POLITICS

No free concert for pianist dropped from Toronto Symphony Orchestra

04/10/2015 04:00 EDT | Updated 06/11/2015 07:59 EDT
TORONTO - A controversial Ukrainian-born pianist whose performances with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra were cancelled over her "offensive comments" was unable to find a venue for a free concert on Friday.

Valentina Lisitsa, an ethnic Russian born in Ukraine, spent the past week defending her views on the armed conflict in her native country, and her right to express them, saying her music has nothing to do with her political stand.

The Orchestra, however, defended its decision saying it was not about free speech, or political persuasion, but it was about her "very offensive, intolerant comments about people."

Lisitsa's tentative plans for an alternative performance failed to pan out in the days that followed.

On Friday afternoon, Lisitsa said she felt like she was "participating in an Orwell re-enactment act."

"They are still trying to silence the music," she said on Facebook after a Toronto church she was supposed to give a free concert at refused to host her.

"The concert is off. We are going to see instead a jubilant dance of those who managed to intimidate yet another organization."

Lisitsa had tweeted that everyone would be welcome at the Lawrence Park Community Church to hear her play on Friday.

But church minister John Suk said they have "not rented the church sanctuary to her."

Suk said in an email to The Canadian Press that the North York Music Festival left a message with the church Thursday to discuss the possibility of a concert.

Despite no confirmation, Suk wrote, Lisitsa began tweeting about the concert.

"We would need to have a serious internal discussion among leadership before we could make a commitment to host such a controversial guest," Suk said.

The church had no interest in identifying itself with "the attitudes" Lisitsa expressed, Suk noted.

Lisitsa, who now lives in the United States, told her supporters in a Facebook post on Monday that she had been exercising her right to free speech as she spoke out against the "atrocities" of the civil war in the country, particularly those committed against the Russian minority in Ukraine's eastern and southern regions.

The incident unleashed a firestorm of divisive online commentary, with many taking sides on Twitter and Facebook over whether Lisitsa should have been dropped from the Toronto orchestra.

Despite being at the heart of the online controversy, Lisitsa is still scheduled to perform with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in June.