jewin' the fat

You Can’t Stop the Music
November 20, 2009, 8:24 AM
Filed under: Comment, Israel | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Usually my Thursdays are a mixture of Glee-ful indulgence and some kind of beer-based afternoon beverage, but yesterday I pushed my cultural boundaries and instead of watching over-styled pop-musical theatre on a box, I sat in a blissfully cool auditorium and listened to The Jerusalem Quartet and Zvi Plesser.

For those not of the classical music ilk, the Quartet is four guys with string instruments, blasting out Handel, Schubert and Vine. Zvi Plesser is an Israeli cellist with a 200-year-old cello and hands that are insured for a small fortune – a Julliard graduate, and all round musical genius. Zvi was brought out to Australia especially, but Musica Viva have counted Alexander Pavlolvsky, Sergei Bresler, Amichai Grosz and Kyril Zlotnikov as Quartet in residence for the past four years, and this concert series was their farewell to Australian audiences across the country.

Bringing down the average age of the audience by about 40 years, I turned up on a stinking hot afternoon, and while I was waiting for my friend to turn up with tickets, I noticed three middle-aged ladies with placards and pamphlets congregating near the entrance. Yep, you guessed it, the protestors were out in force, and after a few minutes, a fourth joined her fellow rabble rouser posse, and they proceeded to hand out flyers to patrons entering the venue.

So after unsubtly walking past a couple of times, I eventually went over and asked for a flyer.

“We do hope you enjoy the Jerusalem Quartet’s performance this evening. Music can so lift up the spirit!” read the opening sentence. Apparently it’s also a propaganda tool used by governments to reel you in with promises of beautiful cello duets and sexy Russian men who know how to gently rest a lady-shaped instrument on their shoulders, and then leave you with convenient impressions that everyone in Jerusalem plays the viola and can read music.


I am all for diplomatic/economic/political sanctions on a country, but you cannot tell me that boycotting (read: refusing to attend, not being unable to afford to attend) a music recital, or film, or concert series will in any way be a useful, effective means of voicing your concern with that country’s government policy.

Boycotts are not a useful, meaningful way of engaging with an issue or igniting the passion of the masses – it is a complete disengagement, a refusal to enter into discussion, and a means of stifling debate. It tells our children that some people are not worth talking to, or being heard – and that is not the way to inspire tolerance and understanding in the next generation. If Barack “Talkin’ bout a revolution” Obama is right, the only way forward is not through cultural boycotts, but through measured and sincere dialogue.

With that being said, if you are going to boycott a nation-state’s musicians and artists, you better be aware of what it is you are giving up – amongst other things, like a ripsnorter of a night out, getting crunk to Schubert y’all.


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