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Conservative Talk Show Host Guest Slated to Conduct Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra
By Niki Cervantes
July 18, 2017 -- Conservative commentator Dennis Prager is slated to be a guest conductor at a gala fundraiser for the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra next month, and several musicians are sitting out the charity concert to protest the popular radio host's political views.
Prager is set to guest conduct the orchestra’s August 16 performance at the Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, at the invitation of Guido Lamell, the symphony's conductor and music director.
Although known for his staunchly conservative opinions on social and political issues, Prager also often speaks of his love for classical music on his radio show, reaching millions of listeners, Lamell told the Lookout News on Monday.
Lamell said he was aware there were some complaints from the orchestra’s musicians about Prager guest conducting and that he polled his orchestra about Prager “volunteering his services.”
A few, he said, opted not to participate in the performance. Such a decision is not “unusual” because all orchestra musicians are volunteers and, for a variety of reasons, cannot always commit to performing, he said.
Still, an online site, Slipped Disc (slippedisc.com), on Monday posted a letter from three orchestra members protesting Prager’s scheduled appearance.
“Our orchestra enjoys substantial support from the city of Santa Monica and the wider community, who entrust us with supporting our community’s values and who have the right to hold us accountable,” said the letter, signed by three of the orchestra’s violinists.
“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.
“Our orchestra is not a political organization. It is not fair to put orchestra members in the position of having to decide between their deeply-held social and political values and their commitment to the orchestra,” it said.
“We believe that Dennis Prager’s publicly stated positions are fundamentally at odds with our community’s values and that the proposed concert would deeply damage our orchestra’s relationship with our community,” the letter said.
The letter is written by Michael Chwe, Andrew Apter and Giancarlo Ranaudo, all second violins for the orchestra.
Prager has been a syndicated radio talk show host since 1999 and is an author and commentator.
But Prager’s politics -- antithetical to the liberal stances for which Santa Monica is widely known -- are not the point, Lamell said.
In the world of classical music, “he is not polarizing,” said Lamell, who is a violinist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
“This concert is entirely not about political issues” Lamell said. “This will be a wonderful celebration and performance at Disney Hall. The (orchestra) board and I are thrilled."
Over the past two decades, Prager has been a guest conductor for numerous orchestras, including the Los Angeles, Pasadena and Glendale Symphony Orchestras, according to a 2014 article in the Los Angeles Times.
Prager has “a dream of having a chance to conduct a Disney Hall,” Lamell said, adding that he is excited to “have a chance to share the stage with Dennis.”
He added that Prager’s knowledge and passion for classical music “is of the highest order" and that Prager has a “highly celebrated intellect” on the subject.
Prager will conduct the Haydn Symphony No. 51, which was his request, Lamell said.
The Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1945, its website says.
Vanessa Butler, a publicist for the orchestra, said the August 16 performance is the orchestra’s first gala fundraiser. 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.
“This City supports the arts,” said City Manager Rick Cole when asked by the Lookout if the symphony’s invitation to Prager posed difficulties. “It appears that Dennis Prager supports the arts. The City, in funding a season of musical performances, does not choose what music is played or who plays it at any particular concert.
“Ticket buyers are in a different position. They can choose to buy a ticket for a particular performance because they love Dennis Prager; they can choose not to do so because they loath Dennis Prager; or they can choose to attend or not attend based on the orchestra and the music and ignore the political views of the person waving the baton.
“But that is not the realm of a city to make those distinctions,” he wrote in an email.
“Reasonable people can argue for or against cities making arts grants -- even arts grants to particular forms of art (folk vs. classical; performing vs. visual; community vs. institutional etc.) But the Constitution and courts keep us out of regulating content -- and the personalities or political views of performers.
“And even if you hate Dennis Prager, that is a good thing,” Cole said.
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