Russian Conductor Faces the Perfect Storm

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Valery Gergeiv, celebrated Russian conductor who is both the general and artistic director of the Mariinsky Theater, a historic opera and ballet theater in St. Petersburg, as well as the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, will face protests from queer activists on Thursday, November 7, when he leads a performance of Berlioz at the Barbican Concert Hall in London.

Peter Tatchell, noted British gay political activist, is the lead organizer behind the protests against Gergeiv, which he says are in response to Gergeiv’s support for Putin’s government, Russian anti-gay legislation, and the incarceration of Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist punk band that made headlines last year when it conducted a “Punk intervention” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

In a political action against Gergeiv’s support of the state of affairs in Russia last week, Tatchell took to the stage on the opening night of the LSO’s season at the Barbican, slipping past security staff by wearing a tuxedo.

“Valery Gergiev is a friend, ally and supporter of the Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin…I ask you to oppose tyranny and show your support for the Russian people,’ said Tatchell in a sixty-second statement he delivered to the audience before being taken off stage.

In a blog posted on his site Monday, November 4, Tatchell invites people to protest Gergeiv, who he says “has been listed a celebrity supporter of the autocratic Russian president, Vladimir Putin, whose regime harasses journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders and LGBT campaigners. Peaceful protesters and opposition leaders are being arrested, often on trumped up charges, in a bid to silence and intimidate critics.”

The protest takes place on the anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, and calls for a new, non-violent democratic revolution in Russia. Citing the repression of the LGBT community, as well as unjust incarcerations of political dissidents, and the infringement of civil liberties in the Russian state, Tatchell calls for a need to protest Putin and his supporters.

Anticipating the protest about to take place, Gergiev addressed the issue of homophobia on his facebook page in a statement posted on Wednesday, November 6.

“I have said before that I do not discriminate against anyone, gay or otherwise, and never have done, and as head of the Mariinsky Theatre this is our policy,” said Gergiev, in a statement that can be read here.

“It is wrong to suggest that I have ever supported anti-gay legislation and in all my work I have upheld equal rights for all people.”

Critics, including Tatchell, point out that while his statement does make it quite clear that Gergiev does not support discrimination against the LGBT community, he does not address his endorsement of Putin, or of the Russian state, which is currently under fire for the rampant homophobia and LGBT oppression taking place within its borders.

Gergiev has received numerous honors from Putin for his vocal support of his candidacy, including the Hero of Labor, the second highest rank award in the state, which recognizes “excellence in public, social and economic activities.”

He has also received multi-million state grants for personal projects, including the restoration of the Mariinksy Theater, which cost the state $700 million.

“I am an artist…this is my focus as a conductor, musician, artist and as Artistic and General Director of the Mariinsky Theatre and Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra,” says Gergiev on his Facebook page.

The question is whether a successful artist, who uses his popularity and skill to gain favor with audiences worldwide, should be held accountable for how he uses that influence for personal gains. Is public and vocal support for Putin, which is mutually beneficial to both the Russian President and the famous Russian conductor, a political act, and one that Gergiev should be held accountable for?

“His loyalty to Putin has been rewarded with personal honours and massive state grants for his pet projects. Gergiev is a great conductor but he colludes with a tyrant and shows little respect for freedom and equality,” Tatchell said on his website, in a November 7 post.

At least one political activist seems to think so.

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