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Finnish BBC symphony conductor embroiled in British political storm

The BBC's decision to omit two traditional anthems from a classical music performance has led to "abuse and threats".

Kapellimestari Dalia Stasevska.
Principal Guest Conductor Dalia Stasevska of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Image: Nikolaj Lund

Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska, currently the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s principal guest conductor, became the target of threats after a row over a concert playlist escalated into a highly politicised debate.

The controversy began when The Sunday Times newspaper reported that the BBC was planning to drop the traditional British anthems "Rule Britannia" and "Land of Hope and Glory" from the Last Night of The Proms, the final performance of an annual classical music festival.

The paper said organisers were making the changes because of a "perceived association with colonialism and slavery", and added that Stasevska--the Last Night’s conductor--wanted to "modernise the evening’s repertoire and reduce the patriotic elements" because of her support for causes such as Black Lives Matter.

The issue became further politicised when Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage tweeted his indignation at the reported omission of the traditional anthems.

Nigel Farage tviitti

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also weighed in on the debate when he said he was opposed to the decision and that Britain should stop "our cringing embarrassment about our history".

On Tuesday, the BBC announced that "Rule Britannia" would be performed, but without lyrics, although added that the song would be sung again next year. A spokesperson for the broadcaster said there was no political agenda behind the decision, but rather it was a coronavirus precaution, as a huge choir is needed to perform the song.

Many health agencies, including Finland's Institute for Health and Welfare, advise that the act of singing, particularly by large groups of people, can cause the spread of the virus.

Stasevska "wrongly portrayed"

Stasevska released a personal statement via her management company Harrison Parrott on Thursday, revealing that the "inaccurate speculation" over her role in the BBC’s decision has led to her and her family becoming the subject of "abuse and threats".

"For the record I have played no role in deciding the traditional elements of the programme, I recognise these are an important part of the event. I’ve been wrongly portrayed as a person who tries to influence political debates – this is not true. I am an artist, I want to be able to speak through my work to bring people together and build solidarity," Stasevska wrote.

The BBC has apologised to Stasevska for the severe criticism she has faced, with a spokesperson describing the attacks as "unjustified and misguided".

Yle reached out to Stasevska, but she was not willing to comment further at this time.

The Last Night of the Proms concert, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Dalia Stasevska, will be live streamed from London’s Albert Hall on 12 September with no audience present.

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