Kennedy’s False Note

Much hoo-ha was made of the BBC’s “censorship” of Nigel Kennedy’s remarks about Palestine at the Proms. In truth, Kennedy knew all along he’d be taken off air

Counterpoints Israel Music

Nigel Kennedy:his proteges, the Palestine Strings, were let doen by self-important activists at the Proms

Two summers ago, activists of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign scored a notable victory at the BBC Proms. By barracking the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in phased outbursts, forcing the BBC to take the concert off air, the agitators earned several weeks’ worth of media attention as partisans argued the merits and otherwise of disrupting a cultural summit for political benefit. 

On the rest of the Israel Phil’s tour of Europe attempted disruptions were nipped in the bud and went unreported. London, and the Proms in particular, was flagged as a soft target and the tunnel-visioned activists awaited their next opportunity. 

This summer, with its customary regard for “balance”, the BBC leapt at an offer from the maverick violinist Nigel Kennedy to play late-night Vivaldi improvisations with the keffiya-clad Palestine Strings. Despite being told that any political message would be taken off air, Kennedy dropped an aside on stage about “apartheid”, and the PSC rolled into action next morning, accusing the BBC of “censorship” for excising the offensive term from its TV relay. 

Kennedy declared through “a spokesperson” that he found the omission of his word “incredible and quite frightening”; the Israel-averse Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd) rallied to his cause; and a group of Jewish anti-Zionists wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph deploring the suppression of free speech. So another triumph for political action? Hardly.

Here’s what really happened. Kennedy is not a political sophisticate. Friends say he probably thinks Syria is an island off Italy. Some hours after the successful concert, he took a call from an acquaintance — a pro-PSC Israeli, I gather — and blearily replied to a few pointed questions in his familiar rambling stream of consciousness. 

Barely were his quotes posted online than his personal manager, Terri Robson, got in touch. Ms Robson issued a rejoinder on my Slipped Disc site, affirming that Kennedy had been formally reminded before the concert that any political outburst he might make would be taken off air. Her implication was that her artist had no cause to complain of censorship when he had knowingly consented to the conditions of performance. It was, as these things go, a pretty public rebuke from a highly experienced manager.

Ms Robson went on to say: “The BBC welcomed the Palestine Strings (from the Edward Said University) to its Proms platform with open arms and the performance was extraordinary. These amazing young classical musicians presented a very positive message about their culture on a world stage they could previously have only dreamt of. Some of the political agendas currently doing the rounds serve only to overshadow this positive message, which is most unfortunate.”

And that terse note of regret, more than any of the transient media chatter, put the lid on a notable fiasco for the PSC mob. Nigel Kennedy had done well to win an opening for his Palestine protégés, only for a bunch of self-important activists to smash the window to smithereens.