On Thursday, the Pomona College Orchestra informed its musicians that they could opt out of performing the song Don Juan in their upcoming concert because the piece—which centers around the libertine Don Juan character—could be insensitive to students who were upset by the election of Donald Trump.

“When I programmed Don Juan, the presidential nominees of the two major parties were known, and the smart money was on a Clinton victory…You have worked immensely hard on this piece, and it is a great musical accomplishment…I would prefer not to cancel our performances of it,” the conductor of the Pomona College Orchestra stated in an e-mail to the orchestra. “But I understand that some of you may have serious reservations, especially in the wake of Tuesday’s results, about appearing to embrace a narrative that presents women as objects to be pursued by wealthy males who can get away with it. And I need you to know that I respect those reservations…I extend to each of you the invitation to opt out of our performances of Don Juan.”

“The character of Don Juan was introduced in 1630 Spanish stage work. It was intended as a satirical morality play, the lesson being that, no matter how hedonistically one might live one’s life, sins must be atoned for at the end,” the email continues. “Don Juan is what we would charitably refer to as a ‘womanizer,’ and that with clearer vision we would identify as a sexual predator,” the e-mail states, adding that “the question of how to engage art that has a troubling backstory is always complicated.”

The e-mail added that the orchestra “will try to find guests to fill in any holes that get created…Assuming we still have enough of an orchestra to present the piece, the show will go on.”

Ultimately, no member of the orchestra chose to drop out of the performance, according to an e-mail update.  “I enjoy the music of Don Juan purely for its musical value rather than its programmatic inspiration,” stated a member of the orchestra in a message to the Independent.

The concert set featuring Don Juan will take place on Friday, November 18th and Sunday, November 20th at Pomona College’s Bridges Hall of Music. The Pomona College Orchestra consists of students and faculty of the Claremont Colleges as well as members of the community.


Image: Flickr

Categories: Campus News
  • As a former zine publisher, poet and newspaperman who has performed at Pomona as well as had many friends, colleagues and acquaintances who have also performed there, I am concerned that the message ultimately sent is that it would have been OK to carry on the message of misogyny if a woman had been elected prexy of the U.S. I mean, seriously: were minstrels back in fashion when President Obama was then-president-elect?
    Unless this is some sort of Onion-esque prank, I wonder at the logic of this decision to systemically allow the show to not go on.
    I recall when this same college, in the 1990s, allowed and even formally participated in the censorship of a particular monthly rag that I won’t mention (it wasn’t mine, I should add) that was apparently too liberal for it at the time. It may not be a pattern in the definition of a newsman (“once always happens; twice is a coincidence; three times is a pattern”), but it’s damn close.

  • Samuel Breslow

    Will, could you provide a full transcript of the letter, just so that people have more context to work with?