Two more music stars go posing with Putin

Two more music stars go posing with Putin


norman lebrecht

February 10, 2014

repin putin

You will have seen by now now the obligatory shots of Valery Gergiev and Denis Matsuev posing with the Great Leader and Teacher.

Less expected is this obsequious genuflection from the violinist Vadim Repin and his wife, the Bolshoi ballerina Svetlana Zakharova (pictured).

Is is once again obligatory for Russian artists to pay homage to the Tsar?

gergiev putin



  • ed says:

    Well, Putin has done a helluva lot more for Russian artists and cultural institutions, and for his country’s economy than Messrs. Cameron or Holland, or Obama have for theirs. All governments lie, so this is not to put him on a pedestal, but he has exercised sound diplomacy (something the others have not) and of the type that has helped the world avoid major wars in Iran and Syria, and that should count for something.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      How like artists to kiss the hand of any tyrant that throws a few coins their way.

      Russia’s economy, like Venezuela’s, is largely dependent on oil and gas. Energy amounts to some 70% of exports and half of state revenues, as well as the leverage Russia has with neighbors like Ukraine and the EU. Apart from military equipment, Russia doesn’t produce anything else anyone wants. Putin is bemerding himself over the fear that Europe will wake up and start exploiting more of its own energy reserves. If commodity prices collapse, he and his country are in a whole lot of hurt.

    • timwalton3 says:

      Is Ed really as daft as he sounds

      Putin is a Despotic Tyrant and a dictator. He can do what he likes throwing money around – Bribary, making those who don’t do what he wants disappear or get bumped off.

      The others you quote live in a democracy & are answerable to their people.

      Putin is answerable to no one & can do what he likes.

      That’s why he is no more than degenerate scum.

  • Bara Evans says:

    What kind of idiocy is this? Putin, KGB! Ask Pussy Riot about the rule of law or Anna Politskovskaya – er, except you can’t because she was murdered. Lenin may or may not have coined the phrase “useful idiots” but if he did it may be his most useful achievement.

    • PR Deltoid says:

      “Ask Pussy Riot about the rule of law” – this is an ironic statement, as Russia’s blasphemy laws are very similar to those in a lot of European countries, such as Germany, Poland and Finland. Had PR tried their stunt in those countries, they’d probably have wound up in jail too.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Bara Evans says:

      February 10, 2014 at 6:10 pm

      “What kind of idiocy is this? Putin, KGB!”

      GHW Bush, CIA! And not just as high ranking office – as director, no less.

  • Cambridge says:

    So posing with your national leader is now wrong?

    • Mike Earles says:

      Posing, ok, but for what purpose?

      • I seem to remember the appalling Tony Blair surrounding himself with ‘artists’ but never did a damned thing for classical music. Putin, for all his faults, has.

        • Derek Castle says:

          At the back of National Youth Orchestra concert programmes the more generous Friends of ….are acknowledged. In the top bracket was ‘Cherie Blair’. This has now been modified to ‘The Blair Family’ – so things have moved on. (And don’t just say ‘they can afford it’)

  • Brian says:

    This seems to be obligatory in Russia these days. Witness the fawning remarks about Putin by the Olympic figure skaters when NBC asked them about their performance. It’s probably a matter of self-preservation.

  • CA says:

    Seems so and like there’s a new Cold War. Regardless, Repim rocks!

  • I would suggest that we look in the mirror before lambasting the Russians for “pay[ing] homage to the Tsar”. In fact, when you consider that Putin is, at least, democratically elected (and no less legitimately so than George W. Bush was in 2000, after stopping the recounts), whilst the British head-of-state continues to be a hereditary monarch, the irony of Mr Lebrecht’s rhetorical question is manifest.

    I have yet to hear of an openly republican (as in anti-monarchy, *not* as in a supporter of the American Republican party) musician occupying a senior and notable cultural office in the United Kingdom, or, for that matter, of any such musician having declined to dutifully pay homage to “Her Majesty” upon being offered a knighthood. My conjecture is that some of the great and the good do disagree with the monarchy, but keep their heads down and do not rock the boat, perhaps out of concern for looking after their institutions, first and foremost (whether hosting royals and having them as “patrons” is the best way to maintain a cultural institution is another, not entirely unrelated, question).

    I am not suggesting that deference — same may call it sycophancy — towards heads-of-state, on the part of athletes and great artists, is right; merely, that if we are to criticise the Russians for it, we should hold ourselves to commensurate standards.

