Was Haydn a Bigot? Are You?
My friend Dennis Prager, the radio talk-show-host, is conducting the Santa Monica Symphony in a Haydn symphony this Wednesday at Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles, and, of course, his appearance has "drawn fire" and "raised controversy" in the fever swamps of the Left, which is freaking out at the prospect of having a "bigot" on the podium. Anyone who knows Dennis, or who even listens to his daily radio show on the Salem Radio Network, understands this is codswallop. Prager is an observant Jew and a man who has spoken and written extensively on the moral issues of our day. His bona fides as a public intellectual are impeccable.
It was supposed to be a dazzling opportunity for the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra — a volunteer ensemble of professional and semiprofessional musicians led by Guido Lamell — to play the prestigious Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles for a fund-raiser. Mr. Lamell, music director of the orchestra, invited the conservative talk show host and columnist Dennis Prager as guest conductor for the event.
But that decision caused immediate outrage among some members of the symphony, and a number of them 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. Some are even encouraging others not to attend the concert.
While Mr. Prager is not a trained conductor, he is a classical music aficionado, and has been a guest conductor for a number of orchestras in Southern California, including the Brentwood Westwood Symphony Orchestra. In 1994, he took to the stage at the Hollywood Bowl to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic for a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Nothing unusual about this. The late Gilbert Kaplan (another friend), who made his fortune in financial publishing, created a second career for himself by expertly conducting Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony all over the world, as well as funding Mahler research through his foundation. Prager is an unabashed Haydn enthusiast who talks about his love for the composer's music all the time, so it's hardly surprising that a local community orchestra would reach out to him, both for the novelty of his appearance and as a fund-raiser. As the New York Times notes:
Donations to the symphony had declined this season, Mr. Lamell said. And he told members in an email in March that there was a “serious shortfall,” to underscore the necessity of the fund-raiser, explaining that Mr. Prager’s following could bring in sorely needed ticket sales. Mr. Prager, who has a deep love of classical music, would be leading the orchestra in a performance of Haydn’s Symphony No. 51.