The pressure is increasing on Russian artists around the war in Ukraine , so that they distance themselves from President Vladimir Putin , under penalty of being persona non grata on Western stages.
The world of classical music was thus shaken on Tuesday by the dismissal of conductor Valery Gergiev , a close associate of the Kremlin, from the management of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra (southern Germany), while the soprano Anna Netrebko, in a delicate position, has decided to suspend her concerts.
The silence of Valery Gergiev
Concert cancellations had been chained in recent days for the 68-year-old maestro, one of the most active on the international scene. Several institutions had sent him an ultimatum, his support for Vladimir Putin earning him criticism for several years already.
“Munich is parting ways with chief conductor Valery Gergiev,” the city’s mayor, Dieter Reiter, announced. The Bavarian elected official had asked him to “clearly and categorically distance himself” from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the conductor remained silent. This silence also earned him the exclusion of forthcoming performances of an opera by Tchaikovsky at La Scala in Milan.
The director of the prestigious Italian theater, Dominique Meyer, sent him a letter on Tuesday evening “to inform him that La Scala will entrust a new conductor” with the direction of La Dame de pique from March 5, according to a press release from the institution. He will be replaced by the young Russian maestro Timur Zangiev, 27, who “has already conducted part of the rehearsals” and was “highly appreciated by the orchestra”.
Displayed support for Vladimir Putin
In addition to his duties at the head of the Munich Philharmonic, since 2015, Valery Gergiev has also been director of the prestigious Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg, the birthplace of the Russian president. His closeness to Vladimir Putin, whom he has known since 1992, and his loyalty to him have earned him many controversies, especially when he took part in concerts in South Ossetia where Russian soldiers intervened and, in 2016, in Palmyra, in Syria, alongside the army of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
So far, none of these positions had prevented him from conducting a concert. But his refusal to disavow the military invasion of Ukraine was a game-changer. The Philharmonie de Paris, the Swiss festival of Lucerne or the New York hall Carnegie Hall have canceled several dates of his concerts. He also had to resign from his positions as musical director of the orchestras of the Verbier Festival, in Switzerland, and the Edinburgh Festival, in Scotland.
On Sunday, it was his German artistic agent, Marcus Felsner, who decided to stop representing Valery Gergiev.
Call for a boycott of Anna Netrebko
In the wake of the maestro, other Russian artists are implicated. The Bavarian Opera and La Scala canceled performances by Russian soprano Anna Netrebko on Tuesday.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Andrij Melnyk, had earlier called on Twitter for a boycott of his Wednesday performance at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, northern Germany. This was finally postponed to September 2022: in the afternoon, the concert organizer, River Concerts, released a press release from the 50-year-old diva in which she announced “to give up concerts until further notice » . “It’s not the right time for me to perform and make music. I hope my audience will understand this decision,” she added.
If the singer has not openly proclaimed her support for Vladimir Putin, she is notably accused of having traveled to Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, in December 2015, to pose there with the flag of the separatist rebels. prorussians.
“Uniting people across political divides”
On Sunday, Anna Netrebko declared on Instagram “opposed to this war” with Ukraine, but without taking sides against the leaders of her country or clearly showing her solidarity with the Ukrainians.
“It is not right to force artists, or any other personalities, to express their political opinions in public and to denounce their homeland. (…) I am not a political person. I am not a political expert. I am an artist and my goal is to unite people across political divisions,” defended the star.