The prominent arts figure has condemned the SSO board’s decision, arguing that “music has always been political.”

Prominent arts figure Leo Schofield has blasted a decision by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s board not to publicly support the “yes” campaign for the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. Schofield, who served on the Orchestra’s board as the inaugural Chairman from 1996 to 2000, condemned the board in a strongly worded post on Facebook on Wednesday, following the announcement to members of staff earlier that day.

“This is a disgrace. Every significant arts organisation in the country has nailed its colours to the mast, every arts practitioner worth his or her salt, every thinking patron, sponsor, audience member supports change,” Schofield wrote. “The reason the board, supposedly unanimously, has opted for this course is that they don’t want to politicise music. Utter drivel. Music, even in the pursuit of change, has always been political. Great composers, whose music forms the core of the symphonic repertoire, active revolutionaries such as Verdi and Wagner, nationalists like Sibelius, Shostakovich and Britten, recognised that artists need to speak out against injustice. Disgusted at Napoleon’s bellicosity and European power grab, Beethoven struck the name of the Emperor from the dedication page of his Eroica Symphony.”

“In defying the palpable solidarity of the arts community and its manifold supporters, the craven directors of the SSO have, by this decision, aligned themselves with the antediluvian Catholic Archbishops of Sydney and Brisbane, the ginned-up contributors to the skewed letter pages of the Australian, the smoke-screening nonentities of the Christian right and those parliamentarians too cowardly to put the issue to a vote on the floor of the House,” he wrote. “Imagine how much glorious music might be commissioned with the one hundred and twenty million dollars that this divisive charade is costing.”

Schofield’s post has been shared widely on Facebook, and while many comments have condemned the Orchestra’s stance, others have come out in support. The story has also been picked up by the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Review.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has responded defending its decision to remain neutral in the ongoing debate. “The SSO is a highly-respected organisation spanning more than 85 years with members, concert-goers, very generous sponsors and donors, not to mention loyal and committed staff and musicians, all of whom come from wide and diverse backgrounds and opinions,” a statement from the Orchestra said. “It has always been the case that the SSO has engendered organisational initiatives and performances that reflect an abiding commitment to inclusiveness, fairness and acceptance and that the company has at its core a commitment to everyone in our community – regardless of gender, orientation, cultural background or religious beliefs – of performing music to the highest calibre for which the orchestra is celebrated around the world.”

“There is no question that the SSO strongly supports the rights of all citizens to place on the record their views, by way of the private and confidential postal plebiscite and as such, the company does not feel it has the right to take a position and commit our stakeholders to one side or the other and has decided it should remain neutral. We urge all Australians to respect the democratic process of the majority decision, one way or the other, in a spirit of goodwill and cooperation towards each other in a peaceful resolution.”

Australian performer David Campbell has come out on Twitter in condemnation of the SSO, writing, “I am disappointed the Sydney Symphony have taken this stance considering one of their biggest hits this year was the George Michael concert.”

The SSO has been one of the few arts and classical music organisations not to put its weight behind the yes campaign, though the orchestra’s Artist in Residence composer Brett Dean is one of the signatories on an open letter in support of the Yes campaign, published by the Australian Book Review. Organisations such as Opera Australia, Victorian Opera, Opera Queensland, The Australian Ballet, West Australian Ballet, Musica Viva, Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra and Sydney Philharmonia Choirs as well as the West Australian, Melbourne and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras have all publically declared their support, as has Limelight Magazine. While Arts Centre Melbourne lit up its spire in rainbow colours, there has been no equivalent response from the Sydney Opera House, nor has there been any statement of support one way or the other from the Queensland or Adelaide Symphony Orchestras.

“The survey on marriage equality is polarising. Vehemence is to be expected,” said Limelight publisher and composer Andrew Batt-Rawden. “Limelight has made clear its views of the discussion. By their very nature the arts are political. Whether organisations or artists choose to be explicit or implicit of their view (or indeed have a view at all) on contemporary social issues is entirely up to them – no matter how disappointing that is to others who’d prefer them to use their influence to share positivity.”

“Of course, speaking as the publisher of Limelight, and as a gay artist, I would prefer all companies to approach their responsibility to social inclusion and public safety actively. Inclusivity policy (of which, no doubt, every AMPAG has) would perhaps encourage the creation of ‘safety’ for those who’d otherwise feel ‘unsafe’ in public contexts. At this time, the LGBTIQ community feels particularly insecure, which is why so many organisations and artists are expressing their acceptance and love for them.”

“Doing so comes at a cost,” he said. “A day after Limelight posted its article supporting a Yes vote, we lost one of our Facebook followers.”


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