Entertainment & Arts

Mike Leigh defends suspended Philharmonic musicians

Mike Leigh
Image caption Mike Leigh was joined by fellow director Ken Loach on the list of signatories

Director Mike Leigh is among figures who have expressed "dismay" at the suspension of four London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) players who opposed an Israeli performance at the BBC Proms.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, actress Miriam Margolyes was also among those calling it a "harsh punishment".

The 117 signatories urged the LPO to reconsider their decision.

The orchestra said it imposed the penalty because the musicians used the LPO's name to sign a letter of protest.

Violinists Tom Eisner, Nancy Elan and Sarah Streatfeild and cellist Sue Sutherley were suspended for nine months after publicly stating their opposition to a concert by the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra at the Proms.

The LPO's chief executive Timothy Walker said the musicians would not have faced any penalty if they had signed the letter as individuals.

He added that some Jewish supporters had threatened to boycott concerts or withdraw financial support from the LPO over the matter.

"Whatever the players' views are, we don't mind so long as it doesn't affect the company. I don't agree with music being used as a political football."

Concert protests

The letter from artists stated that they did not necessarily support the musicians' opposition to Israel, but their suspension raised a "grave concern about the bigger issue at stake for artists and others".

"There is a clear link being forcibly created here between personal conscience and employment, which we must all resist," it added.

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Media captionZubin Mehta, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra: "People who make music have to be politically aware"

Actor and comedian Alexei Sayle, film director Ken Loach, actress Dame Harriet Walter and artist Mark Wallinger also added their signatures to the letter.

The Proms concert by the Israeli Philharmonic went ahead at the Royal Albert Hall on 1 September, but had to be halted after vocal protests by a group of pro-Palestinian protestors.

Conductor Zubin Mehta was shouted at and BBC Radio 3 had to cut short its broadcast of the performance.

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