THE SCOOP | The Classical Music World Responds To The Invasion Of Ukraine

By Anya Wassenberg on March 1, 2022

(L-R) Rally in support of Ukraine in Times Square following the Russian invasion of Ukraine (via Rhododendrites); Pro-Putin conductor Valery Gergiev
(L-R) Rally in support of Ukraine in Times Square following the Russian invasion of Ukraine (via Rhododendrites); Pro-Putin conductor Valery Gergiev

As war rages in Ukraine, it’s impossible for the classical music world not to respond. Both Russia and Ukraine have had an enormous presence throughout the history of European music, and the reaction from that part of the industry has been swift.

The case of Valery Gergiev

As of this morning, March 1, 2022, Valery Gergiev is out of a job. The public announcement came from Dieter Reiter, mayor of Munich.

Conductor Valery Gergiev is a star of the classical music world. He’s Russian, but above that circumstance of nationality, he’s a longstanding friend and supporter of Vladimir Putin, the architect of the current conflict in the Ukraine. He’s appeared in campaign ads for Putin, and publicly supported the 2014 annexation of Crimea, among other things.

The 68-year-old maestro has come under pressure from many stakeholders to speak out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The fallout from his refusal to do so has been sweeping.

His manager, Marcus Felsner, announced that he would be dropping his high profile client, who he nonetheless called “the greatest conductor alive and an extraordinary human being with a profound sense of decency”. He cited Gergiev’s continued refusal to denounce the invasion as the reason. He’s quoted by The Guardian.

“In the light of the criminal war waged by the Russian regime against the democratic and independent nation of Ukraine, and against the European open society as a whole, it has become impossible for us, and clearly unwelcome, to defend the interests of Maestro Gergiev,” he explained. Felsner called it, “the saddest day of my professional life.”

Mayor of Munich Dieter Reiter had given Gergiev a deadline of Monday, February 28 to make a public statement denouncing the Ukrainian invasion.

“I have made my position clear to Gergiev and also called on him to clearly and unequivocally distance himself from the brutal war of aggression that Putin is waging against Ukraine,” Reiter said in a statement.

“Should Gergiev not have clearly taken a stance by Monday, he can no longer remain chief conductor of our Philharmonic Orchestra,” Reiter commented to the German press.

Gergiev had been principal conductor of the Munich Phil since 2015. He currently serves as chief of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg.

That’s not all.

  • His appearances at Carnegie Hall and a US tour with the Vienna Philharmonic have been cancelled. He’s been barred by the Philharmonie concert hall in Paris.
  • The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra — which launched the yearly Gergiev Festival in 1996 —  and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Festival (scheduled for September 2022) have severed all ties with him.
  • In addition to his appearances with the Vienna Phil, Metropolitan Opera music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin cancelled two performances in May by the Mariinsky Orchestra under Gergiev’s baton.
  • Gergiev was forced to resign as the honorary president of the Edinburgh International Festival.

A chorus of boos greeted the maestro at La Scala for a performance of The Queen of Spades, as reported in Italian media.

The mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, who acts as president of La Scala opera house, also called on Gergiev to issue a statement condemning the invasion. If he doesn’t, he’ll be dropped from an upcoming performance on March 5.

The fallout spreads

Gergiev is not the only one feeling the heat of public opinion in the wake of the Russian military aggression.

  • Performances by the Bolshoi Ballet and other Russian arts organizations have been cancelled throughout the UK.
  • Artists like Elīna Garanča, Piotr Beczala, Joseph Calleja, and Ingo Metzmacher have cancelled their performances and appearances in Russia, and with Russian arts organizations.
  • The Rīga Jūrmala classical music festival in Latvia scheduled for the summer has been cancelled.

Elīna Garanča’s social media post is quoted in OperaWire.

“Dear friends – this is to inform you that last Thursday, on the first day of attack on Ukraine, I have withdrawn completely from any future concerts in Russia. I find it irresponsible and highly immoral to have my name associated with any events in a country that has decided in the light of the criminal war waged by the Russian regime against the democratic and independent nation of Ukraine, and against the European open society as a whole. I can not support people who support Putin and his regime even if they are trapped in not being able to give an open and honest statement.”

She continued, “But being a Latvian, knowing what invasion and occupation is, me being a mother and teaching my children the meaning of morality, I stand with my voice for freedom and independence of Ukraine! War is NO solution! Music indeed has to unite, and what would the world be without cultural exchanges between each other, but, as history has shown, we can and should be able to choose which political leaders’ ideology to follow!”

At the Met

The Metropolitan Opera made an announcement that it would drop all organizations and performers who voice support for Putin. Peter Gelb, general manager, explained in a video statement.

“While we believe strongly in the warm friendship and cultural exchange that has long existed between the artists and artistic institutions of Russia and the United States,” Gelb said, “we can no longer engage with artists or institutions that support Putin or are supported by him.”

Gelb explained that the restrictions would be in place “until the invasion and killing has been stopped, order has been restored, and restitutions have been made.”

The move puts into question an upcoming appearance by Anna Netrebko, who has some connections with Putin, in the Met’s production of Turandot. While Netrebko has denounced the war in principle, she also made a statement on Instagram that has since been deleted, “forcing artists, or any public figure, to voice their political opinions in public and to denounce their homeland is not right.”

In addition, the Met had expected help from the Bolshoi for its upcoming production of Wagner’s Lohengrin. “We’re scrambling, but I think we’ll have no choice but to physically build our own sets and costumes,” Gelb told the New York Times.

At the opening night of Verdi’s Don Carlos, the Met Orchestra and Chorus performed the Ukrainian national anthem in solidarity with the beleaguered nation.

Let’s hope for an end to the conflict soon.


Get the daily arts news straight to your inbox.

Sign up for the Ludwig van Daily — classical music and opera in five minutes or less HERE.

Follow me
Share this article
comments powered by Disqus

daily news straight to your inbox by 6 am

company logo
Terms of Service & Privacy Policy
© 2022, Museland Media, Inc., All Rights Reserved.