    • John Hames says:

      Yes, there is a lot of hypocrisy and holier-than-thou stuff going on. It is hard to think of a British composer who has not fawned before royalty. (Vaughan Williams did accept an OM, but would never have fawned.) One could understand Thomas Tallis in the days when writing for the church as defined by the monarch was the only gig in town if you wanted to survive, but Tippett’s Suite for the Birthday of Prince Charles? Puh-leeze. Putin is obviously a sinister individual, but what are Russian musicians supposed to do? He is their head of state for good or ill. If they’re already pretty famous, they’re unlikely to be able to absent themselves into obscurity. They are artists, and shouldn’t be dragged into political rows by opportunistic publicity seekers. I know it’s more effective if you’re an LGBT campaigner to target stars who will get you headlines rather than Ivan Kusnetsov on the street, but it’s dirty.

    • Mathieu says:

      Err. Her Majesty the Queen has no effective executive power whatsoever. Your comparison is really flawed.

      • John Hames says:

        Not really. It wasn’t to do with executive power. And it was Mr Millwood who raised the question of the royal family. The points I was attempting were (1) to note that musicians kow-towing before heads of state has been going on forever, and (2) to ask how much we are entitled to expect from artists who are not active politicians in terms of political nous. My answer would be “probably not much”, in which case it’s unpleasantly opportunistic to target them.

        • Mathieu says:

          John, I was addressing Sasha’s post, not yours. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

          But if I may address your own comments, I would disagree in so far as the problem is NOT artists posing or kow-towing before heads of state in general, but their doing so before THIS particular head of state, whose policies are controversial at best. Posing with Queen Elisabeth does not raise this kind of issue, for the simple reason that she has no say in Britain’s policy at all.

          Please note that my point here is not primarily about Mr Putin’s policies (of which I often disapprove), but merely about the relevance of the analogy drawn by Sasha and you.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Isn’t the English queen a symbol for a monarchy that oversaw centuries of brutal colonial rule and the relentless exploitation and killing off of hundreds of millions of people for the sake of the “British Empire”? Sure, that was mostly before her time, but they always stress continuity, tradition and legitimacy of their “royal” line, don’t they?

      • Actually, HM the Queen does have a lot of political power, in the shape of numerous private meetings with ministers and the royal prerogative. This is kept behind closed doors and not overly publicised, in order to maintain the impression that the royal family were benign and purely symbolic. That said, the illusion is undermined by Prince Charles, who is far less discreet in his political lobbying; see:

        Besides the politics, we should also question why one “royal” family should enjoy so much taxpayer funding and subsidy.

        • Mathieu says:

          Sasha, I’m French, so I am no admirer of the British monarchy. The issue you raise at the end of your post (waste of taxpayer money, etc.) is a legitimate one, but it has no bearing whatsoever on the matter we are discussing here.

          Re the alleged political power of the Queen, I’d like you to cite one example of a recent bill originating from the Queen, or about which she publicly expressed her approval or disapproval. And there is a difference between lobbying for some causes (as Prince Charles does a lot) and having effective executive power, including the power to have one’s opponents charged and jailed.

          So please, stop with flawed analogies.

    • timwalton3 says:

      What planet is Sasha living on

      Russia is not a true democracy. Only people approved by Putin are allowed to stand for election. If anyone tries to stand against Putin there are either jailed on trumped up charges, disappear or are bumped off.

      Putin wouldn’t recognise Democracy even if it bit him on the Bum.

      • David H. Jun. says:

        It’s not much different in the US. A presidential election costs about 6 billion US$ and the two-party-one-plutocracy bumps off any independent candidate as well. It’s just a more sophisticated show. So where is a “true democracy”? Switzerland maybe.

    • Derek Castle says:

      Sasha, please enlighten me. What goes on in the ‘democratically elected’ Russian Parliament? Is any kind of adversarial politics allowed? Could you imagine the kind of public scrutiny Western politicians are subjected to (once they are found with their fingers in the pie)? There’s one thing about countries like Zimbabwe and Russia – their ‘security forces’ can afford to be even more corrupt than the British and U.S.

  • MacroV says:

    It would be poor manners, to say the least, to snub him.

