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Conservative Talk Show Host Declares Santa Monica Symphony Appearance a Victory
By Niki Cervantes
August 18, 2017 -- Dennis Prager, the conservative talk-show host whose guest appearance with the Santa Monica Symphony prompted disdain among some civic leaders and a boycott by musicians, declared victory -- even before he showed up Wednesday to guest conduct.
In a National Review column the day before the show at Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles, Prager said that all but two rows of the 2,265-seat auditorium had been sold for the gala fundraiser.
Before the performance began, it was clear the radio show's fans had packed the concert hall, according to a report in the Jewish Journal.
“Just curious, are there any fans of Dennis here tonight?” the symphony’s music director, Guido Lamell, asked the sellout crowd, to uproarious applause from a great majority of the audience, the Journal reported.
“The audience was livelier than those who normally show up to classical concerts, unrestrained from applauding between movements and calling out to the conductor,” Journal reporter Eitan Arom.
Prager, a classical music aficionado, who has guest-conducted the Brentwood Westwood Symphony Orchestra and others, was invited to guest conduct by Lamell, who is also the symphony’s conductor.
In 1994, the talk show host conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Hollywood Bowl.
But being invited to conduct a symphony in the famously liberal city of Santa Monica stirred controversy (“Conservative Talk Show Host Guest Slated to Conduct Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra,” July 18, 2017)
Some of the organization’s musicians publicly posted objections because of what they viewed as Prager's extremist political and social views and refused to perform.
Mayor Ted Winterer declined to attend and said he would never encourage anyone to do so, although the City is one of the symphony’s sponsors from the public sector (“Top City Officials Decline to Attend Santa Monica Symphony Performance Featuring Conservative Talk Show Host,” August 4, 2017).
Council members Kevin McKeown and Gleam Davis also said they weren’t attending, and colleague Sue Himmelrich, who wasn’t planning to attend in any event, said the Prager invitation was basically a ploy to boost attendance.
"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?" she said.
The Santa Monica Symphony, a mostly volunteer orchestra of local musicians, relies on donations and grants.
Donations to the symphony had declined this season, Lamell told the New York Times in a story about the Prager controversy.
Lamell told members in an email in March that there was a “serious shortfall,” the Times said.
He also explained how much the symphony needed fund-raising dollars, and that Prager’s following could increase ticket sales, the Times said.
In his column, Prager said that Lamell (who is also a violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic) and the orchestra board of directors continued to support his appearance as the controversy started picking up national steam.
“This was particularly significant, since they (the board members) had only narrowly voted to invite me -- 5 to 3 -- in the first place,” Prager wrote.
“Indeed, few expected it.”
Prager conducted Haydn’s Symphony No. 51 and Lamell led the orchestra in Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" Overture and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.
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