A leading festival director called the Sydney Symphony Orchestra board 'craven' for not backing same-sex marriage

Leo Schofield (right), with David Wenham and Kate Agnew. Photo El Pics/ Getty Images.

One of the country’s leading arts organisations is being accused by supporters of being less progressive than the National Rugby League after the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) board decided to remain neutral on the issue of the same-sex marriage postal survey.

While a range of sporting, business and arts companies have come out in support of the “Yes” campaign, the SSO concluded that “does not feel it has the right to take a position” and gathered staff to inform them of its decision this week.

The news infuriated arts festival director Leo Schofield, who was the SSO’s inaugural chairman between 1996 and 2000, and called the decision a disgrace.

Schofield called the board directors “craven” in a post on Facebook, saying the “aligned themselves with the antediluvian Catholic Archbishops of Sydney and Brisbane”.

“Every significant arts organisation in the country has nailed its colours to the mast, every arts practitioner worth his or her salt, every thinking patron, sponsor, audience member supports change. The reason the board, supposedly unanimously, has opted for this course is that they don’t want to politicise music,” he wrote.

Schofield said the idea that music wasn’t political was “utter drivel”.

“Music, even in the pursuit of change, has always been political. Great composers, whose music forms the core of the symphonic repertoire, active revolutionaries such as Verdi and Wagner, nationalist like Sibelius, Shostakovich and Britten, recognised that artists need to speak out against injustice,” he said.

“Disgusted at Napoleon’s bellicosity and European power grab, Beethoven struck the name of the Emperor from the dedication page of his Eroica Symphony.”

The outspoken arts guru, who was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his service to the arts, also took aim at the federal government’s postal survey saying “imagine how much glorious music might be commissioned with the $122 million that this divisive charade is costing”.

He said Australia will, “sooner rather than later, bow to the irresistible force of time and join the 22 other enlightened countries that have legislated for same sex marriage”.

“As with a thousand such once tumultuous changes, the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, conscription, the 40-hour week, indigenous rights and even 10 o’clock closing, commonsense will prevail and the bigots will be crushed under the wheels of the juggernaught of history,” Schofield said.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra released its own statement on the issue the day after Schofield’s blast. Here’s what they said:

The SSO is a highly-respected organisation spanning more than 85 years with members, concertgoers, very generous sponsors and donors, not to mention loyal and committed staff and musicians, all of whom come from wide and diverse backgrounds and opinions.

It has always been the case that the SSO has engendered organisational initiatives and performances that reflect an abiding commitment to inclusiveness, fairness and acceptance and that the company has at its core a commitment to everyone in our community – regardless of gender, orientation, cultural background or religious beliefs – of performing music to the highest calibre for which the orchestra is celebrated around the world.

There is no question that the SSO strongly supports the rights of all citizens to place on the record their views, by way of the private and confidential postal plebiscite and as such, the company does not feel it has the right to take a position and commit our stakeholders to one side or the other and
has decided it should remain neutral.

We urge all Australians to respect the democratic process of the majority decision, one way or the other, in a spirit of goodwill and cooperation towards each other in a peaceful resolution.

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