The Strad, a prestigious music magazine devoted to string instruments and players, describes the Jerusalem Quartet as “one of the most exciting string quartets to emerge for many years.” This accolade is repeated in the advertising which the South Bank Centre website devotes to their concert at St John’s Smith Square, which took place on 22nd November. The advertising goes on to say that the Jerusalem Quartet are “renowned for a thrilling combination of vitality and glowing technical precision”.
So concert-goers heading for Smith Square, anticipating a programme of Haydn, Bartok and Dvorak string quartets, might have assumed they were in for a treat.
And indeed they were, if the reviews are any guide. However, the concert-goers also had to encounter a less savoury experience as they headed for the auditorium. Because the Jerusalem Quartet are of course Israelis, and therefore, for a certain activist subculture, persona non grata.
The protesters were certainly there, although it wouldn’t be true to use the cliché ‘in force’. There appeared to be around a dozen of them, who were vocal enough.They adopted the strategy of playing loud music outside the venue in an effort to disrupt the proceedings. This not unnaturally enraged the venue management, one of whom came out to remonstrate with them. She informed them that they were causing a nuisance and threatened to inform the police. A policewoman was indeed subsequently seen to be speaking to the demonstrators, although it is not known what was said.
There was no attempt at disruption inside the hall, although the disturbance outside could be heard faintly during the quieter passages. There is every indication that the performance was a musical success.
A review of the concert in the London Evening Standard did make reference to the writer’s ‘liberal guilt’ in attending the concert, which is a disturbing reflection on the current state of liberalism. However, this nod to fashionable ‘progressivism’ aside, the review concentrated on the music. The fact that the picture chosen to illustrate the review was of the musicians, not the protesters, is a fair indication of the balance of the piece.
A success for the boycotters? No, more an exposure of their impotence. The country’s most prestigious string music magazine has praised the Jerusalem Quartet, the South Bank Centre advertised them, St John’s Smith Square staged the concert, and an enthusiastic audience enjoyed it. Meanwhile a somewhat forlorn group of protesters huddled outside in the cold, earning the wrath of the St John’s management and the police.