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Rod Liddle

The conductor, a joke between friends and an orchestrated race storm

Matthew Halls was apparently sacked over a ‘racist’ remark – but even in liberal Oregon, everyone’s on his side

16 September 2017

9:00 AM

16 September 2017

9:00 AM

A fascinating story has emerged from a north-western leftie quadrant of the United States: the sacking of British conductor Matthew Halls from his post of artistic director of the Oregon Bach Festival, in the college town of Eugene.

Mr Halls insists he has not been told why he has been fired. Sponsors and supporters of the festival are also in the dark. Oregon University, which runs the bash, has said only that it intends to pursue a ‘different direction’ to the one pursued by Mr Halls, and hence he has to go. I would have thought there were a limited number of directions one could pursue with a Bach festival, most of them in the general direction of playing some Bach, but there we are. However, a very close friend of Mr Halls’s thinks he knows why he was fired. Reginald Mobley, a hugely talented counter-tenor, and an African-American, believes it is because a stupid white woman overheard a conversation between himself and Halls and construed one of Halls’s comments as being — yes, yes, we’re there again — racist. And complained to the authorities.

The conversation involved Mobley complaining that a performance he had recently given in England had a certain ‘antebellum’ feel to it. Halls apparently apologised on behalf of England and added, in a humorous deep South accent: ‘Do you want some grits?’ The stupid woman heard this and later asked Mobley if he felt he had been the victim of a racist slight. The astonished singer replied, of course not, it was harmless joke between friends. I am not sure what level on the official SJW Cretin Scale you would need to be to find such a comment racist. Fairly high up, I think. Anyway, learning of his friend’s peremptory sacking, Mobley was furious, insisting that Halls had been victimised. Mobley was not invited to give his views of the matter to the university, by the way.

But Oregon University still refuses to say why Halls was sacked, on one occasion suggesting that his removal may or may not have been connected to this ludicrous allegation of racism, and on a later occasion (anonymously) saying it was nothing to do with it. And this I think is the interesting bit. The festival organisers and the university have been hit with what I can only describe as a shitstorm of criticism over their decision. Halls was extremely popular, with both players and concert-goers, and had done a good job at the festival.


But more than that, even in this most liberal of cities (and Eugene is very, very liberal indeed), correspondents to both local papers, the Eugene Weekly and the Register-Guard, have denounced the idiocy inherent in construing racism in Halls’s remarks and sacking him for it. There has scarcely been a word of support for the actions of the college. At the very most, a few writers have wondered if the college is telling the truth and the non-racist racist stuff was nothing to do with his sacking. And even they write with an air of utter mystification.

I think the university sacked him over the non-racist racist incident and is now deeply embarrassed. Let me explain why.

First, it was only in June that Halls was offered a very lucrative contract to direct the festival for the next four years. This involved a large pay rise which took his earnings into six figures. Second, I have seen the letter sent to Halls informing him of his sacking. It begins: ‘Dear Mr Halls: Pursuant to the termination provisions in Section 12(b)… the University of Oregon is providing you with 30 days written notice of its intention to terminate our contract… we ask you to cease work on all University projects.’ It goes on: ‘In addition, I understand that you have been in discussions with the University’s School of Music to possibly teach conducting classes and various rehearsals this coming fall. Please note that the University is not able to proceed with that contract as well.’

And that’s it: terse, brusque, not even the vaguest ‘thanks for all the fish’. Not a single line commending him for his previous good work. Just empty your desk, scumbag, you’re out. Is that the sort of letter that would be sent if the university had, as it suggested, suddenly had a change of heart over how it wished the festival to continue, with no blame attaching to Mr Halls? It doesn’t read like it to me. And why have the authorities remained silent? Privacy is scarcely an issue: Halls contacted the Eugene Weekly to tell them he’d been sacked but had been given no reason why. Clearly privacy does not come into the equation. And then there is the counter-tenor, Mr Mobley. He is furious on behalf of his friend. Did he make it all up, the stuff about the stupid white woman and the complaint? Why would he do that?

The local papers are now suggesting that the Oregon Bach Festival is dead in the water. I have not been able to find a single person supporting the university’s view. And that’s the thing. Even though these sorts of stories crop up once a week, minimum, the proportion of people who go along with this insane level of political correctness is actually minuscule. A tiny handful of complainants, almost always but not exclusively white, and the white liberals who run stuff become transfixed. Not to take action when an allegation of racism or misogyny or homophobia is made, is far worse than sacking someone for, effectively, no reason whatsoever. Anyone who makes such an allegation, no matter how ludicrous, must be believed.

Meanwhile, Mr Mobley has been expressing his thoughts on it all. ‘I’m the subject of a falsified story, without having the chance to have my say,’ he said. ‘My voice has been taken away in a conversation about race that involved me, and technically that’s racist.’

Spectator.co.uk/Rodliddle
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