Poland’s Krystian Zimerman, widely regarded as one of the finest pianists in the world, created a furor Sunday night in his debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall when he announced this would be his last performance in America because of the nation’s military policies overseas.

Before playing the final work on his recital, Karol Szymanowski’s “Variations on a Polish Folk Theme,” Zimerman sat silently at the piano for a moment, almost began to play, but then turned to the audience. In a quiet but angry voice that did not project well, he indicated that he could no longer play in a country whose military wants to control the whole world.

“Get your hands off of my country,” he said. He also made reference to the U.S. military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

I read it here.

Some people are unhappy with this. Some audience members booed and left. Some stayed but booed.

So should performers do something like this? Would this ruin your evening? If you agree with his thoughts does it then make it okay? What is a performer’s responsibility? What are his or her rights?

I’m just pondering. I won’t say what I think … because, to be honest, I can go back and forth on this one. Audience members pay to be entertained. I don’t know if they should be subjected to a lecture or not. I really don’t.

Thoughts?

9 Comments

  1. Obviously the performer feels very strongly about this, but I don’t think it’s the right place and or time (without commenting on his views in any way). Just my gut reaction, anyhow.

  2. Performances are designed to ENTERTAIN, not be soapboxes on which to air political beliefs.

    I think it was very self-indulgent of Zimerman to make this announcement before the recital. People came to hear MUSIC, not opinions.

  3. Completely inappropriate. Politics do not belong in the concert hall.

  4. Agree, not the right time & place. And on another level, he is a guest in our country. I think it’s very rude to insult your host right in front of them at their own house, even if your insults are justified. I would not visit another country and then tell the people I met there how much I disliked their country. That’s just rude.

  5. This is not an easy call for me. It wouldn’t ruin my evening, because I have a certain sympathy for his viewpoint. If I did not, then it probably still wouldn’t ruin my evening or enjoyment of the performance, but I’d probably view him differently. I do think there is a distinction between telling the audience that you don’t agree with what their government is doing and saying “how much I disliked their country.” But is it appropriate? I am not sure what I’d answer.

    I can see the view that “politics do not belong in the concert hall,” but then I ask myself – what I would think if this were a US performer in Nazi Germany in 1936 making the same type of announcement? I think there might be situations where we don’t find a political comment so inappropriate.

  6. That’s a tough comparison – had we known what was going to happen in the concentration camps would we, for example, have allowed our athletes to compete in Berlin in 1936? After all, we didn’t let them compete in Moscow in 1980, and that was because the USSR was involved militarily in Afghanistan (ironically, at the Afghan’s request, as I understand it).

    I guess my opinion (about Mr. Zimerman’s actions, not his opinions and his right to voice them) is that if he wanted to take advantage of a performance to publicize his opinions a more effective way would be to publicly turn down the opportunity to perform and state his reasons, rather than showing up and essentially blasting the audience for things over which they have no real control.

    Ok, my willpower is feeble, I have to ask – how many troops do we have in Poland, anyhow? I have definitely lost track…or maybe he’s referring to the proliferation of fast food outlets throughout Europe and the former USSR? Now that’s something to get angry about…

  7. This is a tough one.

    I was recently at another concert where similar, though much milder views were expressed by the performers. I found myself silently wishing they’d just shut up and get to the music.

    However, I understand why Mr. Zimerman would express his opinion from the stage. He wants his opinion heard, he wants to make it clear why he will no longer play in the states. And the most effective way to do so is to stand up before your final number, turn to the audience and say, this is it.

    And of course, any performer who speaks out from the stage should, in turn, expect jeers and boos from the audience.

    In the end, this is a statement that Zimerman felt the need to make. We don’t have to agree, and we can even be angry about how he chose to deliver the message. He still has a right to make a statement, just as the audience as a right to walk out.

  8. I didn’t mean it to be a comparison, exactly – more like a different context. I thought about publicizing outside the concert hall also, but perhaps he felt he would reach people on a more personal and deeply felt level that way (something to be said for that).

    As for fast food restaurants in the EU, I’m definitely with you…and against them (but I have to confess a fondness for the bathrooms in McDonalds, it’s the one place I can count on finding a free bathroom over there! just won’t eat the fast food).

  9. How nice to see so many comments here!

    I was just thinking, having visited the doc today; what if my doctor started spouting her views on something. How would I feel? Trapped, I suspect, and thinking, “This isn’t why I’m here!” What if I was taking a train ride and the conductor announced his or her opinions about something political to the entire train? I know I’d be annoyed. What if a ball player spouted of his political opinions when he went up to bat? (Well I know it can’t really happen … but what if it could?) I’d be annoyed and say, “I’m here to watch and ballgame, doggone it!”

    Because I tend to think the US is rather intrusive and all, I tend to have a bit of sympathy for Mr. Zimerman. But what if he turned to the audience and said something I totally disagreed with? What if he’d made a racist comment. Or some other hateful comment? I’m guessing I’d be furious, and say it was entirely inappropriate.

    So I suppose I would have to stick with “Not the right place and time,” if I’m going to be consistent, right?

    I also read that the first half of the concert was very uncomfortable. An audience member wrote something I read online about his coming out, sitting down, and pounding out whatever it was he played. So he not only spouted his opinions, but he gave a poor first half performance because he was angry. There have been times I’ve been angry … heck, there was the time my father was dying and I was very sad … but I attempted to give my best performance despite my personal issues.

    Okay. Ramble over and out. More than you needed to read, I’m sure, and I need my latté!