Did Valery Gergiev really cross the line with Putin this morning?

Did Valery Gergiev really cross the line with Putin this morning?


norman lebrecht

December 15, 2011

According to the Guardian’s transcript of a national phone-in with the boss, the Mariinsky chief likened the Russian premier and would-be president to Peter the Great. Putin, for his part, promised to support culture. ‘This is all very pally,’ notes the Guardian’s transcriber, calling it ‘a classic piece of quality toadying’.

I wonder.

I pressed Valery very hard last summer about his relations with Putin. He recounted the origins of their connection in post-Soviet St Petersburg and insisted that it was mainly political. They hardly ever met, or spoke, these days. They were certainly not personal friends. What or who prompted Valery to ring the phone-in may take a while to find out, but reading the transcript and knowing his voice, I can hear degrees or ironic detachment that are not apparent in print.

If any of my readers in Russia heard the broadcast, please let us know your impressions.

UPDATE: Russian reports contradict the Guardian version.

(not exactly best of friends)


  • By the way, in 2001 Gergiev asked Putin to become a God father of his child. I was trying to Google it, but it proved to be difficult…

    Here is today’s conversation in full (in Russian): http://spb.kp.ru/online/news/1042186/

    Saying that Gergiev linked Putin with a Tzar not quite correct. This is the sentence where he mentioned Peter the Great:

    “Я пришел сюда не комплименты делать и благодарить, я даже не знал, о чем буду говорить, но вот, мне кажется, забывая о том, что и Петр Великий, и Екатерина Великая, да и в ХХ столетии создавались такие культурные сокровища или создавались такие сокровищницы, мы еще и поэтому во всем мире сегодня себя чувствуем уверенно.”

    May be I have some language difficulties, but as for a native speaker for me it is still difficult to understand what Maestro is trying to say. I am not surprised why it was translated slightly with a different meaning.

    Gergiev is famous for admiring Putin. Their “friendship” is believed to be the reason why Mariinsky theatre is having a sufficient funding. Gergiev is grateful that Putin is supporting Russian culture, he is saying that directly. I wonder if Gergiev knows how much are Professors in St. Petersburg Conservatoire are paid, their salaries are miserable and they work opposite the Mariinsky theatre.

    Time will show what Gergiev will be saying when Putin will be gone…

    • Maxim: Gergiev has denied to me asking Putin to be godfather to his child.

    • It seemed to me that in the transcript Putin was the one who tried to draw parallels, from the fact that our perception of Prokofiev’s music has changed over the years, to Putin’s “unorthodox” ways of governing (let history be the judge). That is the vibe I got though I am no native speaker and might miss the subtleties…

    • Elizabeth Owen says:

      Gergiev is NOT Putin’s children’s god parent. If you think about they didn’t even know each other when the girls who are in their 20’s were born. Putin was in the KGB in Germany at the time. It was written once by a journalist and everyone else has repeated it – lazy journalism. Gergiev himself wrote to The Telegraph denying it.

  • Doug says:

    Paper bags of cash are being furiously assembled as we speak.

  • P.S.: Imagine Barenboim coming to Berlin while Staatskapelle is on tour in USA on the same day when Angela Merkel is having her yearly “conversation with the nation” which is broadcast on all state TV-channels during several hours and they and Angela M is asking Maestro about how are the things in the Opera Unter der Linden which is being rebuilt now? Do you see the image? Impossible, yes. But in Russia they must fill in the prime-time with some spam like that rather than talking about the unprecedented uprising after faked elections…

  • Misha says:

    Make no mistake about it – this was a classic piece of propaganda intended for internal consumption only ( à la PLO and other miscellany of Eastern satraps). Putin and his brethren still behave like their calendar is stuck at 1970. Gergiev said what he said . He indeed compared Mr. Putin to Prokofiev in a crass case of flattery that didn’t go unnoticed even by cautious semi-independent Russian fringe media. Ditto for comparing Prime Minister to Peter the Great and Catherine for support of Mariinsky.
    The real outrage however is not what maestro Gergiev said but the mere fact of his willing participation in this farce. Other, more important, topics of phone-in: Mr. Putin comparing the symbol of popular uprising ( a white ribbon attached to lapels of participants ) to a used condom , and calling protesters “sodomized sheep”. He fully expected his lackeys (sadly that includes our maestro ) to giggle and squeal with delight at his wonderful sense of humor. Except he didn’t get any .People are fed up and it is only a question of when . Perhaps March when he will attempt to steal yet another election.
    Maestro Gergiev is on a wrong side of political tide. He has no minders that somehow forced him to lick Putin’s boot. Even if he was pressured what would happen if he refused? Would he be send to Gulags, denied an exit visa, banned from conducting Mariinsky ?
    The question of family ties is frankly irrelevant ( Elizabeth forgets that maestro has a new wife and a young child , all rumours of god-parenting is about this new issue). My burning question is : if, according to maestro’s own hagiography, one day in early 1980s he just got a plane ticket to London, waked into Covent Garden, without KGB minders – and his meteoric career thus began – how did he get an exit visa ? Just ask his fellow musicians and co-students from Russia how can it be possible that a man of suspect nationality ( for Russians, Ossetins were synonymous with traitors since Great Patriotic War) just gets a carte blanche and a free ticket into wild West. It would never happen unless one not only sold his soul to devil which is KGB , but participated in a bloody initiation rite of reporting to KGB on his friends and co-workers, thus rendering himself bloodied enough to remain loyal to his handlers. Was Putin his godfather in this sense? Maybe it would make a good subject for an opera commission that maestro could conduct.

    Here are a few press links: two in Russian


    And two in English: