Paul Simon speaks out on Swedish theatre ban

American singer-songwriter Paul Simon has spoken out after Universal Music's Nordic headquarters put a stop to a Stockholm performance of The Sound of Silence, a play by a Latvian theatre company based around the music of the same name by Simon & Garfunkel.

Paul Simon speaks out on Swedish theatre ban

The play, which is about the experiences of 14 young Latvians in the aftermath of the cancellation of a 1968 Simon and Garfunkel concert, was to be performed by the New Riga Theatre group at the Stockholm City Theatre (Stockholms stadsteater) last week. The performance was part of the cultural programme of the Swedish EU Presidency.

Madeleine Sjöstedt, Vice Mayor of Culture and Sports for the City of Stockholm, contacted Paul Simon following the cancellation on behalf of New Riga Theatre.

“Sound of Silence is a play that uses the fact that a Simon & Garfunkel concert was cancelled in Riga 1968. The characters are trying to listen to your music through a bad radio and envy the neighbours that do have the record. The play with the references to your music symbolizes an emerging liberalism in the Soviet occupied Baltic countries that made it possible to dream of another life,” she wrote.

“It was with great disappointment that I got the message that the very much foreseen play could not be performed in Stockholm. According to your representatives in Stockholm you personally have engaged in the matter and would not allow performance,” Sjöstedt continued.

In response to Sjöstedt’s plea, Paul Simon has said, via his official representative Eddie Simon, that he had nothing to do with the cancellation of the Latvian play, which has toured several countries including Canada, Germany, France, Finland, Latvia and Austria. Furthermore, he has said that Universal Music has no authority to represent him on matters related to theatre rights.

Sjöstedt then received a personal phone call from Eddie Simon assuring her that Paul Simon had not been involved in the decision to stop the performce.

In a letter to Sjöstedt, Eddie Simon wrote: “As we discussed Universal Publishing does not speak for Mr. Simon in this matter. Universal represents Mr. Simon in routine publishing matters in Sweden and other countries, but our relationship does not include rights relating to the theatre. I am confident we can clear this matter up in a few days.”

Svenska Dagbladet newspaper reported that Universal’s Nordic office claimed to have been acting on instructions from company headquarters in the United States.

For Sjöstedt, the issue is a larger one of who has the authority to determine performance rights in theatres.

“We believe that the existing agreements in Sweden between the theatres and the the Swedish Performing Rights Society (STIM) function extremely well. I hope that there is now an end to the discussions about how we regulate the agreements about what to be is performed (on Swedish) theatre stages,” she told SvD.

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