NEWS

Ukrainian Pianist Cut From Toronto Symphony Gig Because Of Tweets

04/07/2015 01:25 EDT | Updated 06/07/2015 05:59 EDT

TORONTO - Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa will not perform with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra this week because of what the TSO calls "provocative comments.''

In a statement purportedly written by the pianist and posted on Facebook Monday, Lisitsa said she has been accused of "inciting hatred'' on Twitter because of her comments on the conflict in Ukraine.

Lisitsa, an ethnic Russian born in Ukraine who now lives in the United States, said she has been speaking out against the "atrocities'' of the civil war, particularly those committed against the Russian minority in the country's eastern and southern regions.

She said she has been "watching helplessly'' as her country slides "ever faster into the abyss'' and had taken to Twitter "to get the other side of the story heard.''

TSO president and CEO Jeff Melanson said in a statement Lisitsa has been replaced due to "ongoing accusations of deeply offensive language by Ukrainian media outlets.''

"As one of Canada's most important cultural institutions, our priority must remain on being a stage for the world's great works of music, and not for opinions that some believe to be deeply offensive,'' he said.

Lisitsa wrote that someone in the TSO decided she should not be allowed to play "likely after the pressure from a small but aggressive lobby claiming to represent (the) Ukrainian community.''

She added that the TSO will pay her not to perform because she exercised her right to free speech.

The TSO said Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 will go ahead Wednesday and Thursday as planned, but will be performed instead by Toronto pianist Stewart Goodyear.

The controversy sparked a public debate online, with many defending Lisitsa's right to free speech while others hailed the orchestra's decision.

"The decision to cancel bValLisitsa's concert in Toronto is a black stain upon the bTorontoSymphony and Canada. #LetValentinaPlay,'' one wrote.

"Good job TorontoSymphony! Ban those hate and propaganda spreaders,'' another message read.

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