Please do not attend the Santa Monica Symphony's August 16 concert with guest conductor Dennis Prager
The Santa Monica Symphony is holding a concert on August 16, 2017 in which Conductor Guido Lamell has enthusiastically invited Dennis Prager to serve as guest conductor. Dennis Prager is a right-wing radio host who promotes horribly bigoted positions. Prager is not a trained conductor and there is no musical rationale for his participation. Please urge your friends to not attend this concert, which helps normalize bigotry in our community.
To learn more about Dennis Prager and his positions, please read the March 27, 2017 letter below written by Michael Chwe and Andrew Apter to fellow members of the Santa Monica Symphony. Most recently, Prager has written that "The news media in the West pose a far greater danger to Western civilization than Russia does" and "There's no culture of rape at our universities. There's a rape of the culture."
Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times: "How Right-Winger Dennis Prager Politicized His Own Symphony Gig — And Declared Himself the Victim": "What was the Santa Monica Symphony thinking?"
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times: "When Dennis Prager Conducts Santa Monica Symphony, There's No Avoiding Politics": "[T]he orchestra is being asked to enhance the stature of someone whose prominence is based on espousing an ideology that disapproves of who many of the players are and what they stand for."
Sopan Deb, New York Times: "Santa Monica Symphony Roiled by Conservative Guest Conductor": "A number of [musicians] are refusing to play the fund-raiser, saying that allowing the orchestra to be conducted by Mr. Prager, who has suggested that same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy and incest, among other contentious statements, would be tantamount to endorsing and normalizing bigotry."
Sarah A. Spitz, Santa Monica Daily Press: "Concerts, Conservatives, Controversy": "What began as a modest protest via open letter by four local musicians has become something of a 'cause célèbre' for conservative cultural critics."
Rick Schultz, Los Angeles Times: "Dennis Prager Draws Classical Newbies, and a Musicians' Boycott, at Disney Hall Concert": "Given some of Prager's inflammatory views and past statements about gays, liberals and others, more than a dozen musicians in the orchestra boycotted the concert."
Trevor O'Donnell, "Catastrophic Brand Management at Santa Monica Symphony?": "The taint of the Prager affair will linger among local perceptions of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra for the rest of its life. In my mind and in my heart, for example, their brand is damaged beyond repair."
Ted Gordon, Musicology Now: "Does 'Music Trump Politics'? Dennis Prager and the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra": "Prager’s performance with the SMSO is of course political: it uses the “genius” of classical music as evidence towards his political ideology of “Western” supremacism."
Statement by Vox Femina Los Angeles: "VOX Femina Los Angeles is committed to standing and fighting for a world that affirms the worth and dignity of all people, regardless of race, gender, age, sexual identity, ethnic origin or religious persuasion. The expressed views of Dennis Prager are directly at odds with these values, and we are disappointed to see him welcomed into our local music community."
Statement by Mayor Ted Winterer, Santa Monica City Council: "I will not be attending and certainly have not encouraged anyone to attend."
Statement by Mayor Pro Tempore Gleam Davis, Santa Monica City Council: "The City cannot take any action in connection with the symphony based on Mr. Prager's political and other statements. Of course, they are not representative of my or our city's progressive, inclusive values."
Statement by Councilmember Kevin McKeown, Santa Monica City Council: "I personally will most certainly not be attending a concert featuring a bigoted hate-monger. The judgement (or lack of) shown in inviting Prager may affect future community support for the Symphony (whose concerts I have attended in the past)."
Statement by Carole Fabricant, Professor Emerita, UC Riverside: "If this farce of a fundraiser proceeds as planned, I will never again attend a concert by the Santa Monica Symphony and I will do everything I can to discourage others from doing so."
Statement by André Cameron, violist, Gulbenkian Orquestra in Lisbon and La Scala in Milan: "Why would you invite someone so controversial and who is not even a conductor to wave his arms in front of your orchestra?"
