It had been threatened, and it happened: BBC Radio 3, which was broadcasting Zubin Mehta’s 75th birthday Prom by the Israel Philharmonic, was forced to come off air, the first time disturbances have forced it off air in its history. It twice had to interrupt its show and revert to recorded music.
I had wondered why the orchestra had chosen such a lightweight selection, said The Times‘ Neil Fisher. As it turned out, I’m not sure the audience could have coped with anything more dramatic with what occurred off-stage.
The BBC has presented the Proms since 1927 and in that time no concert has ever been taken off the air. A small group of anti-Israel protesters now have the dubious honour of breaking that tradition.
Unfortunately the protesters had picked their first moment astutely. Webern’s Passacaglia is a complex series of variations, each modulation carefully calibrated to create a sound world of astonishing breadth. Just as music director Zubin Mehta was cooling it to a frozen hush, a raucous chorus of the Ode to Joy – with altered lyrics – broke the silence from the balconies.
About thirty protesters were in the hall, but even one would have been enough to disturb the concert, a fact which, along with the recent London riots, makes one reflect on the fragility of social cohesion.
The BBC were forced to take the concert off air and in a statement said,
We regret that as a result of sustained audience disruption within the concert hall which affected the ability to hear the music, tonight’s Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Prom was taken off air.
The invitation to the Orchestra was a purely musical one, offering the opportunity to hear this fine Orchestra in conductor Zubin Metha’s 75th year, so we are disappointed that BBC Radio 3 audiences were not able to enjoy the full performance.