A punishment without precedent

By Norman Lebrecht, September 15, 2011

The suspension of four players from the LPO is the harshest penalty I can recall in London's musical life. The main orchestras – LSO, Philharmonia and RPO are the others – are owned and operated, kibbutz-fashion, by their musicians.

Tolerance prevails and a player can get away with years of drink, drugs and human abuse – not to mention bad playing – before the others do anything about it.

Suspension is rare, collective punishment unprecedented. But the LPO had little choice. Four players, a representative sample, had used its name in a public letter. The band needed to protect its brand. It has prominent Jewish supporters and one board member, Sir Bernard Rix, who will have made their views known. Its chief conductor, Vladimir Jurowski, is proud of his Jewish heritage.

A week after the Israel Philharmonic Prom was attacked by pro-Palistinian agitators, the four LPO musicians were caught in the backlash and deleted from the orchestra's website.

That is a draconian penalty for the players who, in a recession, will depend on scarce freelance sessions to keep body and soul together. Shocked and confused, they will seek sympathy among fellow-professionals, claiming to be victims of an injustice. Two of their fellow signatories, members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, have escaped without censure after offering a private apology.

It would be a mistake to let the misguided quartet pose as martyrs.

Once the fuss has abated, the LPO should quietly suspend the suspensions and readmit the offenders on probation.

The point has been made. They will not reoffend.

Last updated: 1:25pm, September 15 2011