The last thing you might expect to hear at a lunchtime classical concert is a political protest. But at the Wigmore Hall this week, that is precisely what the audience, who had been looking forward to a civilised programme of Mozart’s String Quartet in D K575 and Ravel’s String Quartet in F, experienced.
The subject of the heckling? The award-winning Jerusalem Quartet. To the surprise of the largely elderly audience, 10 minutes into the performance a female protester stood up to demonstrate against the Israeli government. Then, at 10 minute intervals, came further interruptions. With just four or five protesters strategically positioned around the hall, protesters were able to disturb the concert throughout, before being escorted from the building.
(for this was a joint operation by the “Brighton and Hove Palestinian Solidarity Campaign” and a group called “Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods” (J-Big) which has membership running into single digits).
They are not the first classical group to be drawn into political debate. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra were targeted in 2007, when the group Women in Black held vigils in protest at their performances in New York and Los Angeles. The protesters explained their reasons for the action as being because the Orchestra’s conductor, Zubin Mehta, had called it “Israel’s flagship”, and because they had performed for Israeli soldiers. Fortunately for the 2000-strong audience at Los Angeles’s Disney Hall, the silent vigil spared the performance from being disturbed, although the unwanted tension, as a result of heightened security and the large signs bearing messages such as “Boycott Israel Philharmonic”, would have been similar to that experienced by the audience at Wigmore Hall on Monday.