelas and went berserk.

Is this the kind of freedom for which Wits stands? Is this the kind of message that Wits sends out to the public - that if we don’t like something we are entitled to disrupt and destroy it? Of course the concert had to stop. This was not a political rally - it was a concert.

As much as the students had a right to a peaceful protest, so did the concert have a right to take place.
(h/t Israel Muse)


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