Conservative Talk Show Host Slated To Conduct Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra Sparks Controversy

On August 16, the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra will take to the stage at the Walt Disney Concert Hall for a fundraiser performance that's guest conducted by conservative radio host Dennis Prager—an addition that has caused controversy in the all-volunteer orchestra.

"We believe that Dennis Prager’s publicly stated positions are fundamentally at odds with our community’s values and that the proposed concert would deeply damage our orchestra’s relationship with our community," says an open letter that's signed by four members of the orchestra.

“Being a gay person who has been discriminated against, I don’t want to perform with somebody who has written some pretty awful things about gay people, women and minorities,” Zach Zyskowski, a member of the orchestra who has not signed the letter, told the New York Times.

Over the years, Prager, who hosts The Dennis Prager Show, a nationally-syndicated conservative radio talk show, has made several public remarks on race, same-sex marriage, and liberal news media that has drawn criticism.

“The left has a monopoly, almost a monopoly, on hysteria,” Prager said at a conservative summit in 2016, notes CNSNews. “And I will just give you a few examples of the hysterias of your lifetime. One was heterosexual AIDS in America." Prager has also suggested same-sex marriage will open the door to polygamy and incest, and said that the West's news media is a "far greater risk" to Western Civilization than Russia.

“For me, it was a nonissue,” Guido Lamell, the symphony's conductor, told the Times about his decision to invite Prager. “I was responding to his musical experience.”

Prager has previously guest conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, among other local symphonies. "I have studied classical music since high school, when I first began playing piano and studying orchestral scores," Prager wrote in a National Review op-ed on the Santa Monica Symphony controversy. "I conduct orchestras because I love making music; but I also do so because I want to help raise funds for local orchestras (I have never been paid to conduct) and because I want to expose as many people to classical music as possible."

Lamell also noted that the controversy surrounding Prager's guest spot (he will conduct the orchestra's rendition of Hayden's Symphony No.51) has sold over half the fundraiser's tickets.

“I personally will most certainly not be attending a concert featuring a bigoted hate monger," Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown told the Santa Monica Daily Press. "The judgement (or lack of) shown in inviting Prager may affect future community support for the Symphony (whose concerts I have attended in the past).”

But Lamell remains committed to his decision, defusing any political connotations suggested by Prager's involvement. “This concert is entirely not about political issues,” Lamell told the Santa Monica Lookout.

The Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra's summer fundraising gala will be held on August 16 at 8 p.m. at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. General admission tickets range in price from $40 to $100, and can be purchased here.