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Leo Schofield blasts Sydney Symphony over same-sex marriage stance

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Tony Abbott yesterday called for politics to be left out of sport, in response to news that popular American rapper Macklemore will be performing his pro-marriage equality hit Same Love at this weekend’s NRL Grand Final.

Now it seems Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Board is calling for politics to be left out of music.

According to a Facebook post published by arts leader Leo Schofield, SSO staff were yesterday informed that the Board has decided not to publicly support the ‘yes’ campaign in the postal survey on same-sex marriage.

Schofield, who served as the inaugural Chair of the SSO Board from 1996 to 2000, says staff were told that the Board did not want to politicise music. He criticised Board members, led by Chair Terrey Arcus, for “defying the palpable solidarity of the arts community and its manifold supporters.”

The vast majority of major performing arts companies in Australia have spoken publicly in support of same-sex marriage, including the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Australian Ballet, Opera Australia, Sydney Dance Company, Bell Shakespeare and every state theatre company in the country, including Sydney Theatre Company and Melbourne Theatre Company.

Every major capital city festival has also thrown its support behind the cause, including Sydney Festival, Melbourne Festival, Brisbane Festival, Perth International Arts Festival, Darwin Festival and Adelaide Festival.

Arts companies have largely supported marriage equality in recognition of the huge numbers of people from the LGBTQI community who work in and support the arts.

SSO seems to be standing largely on its own in that regard, but some comments on Schofield’s post suggest the orchestra’s actions in recent years haven’t reflected the board’s apparent desire to de-politicise music.

As Schofield points out in a subsequent comment, the SSO recently completed a tour of China. He writes: “If that’s not politcial what is?”

In addition, the orchestra last year performed a sold-out concert for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, playing for Austrian drag queen and Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst alongside a host of local gay stars, including Paul Capsis, Courtney Act and Trevor Ashley. This year it performed a series of concerts in tribute to late gay pop music icon George Michael.

SSO has been contacted for comment.*

See the full text of Schofield’s post below:


On Wednesday, members of the staff of the Sydney Symphony were called together to learn that the board had decided not to publicly support the YES campaign in the forthcoming national market research project masquerading as some kind of serious referendum. 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. 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, nationalist 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 Australia, 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. Imagine how much glorious music might be commissioned with the one hundred and twenty million dollars that this divisive charade is costing.

But despite the current frenzy of piety, mendacity, hypocrisy, prejudice and hatred, whether by a victory in this farcical process or by the sheer force of history, Australia will, and sooner rather than later, bow to the irresistible force of time and join the twenty-two other enlightened countries that have legislated for same sex marriage. As with a thousand such once tumultuous changes, the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, conscription, the 40-hour week, indigenous rights and even 10 o’clock closing, commonsense will prevail and the bigots will be crushed under the wheels of the juggernaught of history.

*UPDATE: Sydney Symphony Orchestra has provided the following statement:

“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.

“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.”

[box]Featured image: Megan Washington and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Photo by Christie Brewster.[/box]

10 responses to “Leo Schofield blasts Sydney Symphony over same-sex marriage stance

  1. I think the SSO is correct. When an organisation takes a stance on such personal issues it alienates those in opposition. Bad for business really. We all have our ballots and can make our own personal choices on the issue. This constant barrage of biased ‘yes’ campaigning is driving people towards hatred of the LGBTIQ community which is unfair. People feel that their faith and families are under attack and that they’re being dictated too and told what to think and how to vote on the issue by those who are manipulating their public profiles for their own personal views and gains. If they took ‘marriage’ out of the equation and just granted SS couples a ‘proof of partnership’ certificate I think many people would be less offended. It’s not that a majority of Australia’s don’t want LGBTIQ people to have rights or feel less recognised it’s the degenderfication of legal documents and people’s right to their freedom of views and religious beliefs. Parents are concerned about the curriculum that will be taught in public schools as well. Politicians have inadequately educated the public on the changes that will take place and sadly it is for that reason and not the denial of LGBTIQ rights that are increasing the ‘no’ vote.

