Protest at the Proms: BBC forced to abandon live broadcast
Published 02/09/2011 | 08:44
The BBC was forced to suspend a live Proms broadcast on Radio 3 when a performance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was disrupted by protests.
Up to 30 pro-Palestinian demonstrators were ejected from the Royal Albert Hall after attempting to drown out the orchestra last night.
They shouted anti-Israel statements throughout the concert, leading to clashes with members of the audience who wanted to hear the music. Witnesses reported seeing a fight break out.
Different groups of protesters stood up to chant at the start of each of the four pieces of the evening, meaning that fresh people had to be ejected each time.
Radio 3 broadcast the first piece, which lasted about seven minutes, including the protests.
When the protesters started again at the start of the second, the broadcast was halted and a recording of a different orchestra playing the same music was played instead.
The BBC tried to resume the broadcast at the start of the second part of the concert - Prom 62 - but further protests led to it being abandoned.
But audience members told The Daily Telegraph the protests did not deter the orchestra, which last played at the Proms in 2003.
It is thought it was the first time Radio 3 had been forced interrupt a broadcast of the summer-long festival of music because of protests. It remained unclear on Thursday night who organised the protest.
A BBC spokesman apologised for taking the concert off air, saying that the “sustained audience disruption” disrupted the performance’s broadcast.
She defended the corporation’s decision to invite the orchestra to perform, saying the invitation was a “purely musical one”.
The corporation added on Twitter: "We're sorry that the concert was taken off air following hall disturbance. Glad both pieces were heard by the audience in the RAH."
The performance got off to a peaceful start at 7.30pm, but within minutes protesters started singing loudly to the tune of Ode to Joy as the orchestra played Passacaglia, Op. 1 by Anton Webern.
After some protesters were ejected, different groups started loudly booing and shouting as soloist Gil Shaham prepared to play Max Bruch's violin concerto.
But following the interval the protests continued, forcing Zubin Mehta, the orchestra’s Indian-born conductor, to stop for more than five minutes as security ejected protesters, who unfurled Palestinian flags.
Ed Vaizey, the Communicatons Minister, who was in the audience, posted on Twitter: “Demonstrators seem to have turned the entire audience pro-Israel.”
He added later: "And an encore from Gil Shaham. This is turning in to quite an evening. The Proms. Intimate, democratic, informal, brilliant.
"Every great nation needs great art."
Chris Keating, 30, a member of the audience who had a season ticket , said the majority were irritated at the protest.
“The audience was there to listen to the music, no doubt about it,” said Mr Keating, from Streatham, south London, who had a season ticket to the proms.
"They are intelligent people who know about the problems in the region but I don’t think that the protests did anything to sway their minds.”
Daniel Sugarman, 22, a history student at Manchester University, said after the concert: “The orchestra were absolutely fantastic.
"The protesters were very unpopular and were shouted down.”
Helen French, a retired company director from west London, accompanied her granddaughter to her first classical concert.
“The orchestra didn’t flinch," she said.
"The conductor never even turned round. He wasn’t fazed at all. It was very professional.”
Officials said about 30 people were eventually ejected from a full house of about 5,600 people but no arrests were made. Security had earlier been tightened after protests outside the hall. Concert goers were subject to bag searches.
Mr Mehta, who is touring the world with the Israel Philharmonic celebrating its 75th anniversary, declined to comment after the performance.
But in an interview given a few days ago the conductor, who is the same age as the orchestra which gave its first concert in 1936, said: “This orchestra has done things that other great orchestras don't have to do, thank God.
“But because we find ourselves in this corner here we have to take part in the ebb and flow of the life of the country.”
A BBC spokeswoman said: “We regret that as a result of sustained audience disruption within the concert hall which affected the ability to hear the music, tonight’s Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Prom was taken off air.
“The invitation to the Orchestra was a purely musical one, offering the opportunity to hear this fine Orchestra in conductor Zubin Metha’s 75th year, so we are disappointed that BBC Radio 3 audiences were not able to enjoy the full performance.
“BBC Radio 3 broadcast recordings of the same music, however the performance continued in the hall.”
Despite the BBC being warned that protests were expected outside the hall, the spokeswoman said no changes were planned.