Valery Gergiev, a Putin supporter, will not conduct at Carnegie Hall
Carnegie Hall and the Vienna Philharmonic announced on Thursday that Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, a friend and prominent supporter of Russian President Vladimir V Putin, would no longer lead a concert series there this week amid mounting international condemnation of Mr Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine.
Mr Gergiev, who was due to conduct the Philharmonic in three high-profile performances at the hall from Friday night, has come under increasing scrutiny for his support of Mr Putin, whom he has known and repeatedly defended for three decades.
No reason was given for his removal from the programs. But the extraordinary last-minute decision to replace a star maestro ostensibly because of his ties to Mr Putin – just days after the Philharmonic chairman insisted Gergiev would appear as an artist rather than a politician – reflected the rapidly strengthening one global uproar over the invasion.
While Mr. Gergiev has not spoken publicly about the unfolding attack, he has supported Mr. Putin’s previous moves against Ukraine, and his appearance in Carnegie should provoke vocal protests. He has been the target of similar demonstrations during previous performances in New York amid criticism of Mr. Putin Law Prohibiting “Propaganda Concerning Non-Traditional Sexual Relations,‘ which has been seen as an attempt to quash Russia’s gay rights movement and its annexation of Crimea.
Carnegie and the Philharmonic also said Russian pianist Denis Matsuev, who was scheduled to perform with Mr Gergiev and the orchestra on Friday, would not be there. Mr. Matsuev is also an associate of Mr. Putin; In 2014 he spoke out in favor of the annexation of Crimea.
Mr Gergiev will be replaced for the three Carnegie concerts by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who will conduct a new production of Verdi’s Don Carlos at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday, where he is music director. A replacement for Mr Matsuev was not immediately announced.
Both Carnegie Hall and the Vienna Philharmonic had previously defended Mr Gergiev. But Mr Putin’s declaration on Thursday of the start of a “special military operation” in Ukraine put new pressure on the hall and orchestra to reconsider.
Activists launched a hashtag #CancelGergiev on Twitter and circulated photos of Mr Gergiev alongside Mr Putin. The two have known each other since the early 1990s, when Mr. Putin was a civil servant in St. Petersburg and Mr. Gergiev began his tenure as head of the Kirov (later Mariinsky) Theater there.
In 2012, Mr. Gergiev appeared in a television advertisement for Putin’s third presidential campaign. In 2014, he signed a petition welcoming the annexation of Crimea after Russia’s culture ministry called leading artists and intellectuals to suggest they support the move. At the time, Mr. Gergiev was quoted by a state newspaper as saying: “For us, Ukraine is an essential part of our cultural area, in which we grew up and in which we have lived to this day.”
In 2016, Mr Gergiev led a patriotic concert in the Syrian city of Palmyra shortly after Russian airstrikes helped drive Islamic State out of the city. On Russian television, the concert was spliced with videos of Islamic State atrocities, part of a propaganda effort to fuel pride in Russia’s military role abroad, including its support for President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria. Mr. Putin thanked the musicians via video link from his holiday home on the Black Sea.
In recent days, Mr. Gergiev has also come under pressure in Europe, where he has a busy touring schedule. Officials in Milan on Thursday said he should condemn the invasion or face the prospect of canceled engagements at the Teatro alla Scala, where he directed Tchaikovsky’s opera Queen of Spades, according to Italian media reports.
The Vienna Philharmonic said just a few days ago that Mr. Gergiev was a gifted artist and would be on the podium at the Carnegie dates. “He goes as a performer, not as a politician,” said Daniel Froschauer, chairman of the orchestra, in an interview with the New York Times on Sunday.
Understand Russia’s attack on Ukraine
What is the root of this invasion? Russia sees Ukraine as its natural sphere of influence and is unsettled by Ukraine’s proximity to the West and the prospect of the country joining NATO or the European Union. Despite not belonging to either, Ukraine receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
Clive Gillinson, Carnegie’s chief executive and artistic director, had also previously offered Mr Gergiev his support, saying he should not be penalized for expressing political views.
“Why should artists be the only people in the world who aren’t allowed to have political opinions?” Mr Gillinson said in an interview with The Times in September. “In my opinion, you only judge people by their craftsmanship.”
Activists who had planned to protest Mr Gergiev’s appearances in Carnegie rejoiced at the news of his retirement. “The arts must be against aggression,” said Valentina Bardakova, a math and science teacher in New York who helped organize the protests.
Mr. Gergiev is expected to return to Carnegie in May to conduct two performances with the Mariinsky Orchestra; It is unclear if these performances will go ahead as planned.
In recent months, Mr. Gergiev has performed frequently with the Vienna Philharmonic at home and abroad. He recently tested positive for the coronavirus and had to cancel a number of performances, including one with the Philharmonic last week. He has since recovered and is returning to conducting, including a Wednesday night performance of “Queen of Spades” in Milan.