Growing US calls to cancel Gergiev award

Growing US calls to cancel Gergiev award


norman lebrecht

January 22, 2015

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.
gergiev worry
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


  • Cardoso Peres says:

    I’ll take this kind of pompous self-righteousness seriously when there are similar protests against Gustavo Dudamel and his support for the Venezuelan regime.

    • Christy says:

      I am unfortunately not as familiar with the protests in Venezuela as I should be, but I believe there is a major difference. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

      There have always been artists who represent unsavory regimes. Gergiev has done that for years.

      But when the country annexes part of another country, by going over international borders, and then sends military into another part of that country – going over another border – the conflict becomes one of international proportions. Annexing parts of other countries flouts every international law developed after WWII to eliminate the kinds of land grabbing that had plagued the continent and led to so much destruction.

      Moreover, again, I don’t know enough about Venezuela, but there are now up to a million displaced refugees in Europe and thousands of dead (estimates range fro 3000 to 7000). And more die literally every single day.

      As much as I support those fighting for freedom in Venezuela, I don’t think at this point the two situations are the same.

      • Christy says:

        I realize it may seem that I’m minimizing the brave students whom I know gave their lives in Venezuela fighting for freedom. I’m truly not- but the Ukraine war has massive implications for international law, while it is continuing to result in at least dozens of lives daily. Gergiev has been very, very vocal about his support for the policies that result in these deaths.

        I don’t think it can be said any more clearly. The policies Gergiev supports directly result in deaths.

      • Anon says:

        Christy, after WWII Crimea was Russian, in case you didn’t know. In the 50s Chruschev in a drunken mood gave the Crimea to Ukraine as a gift, just because. It didn’t mean anything back then, since no international borders were affected, it was all within the Soviet Union.
        Only after the war mongers in Washington decided it is time to roll even closer to Russia’s borders and to destabilize the Ukraine seriously, only then we saw the events unfold as they unfolded. Why do you draw such a caricature version of reality?

        • Milka says:

          If Anon ever had to face reality concerning mother Russia as a brute force it would bring on a heart attack .

          • Christy says:

            More than that, if every country in Europe threw aside international boundaries and laws previously agreed to (as Russia did publicly in 1991), the continent would be in chaos and much wider war.

            Romania, Hungary, Poland, the Baltics, Finland, and onward, all would have claims, just to begin.

        • MacroV says:

          It doesn’t matter how it happened; at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union, Crimea was part of Ukraine, and Russia recognized that in the 1994 Budapest Agreement. If they wanted to negotiate its return to Russia (or buy it), would have been fine. But in today’s world you don’t seize territory the way Putin has. Gergiev could well afford to walk away from Russia and have an extraordinary career; he is making a clear choice to side with Putin and his aggression.

          • anon says:

            MTT could well afford to walk away from the USA and have an extraordinary career; he is making a clear choice to side with Obama and his aggression.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            Please, “anon” – show us a text supporting enthusiastically “Obama’s aggression”, signed by MTT.

        • Gonout Backson says:

          This is complete, and very old – nonsense. And it has been proved innumebrable times.

      • anon says:

        In 1991, there was an agreement that NATO would not expand an inch eastwards after the reunification of Germany; since then, many eastern European countries have been annexed through back-door agreements in the corridors of power. Meanwhile, the people of the Crimea voted overwhelmingly in favour of exiting Ukraine and entering Russia, yet all Christy can do is rant on about “international law”. I wonder whether Christy cares about “international law” when civilians in Donetsk are being shelled by the firepower of the Kiev régime?

        It is all very well getting on your moral high-horse, but please be consistent in applying your standards: I await, with keen anticipation, the petitions against Yo-Yo Ma and other musicians who have supported Barack Obama (Ma played at the US presidential inauguration), a president who, despite being a laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize, has perpetuated and augmented drone attacks from Libya to Pakistan, killing far more civilians than “terrorists”.

        • anon says:

          PS: Just to clarify that I am NOT the same person as the “Anon” (with a capital A) further up the thread.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            Since all the nicks are in capital letters, there is no way to tell the one from the other.

        • Christy says:

          I would be fully in support of a referendum endorsed by the OSCE, which Russia repeatedly in the past has held up as the international expert and legitimate judge of elections.

          Hold a referendum to determine what the people want – and invite monitors instead of throw them out. Then, if they vote in favor of Russia in a free and fair election I will bow out.

          I don’t support shelling of civilian areas, but then, there wasn’t any shelling before Russia invaded, and there wouldn’t be any shelling now if Russia would get out.

          • anon says:

            Learn your geography: Donetsk is NOT in the Crimea, and is thus not contested by Russia. The conflict in Donetsk is between the Kiev régime and the so-called “People’s Republic of Donetsk”, not Russia. Therefore, whether or not Crimea is in the possession of Russia is irrelevant (it is a bit like trying to justify bombing Edinburgh in reprisal for IRA attacks). In any case, it cannot justify the shelling of RESIDENTIAL areas full of non-combatants, action which is in breach of the Minsk agreements (which, it seems, the Kiev régime did not sign in good faith; rather, they simply wanted a breather to have a chance to build up their military to renew the attacks) as well as international law.

