Valery Gergiev is due to give two performances this weekend with the Mariinsky Orchestra at Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he will receive the 2015 UMS Distinguished Artist Award. Calls to cancel the award are being heard from gay groups and anti-Putin academics.
Here’s a very lucid statement of the case against Gergiev:
Why I will not be attending the Mariinsky Orchestra concerts.
My family loves classical music and usually we attend about a dozen classical concerts each season. The program offered on both days is excellent, however, we have chosen not to attend. Do you wonder why? Let me explain.
Mr. Gergiev along with featured pianist Denis Matsuev are highly acclaimed musicians, but they are ardent supporters of the aggressive politics of President Putin of Russia. In March 2014, Mr. Gergiev and Mr. Matsuev were among the first to sign an open letter showing their support for Putin’s annexation of Crimea and covert war against the fledgling democracy in Ukraine. In 2008, Mr. Gergiev also openly supported Russian military aggression in Georgia. In addition, he advocated for anti-gay laws and policies and prosecution of members of the Pussy Riot band who had the courage to protest Putin’s policies.
Recently a number of artists around the world have refused to perform with Mr. Gergiev, and some concerts conducted by the maestro are being canceled because of his strong public support of Putin. UMS should take notice of the unconscionable political posturing by Gergiev to gain Putin’s favor. My family and I ask that UMS withdraw its support for an open advocate of tyranny by withdrawing the Ford Honors program award to Mr. Gergiev. His and Matsuev’s influential public positions in support of Putin’s tyranny are not in accord with the UMS mission of supporting artistic excellence and integrity.
The political views of Mr. Gergiev and Mr. Matsuev are not simply their personal business. Our world is not partitioned into “pure art” and “politics”. Each of us has many different roles, which are intertwined and affect each other. An artist who makes political statements is not only an artist, he or she is also a public figure. The Russian government explicitly uses Mr. Gergiev’s and Mr. Matsuev’s fame and influence to back aggression against a sovereign Ukraine and in support Putin’s repressive policies. Of course, an artist is free to express support to political leaders or ideas, but along with this freedom comes responsibility for the choice. Granting the Ford Honors Program award to Mr. Gergiev makes the UMS a tacit supporter of Putin’s repressive policies and Russia’s war in Ukraine. The latter has claimed thousands of innocent lives and sent tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the conflict, UMS can no longer ignore the repercussions of Gergiev and Matsuev’s public support of tyranny.
As members of the audience, we have an ethical responsibility to consider the impact of our choices. Knowing what we know about Putin’s oppression of gays, his suppression of free speech and democracy, and his aggression against Ukraine, we have a moral obligation to speak up in support of freedom and justice. Gergiev and Matsuev’s support of Putin has negative repercussions not only for Russian & Ukrainian citizens, but for their artistic integrity. As a UMS patron, if I attended the concerts, I would be supporting Putins’s aggression against his own people and against Ukraine. Thus, our seats at Hill Auditorium will remain empty during the upcoming Mariinsky concerts to show that we refuse to support artists who support tyranny and aggression. That is why our family will not be attending the concert. Will you?
Irina Bondarenko, Eugene Surdutovich
Senior Statistician, Assistant professor
University of Michigan Oakland university