Activists who support Ukraine are protesting a three-concert series at New York City’s famous Carnegie Hall this weekend featuring Russian conductor Valery Gergiev.
Gergiev is not just any Russian musician: Over the years, he has been closely allied with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a country that reveres its classical music heritage and performers. In 2014, he — along with another classical celebrity, star soprano Anna Netrebko — voiced their support for Putin’s actions in Donetsk. (Donetsk is one of the areas that Putin recognized as an independent region on Monday, and to which he ordered Russian troops.)
In 2013, Putin revived a Stalin-era prize for Gergiev, awarding him the Hero of Labor of the Russian Federation prize — a year after Gergiev appeared in a Putin election campaign video, proclaiming his support. Their ties actually go back even further, to when Putin was a vocal champion of the Mariinsky (formerly Kirov) opera and ballet companies while serving as vice mayor of St. Petersburg, and where Gergiev was and remains general and artistic director.
Pianist Denis Matsuev, who will be soloing with the Vienna Philharmonic at Friday night’s performance, is also a vocal proponent of Putin and publicly endorsed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. In 2020, the Russian leader tapped him to be part of a working group to consider proposed changes to the Russian Federation’s constitution.
The chances that Gergiev or Matsuev will actually step down from these scheduled New York concerts are low. Gergiev in particular is a reliable ticket seller — an especially important consideration right now, when international orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic, are just starting to emerge from their pandemic-era financial losses. (The Friday evening performance with Gergiev, Matsuev and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is scheduled to be livestreamed by member station WQXR.)
By contrast, the mayor in the Italian city of Milan — home to one of the world’s most prestigious opera houses, La Scala — publicly called on Thursday for Gergiev to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Gergiev is scheduled to lead performances of Tchaikovsky’s opera Pique Dame there until March 15, but the mayor said that if Gergiev doesn’t issue the statement, “the collaboration will be over,” according to the newspaper Il Corriere.
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