Dr. John Suk, Minister of the LPCC: "This is a huge shock." Photo by Gilbert Francois

Dr. John Suk, Minister of the LPCC: "This is a huge shock."

Jenna Simeonov

Yesterday I received an email from DeeAnn Sagar, Youth Leader at Lawrence Park Community Church. Last week, the LPCC was unfairly entangled in the controversy surrounding pianist Valentina Lisitsa, whose concerts with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra were cancelled. After the TSO cancelled her concerts, Lisitsa announced the LPCC as the new venue for her Toronto performance, on Friday, April 10th, even though the church hadn’t been booked.

So, I was thrilled to hear from Sagar, who contacted me in the hopes of shedding more public light on what really happenened between Lisitsa and the Lawrence Park Community Church. She put me in touch with the church’s Minister, Dr. John Suk, who caught the brunt end of the backlash of Lisitsa’s unwarranted announcement.

I asked first about the origin of the concert announcement at the LPCC. Dr. Suk explains, “Someone (I believe it was the gentleman whose pianos are being used by the North York Music Festival) asked the Festival people, on Thursday afternoon, whether or not the festival/church (not sure how it was couched) would be willing to host a Lisitsa concert.”

The North York Music Festival left a message for the LPCC on Thursday, April 9th, asking to discuss the matter further; the message had been left after administrative hours, and the church only received it on Friday the 10th. “No request was made for a booking,” adds Suk.

When Suk realized on Thursday night the story was already circulating in the media, he rushed to speak for the LPCC.

Suk: “I immediately called Canada Press, The Star, and tried to get through to other news venues with this message: We did not rent the facility to Lisitsa. We did not discuss it. This is a huge shock.”

Upon checking Lisitsa’s Twitter feed, Suk read her announcement of the April 10th concert at his church.

Suk: “I tweeted her and told her that no booking had been made. I was polite but firm.”

Lisitsa responded to Suk, asking, “But hasn’t the festival discuss it with you? or did you receive threats after the announcement?” Suk responded that there had been no threats (“Threats? No! None.”), and that the concert simply had not been booked.

He adds that the North York Music Festival “had not promised Lisitsa or the Piano guy that they could do the concert under their banner.”

Suk was soon flooded with comments on Twitter, condemning his “cancellation” of Lisitsa’s performance. “Many were filthy, called me a liar, called me by famous war-criminal names,” he says.

Complicating the story further was the misinformation initially distributed by several media outlets, suggesting the church refused to host Lisitsa. The story was corrected by Canada Press, and both the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun ran follow-ups.

Lisitsa hasn’t continued her conversation with the church, and Suk looks to her and the “Piano guy” to correct the errors surrounding the situation. He says they’re “not doing the polite thing and letting everyone know that they had made a mistake, and had not followed through on their intention to rent the church. So simple. But no apologies or regrets from either party.”

The church would have been willing to discuss the possibility of a concert, says Suk, “if we had received a request.”

Suk: “Lisitsa has a right to free speech, and she makes use of that. But in the meantime she has become a controversial figure that polarizes Toronto. For us to have a discussion about such a rental before it happens would only be natural.”

I’m in complete agreement with Dr. Suk. I’m surprised at Lisitsa’s silence on this issue. The Lawrence Park Community Church spent last weekend fending off vitriolic emails, and scrambling to keep their website and social media pages free from uninformed insults. I see a similarity with Stewart Goodyear, who was initially asked to replace Lisitsa with the TSO, but he was pushed to withdraw after facing hateful backlash from Lisitsa’s supporters. If Lisitsa herself were to speak explicitly about her miscommunication with the LPCC, or about the rights of free speech extending to a fellow pianist like Goodyear, it would certainly help quell the Internet mob.

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