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Top City Officials Decline to Attend Santa Monica Symphony Performance Featuring Conservative Talk Show Host
By Niki Cervantes
August 4, 2017 -- A spot as guest conductor of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra for conservative talk-show host Dennis Prager has prompted the city’s mayor and some council members to snub the August 16 performance.
They join several members of the orchestra who have announced they will boycott the gala fundraiser at Disney Concert Hall ("Conservative Talk Show Host Guest Slated to Conduct Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra," July 18, 2017).
Prager, whose L.A.-based talk radio show is syndicated, has become a voice for conservative political and social views that are far afield of Santa Monica's well-known liberalism.
“I have no interest in being used to promote Prager, his appearance, or his radio show,” Council Member Kevin McKeown told The Lookout on Friday.
Mayor Ted Winterer also said he was staying away.
“I will not be attending and certainly have not encouraged anyone to attend,” Winterer said in a statement posted on a site encouraging a boycott.
At least three musicians from the orchestra are boycotting the performance and circulated a letter in March detailing Prager’s views, which they call “fundamentally at odds with our values.
“The proposed concert would deeply damage our orchestra’s relationship with our community,” the letter from Michael Chwe, Andrew Apter (both UCLA professors) Giancarlo Ranaudo and Jeff Schwartz.
“A concert with Dennis Prager would normalize hatred and bigotry and profoundly damage this trust,” the March 27 letter to the symphony’s members said.
Prager, who says he has been conducting symphony orchestras in Southern California for years, blasted back upon learning of the boycott.
"(T)his is a new low for the illiberal left," he wrote in his Town Hall column on August 1. "It is not enough to prevent conservatives from speaking; it is now necessary to prevent conservatives from appearing even when not speaking. Conservatives should not even be allowed to make music.
"I conduct orchestras because I love making music. But I also do so because I want to help raise funds for local orchestras (I have never been paid to conduct) and I want to expose as many people to classical music as possible."
Prager, who will conduct Haydn's rarely heard Symphony No. 51 in the benefit concert, is performing at the invitation of Guido Lamell, the symphony's conductor and music director.
Tickets prices range from $30 to $100 each, with a $250 option available for a package which includes the best seats and a post-concert reception. Tickets are normally free.
Funding is provided in part by the corporate sector, including Wells Fargo and Morley Builders, and such public entities as the City of Santa Monica, the Los Angeles Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.
In comments posted on the concert boycott site, Mayor Pro Tempore Gleam Davis said she understood the "frustration" caused by Prager's choice to conduct the symphony.
“The First Amendment often means that we have to accept that others will say things or express values with which we disagree. This can be particularly true in the artistic arena. But while we cannot and should not silence those with whom we disagree, we certainly can refuse to support them."
In a statement posted on the site McKeown went further.
“I personally will most certainly not be attending a concert featuring a bigoted hate-monger. The judgment (or lack of) shown in inviting Prager may affect future community support for the Symphony (whose concerts I have attended in the past)."
Council member Sue Himmelrich told The Lookout, "I was never planning to go and have not changed my plans.
"Was this a brilliant PR play by the orchestra director? Yes! How many people had heard of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra before this issue arose?"
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