Protesters Disrupt Symphony Performance — but Conductor Lets Them Speak


Sep. 12 2023, Updated 1:09 p.m. ET

Climate activists have been taking more extreme measures to raise awareness about the climate crisis. Protests have become more public than ever as activists target events and places where they can reach a larger audience.

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But when two climate protesters interrupted a classical music performance in Switzerland in September 2023, instead of having them forcibly removed, the conductor let them talk. Here are more details on what happened at the climate protest during a symphony performance.

Conductor Vladimir Jurowski leading the Bavarian State Orchestra.
Source: Bavarian State Orchestra/Instagram

Conductor Vladimir Jurowski leading the Bavarian State Orchestra.

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Climate protesters took the stage during a symphony show.

Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski was leading the Bavarian State Orchestra in Anton Bruckner’s fourth symphony at the Lucerne Festival on Sept. 8, 2023, when, during the third movement of the symphony, two protesters jumped on stage in front of the podium, CNN reported.

The protesters were wearing “Act Now!” T-shirts and were part of Renovate Switzerland, an activist group pressing the Swiss government to take measures to combat climate change by 2030.

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Upon jumping on the stage, one of the protesters shouted something out to the audience. "We must act now, take our future into our hands. Heat waves, drought, floods. It's time now," she said, as per Google Translate.

At first, Jurowski looked a little confused. But when the audience started booing and yelling at the protesters, the conductor put a finger to his lips to shush the crowd and then continued to lead the orchestra.

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Then, Vladimir Jurowski allowed the climate activists to speak.

Jurowski then turned and told the audience that he “made a deal” to let the protesters say their peace, CNN reported. He also asked the audience to listen to what the protesters had to say.

“We all listen without commenting. I promised them, gave my word of honor, that there would be no commentary, and then let us play the fourth set,” he told the crowd, as per Google Translate. "That was the deal. Please help me."

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When some people in the audience started whistling and shouting at the protesters, the conductor shut them down and threatened to stop the performance altogether if the crowd didn’t let the protesters finish speaking.

“Stop! Let them talk for once, and then we will play our symphony. Otherwise, I’ll leave the stage now. And if you don’t let them finish, then I have broken my word,” Jurowski said, as translated by CNN. He then sat down next to the podium until the protesters were finished speaking.

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Translated by CNN, one of the protesters said: “Anthony and I are here today because we are very concerned. We are very sorry that we have to interrupt this concert. But we have a climate emergency that we really need to get a handle on.”

"We need to take more security measures," she also stated, as per Google Translate. "That's why we're here today, to make this clear again. We are so sorry."

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Music festival organizers condemned the protesters' actions.

In a post on Twitter, now X, after the performance, Renovate Switzerland thanked Jurowski for his support. However, the Lucerne Festival later condemned the disruption caused by the protesters while also praising the conductor for handling the situation “calmly and constructively.” Festival representatives said the protesters weren’t forcibly removed “in order to avoid escalation.”

"We very much regret that yesterday's concert was unexpectedly interrupted by two climate activists from Renovate Switzerland,” said Lucerne Festival Director Michael Haefliger in a statement posted to Facebook. “In general, we support standing up for environmental issues. However, we have no sympathy at all for the way the two activists acted last night. They disturbed our audience as well as the artists."

The general public may have mixed feelings on disruptive protests in the name of climate change. But as the climate crisis continues to worsen, drastic measures must be taken to get the people in power to listen.

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