    • Mike Earles says:

      Not necessarily. It may be a clear statement of beliefs in freedom, politics, human rights and gay rights; especially in the artistic and theatrical world where so many gay people have and are continuing to make wonderful contributions over a very long history, e.g. Tchaikovsky, Nureyev, Horowitz, etc…. These will be well remembered long after little Putin is dead and gone.

      • m2n2k says:

        How did Vladimir Horowitz get into this group? Did Wanda know?

        • Mike Earles says:

          Surely you know that despite his odd marriage Horowitz was relatively openly gay which of course, Wanda knew about with great patience. I used his name as yet another example of a fine Russian musician who just happened to be gay and hence would not have met with Putin’s approval

          • m2n2k says:

            It is possible of course that your claim is true, and I am simply surprised that I had never heard about this before. If you have a minute or two, please share the evidence that is the basis of your certainty.

          • Mike Earles says:

            Horowitz’s orientation is quiet well known right from his early days in Russia and shortly after leaving. For a detailed account of his “friendships” read Horowitz: A Biography of Vladimir Horowitz by Glen Plaskin. It is known that he was attracted to a number of his students who were also gay, again see Plaskin and the entry in Wikipeadia on Horowitz. Also just see the knowing look he give the page turner in the video recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 23 in Milan. That look speaks volumes.

      • @Mike

        Hardly. The new musical director of the Bolshoi is openly gay. It’s a little more nuanced than ‘Us’ and ‘Them’.

      • Derek Castle says:

        Sh…don’t mention Tchaik. He’s been officially butched up, hasn’t he?

  • Pete says:

    Hey, not all Russian musicians cow to dictators:

    Watch this fascinating interview with Ignat Solzhenitsyn:

    “Ignat Solzhenitsyn is a pianist and conductor. He is also a son of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the great writer (and man). Ignat is an expert on his father’s work, and on the Soviet Union that produced the work (in a sense). For The Human Parade, Jay Nordlinger interviewed him in June 2011. They split their hour in two: For the first half-hour, they talked about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and the Soviet Union. For the second half-hour, they talked about music….”

  • Mike Earles says:

    Good for Ignat!!

  • Cambridge says:

    I note the violinist the late David Oistrakh won both the Stalin and Lenin prize in Russia. As Putin pales into insignificance beside the brutality of Stalin and Lenin, maybe Oistrakh should have turned down the prizes on your reckoning?

    • PR Deltoid says:

      Shostakovich won practically every Soviet prize, including the Stalin and Lenin ones. Hasn’t hurt his visibility on concert programs. Although this might have something to do with the semi-bogus interpretation of him as a “closet dissident.”

      • John Hames says:

        I like “semi-bogus”, but what does it mean?! You really think DDS was a true believer in Soviet communism after about 1925? Have you read anything on the matter (at least anything that was written by people who actually know something about what life was like in the USSR)? He was so great that the authorities *had* to give him every prize or do away with him, and they very nearly did both.

        • PR Deltoid says:

          I’m referring primarily to the controversy over “Testimony.” This article provides some useful background on DSCH’s factual relationship with Stalin and with the Communist establishment generally:

          • John Hames says:

            Well yes, of course, and we could swap references all day. It comes down to whether you believe delusional superannuated communists and embittered American academics sending out the bravest words from the safest places, or people who actually knew Shostakovich and what he and his contemporaries had to put up with and the insanity of the balancing act they had to perform.

    • m2n2k says:

      In David Oistrakh’s time, protest in the USSR was essentially suicidal. While Putin is leading his country backwards as much as he can, there are still several important differences between now and then: Russians are allowed to travel abroad quite freely and the flow of information both ways is also much freer, thanks to the internet and other sources that became available. Consequently, there is no meaningful comparison between the realistic opportunities for an artist’s opposition to the government in 1950s or even 1960s – and in 2014. And, by the way, in 1960s and 1970s most intelligent and cultured people in the Soviet Union were closet dissidents.

  • Hank Drake says:

    There has been no shortage of despots who happened to have good taste in music and supported the arts. And there are a number of benevolent leaders who were not interested in great music. Putin should not get a free pass merely because he’s supporting artists who it serves his purposes to support.

    And the agreement in Syria would not have been possible if that hip-hop lover Obama hadn’t backed it up with the threat of force.

  • eli77025 says:

    If an artist poses with President Obama or Queen Elizabeth, nobody asks their political affiliation. Unfortunately, Mr. Lebrecht can’t stop finding fault with anything and everything about Mr. Putin does. The best thing to do is to ignore Putin and get back to discussing classical music. That’s what Slipped Disc is all about. Isn’t it?