    1. There are so many deafening double standards being manipulated by the no campaign, it’s difficult to know where to begin. But to focus on your comment, asserting that campaigning for equal human rights and arguing passionately to have equal dignity under law is a reason to advocate for discrimination is a stance that truly beggars belief in the 21 st-century. You’re damn right the yes campaign is biased against an opposition who believe that LGBTQ people in this country should be denigrated, humiliated and subjected to propaganda that declares we’re pedophiles, unfit parents and disease spreaders, with foney stats to boot. We’re biased against those who draw swastikas on our front doors and hurl stones through our windows, who have bashed us, and spat on us, and hurled abuse at us. But we’re also biased against those who express their discrimination through eloquent prose. Just because the sentiment is communicated politely doesn’t make it any less offensive.
      I categorically challenge you on your belief that the public hasn’t been educated about what changes will take place if same-sex marriage is legalised, because there is only one thing that will happen: same-sex couples will be able to marry. This is a secular issue. It is an issue of adult relationships. It is not remotely, in any way, connected to education policies or religious freedoms. If you look at the No campaign material, especially the television ad campaigns, they barely mention the word “marriage”. The reason being, the argument simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny when you apply the busted logic of the No campaign to the simplicity of the question being asked: should two consenting adults have a right to marry regardless of gender. The issue is not one of lack of education; it is the tsunami of misinformation and dog whistle fear-mongering that has been used by the No campaign to whip up already existing anxieties.
      But if education is needed, I’ll happily provide some.
      Firstly, those who believe that their vote should be weaponsied, as you’re describing, and used to essentially punish the LGBTQ community and their advocates for arguing their case too vehemently, were never on the fence. If they had any insight or direct experience of the damage and pain this ugly chapter in Australia’s political history is causing fellow human beings, they wouldn’t so flippantly decide to deny them the same rights. Those who are claiming that their no vote has been inspired by yes campaigning – seemingly blind to the frankly repulsive tactics used by the No campaign – were always going to vote that way. They’ve simply been groping in the dark for reasons to justify the unjustifiable.
      Also, there is no such thing as neutrality where equality is concerned. If you don’t support the belief that all Australians should be equal, that is a tacit endorsement of discrimination. This is also not a matter of differing points of view. For members of the LGBTQ community, calling for equal dignity and the right to marry is not an “opinion”, it is a biological and psychological imperative. We do not choose our sexuality or identity, we do not elect to be discriminated against. We are born this way. So for the SSO to not support its LGBTQ performers and patrons is exactly the same as tolerating racism, sexism or disability bias.
      The SSO is not, as you say, “correct” – there is nothing correct about anything connected to this shameful, unnecessary, and harmful “debate”.

  2. If the SSO took a stance on any composer who’s music might be seen as political they would be a lot poorer than the few composers Mr Schofield has mentioned in his short piece. You can add Mozart and Rossini and all the other composers who wrote music based the Beaumarchais plays. How out of touch is the SSO with the political history of music. How out of touch is the SSO on Human Rights. Silence is worse than denial. Very sad SSO. You shame your performers who have to go out on stage to defend your ignorance.

  3. It’s not a political issue – it’s a human rights issue. I should not have the right to say whether someone else should or should not marry – I have however, posted my yes vote.

  4. It is often difficult to ‘say what you really think’.
    We live in an age of rapid change: in social philosophy and societal trends; expression and communications (of these changes); the desire for personal freedoms that co-exist with the relics of community conservatism (still a major component of Australian life and not to be confused with genuine liberalism – a note to politicians); the frustration of living in that ‘in-between time’ when ideology, morality and levels of social awareness of the ‘other’ are struggling to catch-up with and maintain its co-existence with the realities of contemporary living.
    This is true whether we talk about political persuasion, human rights, religious belief or social equality. It is true also of the life we live within the confines of our own personal and individual cosmos as it is of the community or the nation. But this is not new to those who have lived longer than a single generation.
    Many of yesterday’s intellectual and practical causes are today’s living realities. Today’s praxis forms the basis for the arguments and eventual realities of tomorrow. Therefore, it is to be celebrated that human freedoms have been extended, in the area of human identity as much as in any other field.
    However, the value of continuing deliberation about, even opposition to, those causes we now hold dear and consider to be a further liberation of the human being, is that we are forced to maintain the practical and intellectual efforts we have made in order to consolidate the gains that have been won, the efforts that form the basis of further advances. Time moves on, and with it opinion and further challenges to the evolution of the human spirit.
    Perhaps the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (and its existential views) has purposes beyond merely (but gloriously) making marvellous music in which to be immersed.

  5. This is precisely what corporates should be doing – not making a public statement on the issue unless it is a part of their core business functions.

    Well done SSO. Qantas et al should be doing the same. i.e. Saying nothing, and it’d still be OK for them to have pro LGBTI+whatever else policies in place.

    Australia should not be having this voluntary survey – the politicians should have the guts to just do their job and legislate it, although they generally ignore public opinion when it suits them (and they believe they will get away with it).

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