29 March 2010

Transmission of today’s BBC Radio 3 Wigmore Hall lunchtime recital, given by the Jerusalem String Quartet, was abandoned after a group of anti-Israeli protesters infiltrated the hall and disrupted the performance with shouts, chants and bursts of song. The concert continued once the demonstrators had been removed, but the broadcast was replaced by a performance of the same repertoire by the Salomon Quartet.

Wigmore Hall director John Gilhooly told CM that there had been pickets outside the hall earlier in the morning, so some sort of disturbance was not entirely unexpected, especially in the light of a similar protest that took place when the Jerusalem Quartet appeared at the Edinburgh festival a few years ago. ‘But today’s demonstration was evidently extremely well planned,’ he said.

‘The protesters must have bought their tickets for the concert a long time ago, because they were all sitting in individual seats in different parts of the hall. One stood up and started singing and shouting, and while we were removing him another one started up somewhere else, and so on.’

The quartet continued to play and completed its programme – Mozart’s String Quartet in D K575 and Ravel’s String Quartet in F. ‘The concert took an hour and 20 minutes instead of an hour, and the atmosphere in the hall was very tense,’ said Mr Gilhooly.

The Radio 3 broadcast was truncated ‘in order to deny these people publicity’, and replaced with a performance of the same repertoire by the Salomon Quartet. The Jerusalem players stayed on afterwards to re-record some sections of the music and a patched version of the recital will be broadcast in Saturday’s repeat slot.

Posters to the Radio 3 Performance message board reported that the protest had been announced on Sunday in a Twitter message urging protesters to join an ‘urgent demo against Jerusalem Quartet 12.30 Wigmore Hall’ to ‘boycott ambassadors of apartheid Israel’.

According to a report in the Jewish Chronicle, the protesters were accusing the players of being ‘cultural ambassadors for the state of Israel, promoting the interests of Israel and all its policies against the Palestinians, to the British public’.

However, in response to the incident Mr Gilhooly said: ‘I want to make the point very strongly that we can’t possibly condone any kind of disturbance to an artistic event. Wigmore Hall is a totally non-political organisation, and by disrupting performances the protesters completely take away the whole meaning of an artistic event, which is something that transcends politics.’

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