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Protest in classical music ranks over Sydney Symphony’s ‘neutral’ marriage stance

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The Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s decision to stand apart from the vast majority of Australian arts companies by not supporting marriage equality has drawn dismay from musicians and audiences alike.

In response to a statement released on the orchestra’s Facebook page, multiple subscribers have threatened to withdraw their support from the company, labelling the move “cowardly”. Most comments have slammed the orchestra, although some have supported its decision to take a non-political stance.

Daily Review understands there’s significant discomfort with the decision among some members of the orchestra with the decision, although none have spoken publicly.

But Daniel Mendelow, who was principal trumpet at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra from 1978 to 2011, expressed disappointment, calling the decision a “misguided disgrace” on Facebook.

He commented: “As a former Principal member of the SSO for some three and one-half decades, I am quite frankly disappointed at this verbose declaration of non-committal. Lots of words that mean very little. The SSO I remember embraced and supported the entire arts community, enthusiastically participating in LGBT Arts events throughout the years. I remember emotionally charged performances of John Corigliano and Henryk Gorecki in collaboration with the Mardi-Gras arts festival. I somehow suspect this non-committal stance would not sit very well with one of our former Music Directors, Stuart Challender… This is not how the orchestra he loved and virtually gave his life for should be honoring his memory…”

Challender was a much-loved chief conductor of the orchestra from 1987 until his death in 1991 from an AIDS-related illness. His legacy at the orchestra is significant. A seven-minute cello solo was composed by Peter Sculthorpe in tribute to the conductor and performed by David Pereira at his memorial service.

Multiple ARIA Award-winning musician Sally Whitwell has also spoken out, providing the following statement to Daily Review about her experiences as a gay woman in classical music, and advocating for the LGBTQI communities:

“Is the SSO pandering to their perceived audience demographic? I don’t know, I wasn’t in the board room when it was discussed. I can really only speak for myself and my personal experience and why I feel it’s important as a Classical musician myself to speak up for the LGBTQ community.

“I’m gay myself, so I guess I’m biased. I also work with a lot of LGBTQ musicians in the industry, some of whom are very outspoken and some of whom are not. That’s their right I suppose, to stay quiet, but lately their lack of action makes me feel a kind of pressure, a particular responsibility to be not only out and proud but also to be the best role model I can be to the young musicians with whom I work.

“I hear a lot of stories from young LGBTQ musicians, happy stories but also stories of bullying, of verbal abuse, of negative pressure from family and religious institutions. At best they are stories of feeling unsupported, at worst they speak of being thrown out of home, self harming or having suicidal thoughts. When a desperate teenager reaches out to you with a horrible story like that, you can’t not act on it. So I declare my support for the Yes campaign without reservation. And to the kids I say ‘You’re all right. And if you’re not, well, you know where to find me and my shoulder has unlimited absorbency.'”

11 responses to “Protest in classical music ranks over Sydney Symphony’s ‘neutral’ marriage stance

  1. Who are the SSO Board?
    Let them know what you think of their decision.

  2. This is a strong, and welcomed, decision by the SSO Board: remaining neutral in an area once dominated by the ‘gay nerve’. Back in the days of ABC Management, that factor dominated ABC Concert Management nationally, which made life difficult for both employees and musicians not so inclined. One might ask the question, “Why should any arts organisation seek publicity by participating, ask a unit, in this way ?”

  3. This is an extraordinary and sad decision by a timid board, all the more surprising from Sydney, the home of the MardiGras and so many wonderful gay artists of national fame. Is this an aberration or does it speak of a wider leaden conservatism in Sydney’s cultural scene?

  4. The issue is going public about their lack of support because it reads as support for the no vote. By all means keep out of the debate but that means staying out totally not bragging about a fractured neutrality. Were they asked? Or did they just issue a press release for publicity? If so it has backfired amongst their staff and subscribers who were not consulted – perhaps they should have had a postal survey?

  5. It should not be under the marriage act. This is just a money ploy. Call it anything but not to be incorporated with the Marriage act
    Partnership Gay Ac t will be OK. or Partnership Agreement Act if you like.

  6. It is an extraordinary position for SSO board to take This is a human rights issue and music is a powerful way to connect and remove barriers
    What does it say about your workplace when your governing body cannot take a stand up for equality

  7. What an extraordinary lack of leadership from SSO board on a human rights issue
    Why would you want to be part of an entity that does not recognise its responsibilities to its musician s and other employees
    Being a bystander is unacceptable in this debate

  8. There is no such thing as a neutral stance on marriage equality. If you don’t support changing the marriage act, you support keeping it as it is now, and excluding same sex couples from marriage. Neutral is the same as no, in this instance.

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