Statement by Charles Sharp, Ph.D., CSU Fullerton School of Music faculty member: "I am writing to register my disgust with your decision to promote Dennis Prager as a conductor of this orchestra."
Statement by Andrea Centazzo, composer, percussionist, and founder of ICTUS records: "I never suspected that an orchestra could arrive at this childish level of ignorance and offensive behavior."
Letter from Michael Chwe, Andrew Apter, Giancarlo Ranaudo, and Jeff Schwartz, Santa Monica Symphony members, March 27, 2017:
Dear fellow members of the Santa Monica Symphony,
We care deeply about our Santa Monica Symphony and believe that any orchestra member who is considering participating in the proposed concert with Dennis Prager should be fully informed about his political opinions. 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.
Dennis Prager promotes deeply bigoted views using disturbing, apocalyptic language. For example, Prager has written: “Society has the right and obligation to prefer heterosexuality to homosexuality. . . It is unfair to a child who can be adopted by a married couple to be adopted by a same-sex couple. . . Yes, most gay men control themselves around boys; but the disproportionate sexual abuse of boys by homosexual priests suggests that some proportion of gays will not be able to control this desire.” Prager has called gay liberation an “assault” on the family and has stated: “The acceptance of homosexuality as the equal of heterosexual marital love signifies the decline of Western civilization.”
Our community includes many LGBTQ folks as well as children adopted by same-sex couples. Would they feel welcome to a concert conducted by Dennis Prager?
Prager writes that “Diversity and multiculturalism celebrate the national/ethnic identities of the nations from where American immigrants came instead of celebrating the American identity and traditional American values. The result is the beginning of the end of the United States as we have known it since its inception.” Our orchestra participates yearly in a Martin Luther King Day concert which celebrates multiculturalism and all of the diverse ethnic identities in our community. According to Prager, we are thereby hastening the end of the United States.
Prager supports the current administration’s proposed travel ban from several majority-Muslim countries, which was found by federal courts to violate constitutional protections against religious discrimination. Our orchestra contains members of communities who have been personally and deeply disrupted by the travel ban, and it is shocking that we would welcome an unabashed advocate of this ban to lead our orchestra.
When Keith Ellison of Minnesota became the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, Prager wrote that Rep. Ellison “should not be allowed” to take his oath of office using the Koran "because the act undermines American civilization. . . Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible.” This profoundly bigoted opinion was condemned by many organizations, including the United States Holocaust Museum, whose executive committee stated that Prager’s statement was “antithetical to the mission of the museum as an institution promoting tolerance and respect for all peoples regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity.”
Trager uses falsehoods to malign immigrants and members of certain ethnic groups. For example, he states that “Sweden, which for much of its modern history has had among the world’s lowest rates of violent crime, was almost always as homogenous as Japan. Now that it has admitted hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, it is no longer a homogenous country, and its levels of violence have increased dramatically.” This is false. Rates of violent crime in Sweden have decreased.
Prager believes that the moral principles of people who do not believe in God are based solely on opinion. In a video from “Prager University” entitled “If There Is No God, Murder Isn’t Wrong,” Prager states: “[O]nly if there is a God who says murder is wrong, is murder wrong. Otherwise, all morality is opinion.” This is a profound insult to the many members of our community who are atheists and believe that there is such a thing as ethical behavior.
Finally, Prager states that “Leftism is a terminal cancer in the American bloodstream and soul. So our first and greatest principle is to destroy this cancer before it destroys us. We therefore see voting for Donald Trump as political chemotherapy needed to prevent our demise.” Needless to say, many in our community have leftist political views and would appreciate not being destroyed or being called a cancer. These are horrible and dehumanizing things to say to a person who disagrees with you politically. It is astonishing that we are asking a person capable of such coarseness of language to lead us in an artistic endeavor.
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. A concert with Dennis Prager would normalize hatred and bigotry and profoundly damage this trust. 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.
Michael Chwe, violin, email@example.com
Andrew Apter, violin
Giancarlo Ranaudo, violin (signed July 17)
Jeff Schwartz, bass (signed July 20)