    • Mike Earles says:

      While on the one hand and trying to be positive, Slipped Disc is about music but on the other hand when top ranking musicians fawn before Putin and his cronies they are loosing their chance to support human right and gay rights and openly allowing this little dictator to walk over people. There is no room for evil dictators in the 21st Century.

  • David G says:

    Putin has the dead eyes of a shark in this photo

  • Don Ciccio says:

    Well, ballerina Svetlana Zakharova is known for her extensions, no? 🙂

  • Andrew says:

    I would like to repeat for everyone who is overstating Russia’s stance on homosexuality that being gay is not illegal in Russia. It’s what they view as obscene propagandizing and recruitment of minors in to that lifestyle that they have outlawed.There are plenty of gays in Russia who go about their business unfettered. It’s the obscenity of the West’s “Pride” parades, indoctrination in the form of “sex-ed” and the like that he and the majority of the Duma (Parliament) that have supported these via these measures. I think in light of Russia’s catastrophic negative birth-rate, a policy to support the nuclear family as sacrosanct isn’t outlandish. Are we really so proud of the West’s record on sexualizing minors?

    • Halldor says:

      *sigh* How is it even possible to ‘propagandize’ for a sexual orientation? It’d be like ‘propagandizing’ for having blue eyes.

    • Derek Castle says:

      “propagandizing and recruitment of minors” – yes, that’s the way to instill terror into a society robbed of any free media. Proof please! Do you seriously think a march of a few embarrassing mustachioed 40-year-olds in tutus is going to ‘turn’ the heterosexual youth of Russia (or elsewhere) into not having ‘traditional relationships’? Should homosexual people be persuaded to lie back and think of Russia, and start producing babies for the common good? As far as the ‘sexualizing of minors’ is concerned, all I have seen is lightly-clad women girating in pop videos and tiny girls in high heels, pushed by their American mothers into ‘beauty competitions’. Disgusting, yes, but not much ‘gay proselytising’ as far as I can see.

  • Wanderer says:

    Reading this blog discussion makes one sad. Apparently most participants are stuck in mental development stages of an infant, reflecting only the retarded mental development of the society as a whole. Differentiating above and beyond the primitive evil-good or bad guys – good guys dualisms of a Disney cartoon seems impossible for today’s grown ups who’s brains are possessed by the 24/7 media attacks and propaganda.

    Putin clearly is not a figure that can thoroughly be described in simplistic “evil” or “bad guy” terminology. It’s a bit more complex than that and for a full picture his undeniable achievements have to be weighed against his shortcomings.

    His achievements for keeping Russia on track, preventing it from derailing, must be acknowledged nevertheless. Anybody denying this should have made a trip to Russia at the end of the Jelzin era and talked to the commoners. Russia was at the edge of disintegration back then.

    Appalling to witness the entitlement to opinion here, that is not tainted by any actual knowledge about the subject. it’s a favorite past time of the internet blog populating scoundrel apparently.

    Meanwhile the New World Order has made it’s marching orders clear. Russia with it’s vast resources is to be controlled, it’s leadership to be sidestepped and defeated, it’s strategic role to be minimized by dividing it’s European and Asian connections, by any means possible short of risking nuclear stand off. The propaganda is issued accordingly. The sheep are trotting along.

    • Halldor says:

      ‘Appalling’? ‘Entitlement to an opinion’ – and the freedom to express it – is a basic human right in many countries. Though not all.

      • Wanderer says:

        Yes. Opinion without knowledge is appalling. It’s in a way mental barbarism.

        • m2n2k says:

          Ignoring Putin’s perhaps greatest “achievement” in turning Russia back toward once again becoming a totalitarian empire may actually be rather barbaric indeed.

      • Mike Earles says:

        I also hugely support “entitlement to opinion and the freedom to express it” especially in the Year of Freedom, 2014!!

    • Derek Castle says:

      Wanderer, “grown ups who’s brains are possessed”, “it’s marching orders”, “Russia with it’s vast resources”, “it’s leadership to be sidestepped”, “it’s strategic role”, ” it’s European connections”.

      These are not just ‘typos’. They are an indication of someone “stuck in the mental development stage of an infant”. Or is grammar unimportant from your high horse?