        • Gonout Backson says:

          Da capo (for the umpteenth time, since “a lie repeated a hundred times becomes truth” only if nobody tries to stop it).

          “In 1991, there was an agreement that NATO would not expand an inch eastwards after the reunification of Germany”

          There was never any “agreement”. There were vague promises made to a country which has been occupying half of Europe for half a century. Then the country ceased to exist. Get real.

          “since then, many eastern European countries have been annexed through back-door agreements in the corridors of power. ”

          “Annexed”? By whom? Where? In what way? Free countries, with democratically elected parliaments and governments, freely submitted their candidacies to a military alliance. After ten years, the first three of them were accepted. Get real.

          “Meanwhile, the people of the Crimea voted overwhelmingly in favour of exiting Ukraine and entering Russia”

          You don’t know the first thing about it, since the “people of Crimea” have never been honestly asked, and the independent observers, trying to get in for this “vote” have been shot at. And I don’t even mention the fate of the only “real” Crimeans, the Tatars.

          “Yet all Christy can do is rant on about “international law”. I wonder whether Christy cares about “international law” when civilians in Donetsk are being shelled by the firepower of the Kiev régime?”

          Now you should prove who is “shelling” whom and for what reasons…

          Your next stanza has been answered many times and qualified as absurd in all details. Beginning by the fact that playing at an inauguration for a president which, by definition, hasn’t done anything yet, doesn’t mean support for his future actions.

          Unless, of course – you can produce a declaration enthusiastically supporting these actions, and signed by M. Yo-Yo Ma.

        • Andriy says:

          Anon, uou continue to propagate ideas which are discounted by rhetoric. You claim the people of Crimea held a referendum, yet fail to point out that the whole process too all of 2 weeks, and the choices on the ballot had only two questions – join the RF now, or separate from Ukraine and then join the RF. What kind of a referendum is this? It took Scotland 2 years to organize, debate and hold a referendum on sovereignty, as it did in the 3 referendums in the province of Quebec, Canada. Moreover, how did over 126% of the residents of Sevastopil manage to vote, with a peninsula total of over 90% voting in favor, when 250,000 Crimean Tartars and native Ukrainians boycotted the vote? (these statistics come from a leaked Russian Duma document). Further, although you claim (as does the leadership of the RF), that no Russian troops have taken part in the war in either the Crimea or Donetsk, how is it that in May, V. Putin expressed “of course our troops were there, we needed to protect the population.” Is this the same as denying the presence of Russian troops and military hardware in Donetsk, even-though there are many examples (see you tube, NYT, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, etc.) of sophisticated new equipment in those territories that seem to arrive almost daily, including artillery towed behind the white trucks carrying humanitarian aid from the RF. Further, how do you explain POW exchanges between the RF and The Ukrainian governments, if the RF is not involved in the conflict? Moreover, today the leader self appointed leader of the LPR has declared that the separatists will continue the offensive they started until they have captured all the territories they claim are rightfully theirs? Are these the peaceful people of Luhansk and Donetsk speaking, or are they the war mongers who have an agenda, and no respect for the lives of ordinary people who they shell every day?
          Finally, you talk about the “illegal” expansion of NATO, yet fail to mention that Ukraine was guaranteed it’s territorial integrity by the Budapest Memorandum by none other than Russia, in return for giving up the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world, an arsenal that mostly was sent to Russia. If this is the way the RF wants to behave, then do you blame Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and all Eastern European nations for asking their elected representatives to enter into military alliances which protect them from all potential Russian expansionist threats? Please, look at your history again…

    • Dennis Marks says:

      Which was the last country Venezuela invaded? Do remind me.

  • Milka says:

    Doubt if UMS has any moral integrity to address the issue . Not enough Ukrainians
    out there to make a stink .If it were any other group with enough public clout it
    would have withdrawn the award .

  • Mu-tegrity says:

    Gergiev deserves an award alright –for being an expert political opportunist and a coward.

    • anon says:

      Would Mu-tegrity care to name an internationally notable musician who has NOT been “an expert political opportunist”? The only recent examples I know are Jordi Savall, who refused a state honour owing to the cultural philistinism of the incumbent government, and Kristian Zymerman, who openly condemned American militarism and police-state mentality after his piano was destroyed by customs. Maybe also Barenboim, in that his heart is in the right place…

      [NB I am the same person as the previous “anon”, but NOT “Anon”]

  • harold braun says:

    Please,give us something new now,this pompous,hypocritical,self righteous blather really gets boring!Just bought two Tickets for Gergiev concerts,and two new CD’s!And I’m full of anticipation and joy!

    • Christy says:

      Harold Braun – Do you care that Gergiev has completely endorsed actions that directly resulted in deaths? Or you don’t care about deaths?

      • Anon says:

        The blood spilling out of the White House and the Capitol is hundreds of times the amount what is spilling out of the Kremlin. In the reality at least, if you know what that is.
        But everybody has his own priorities and childhood traumas, not much can be done about it.

    • Milka says:

      Musically it seems it5942 doesn’t take too much to fill you with anticipation and joy .

  • Victoria Stepanova says:

    Granting the Ford Honors Program award to Mr.Gergiev makes the UMS a tacit supporter of Putin’s aggression and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

  • Stephen says:

    It is all too easy to be self-righteous and priggish about someone else’s attitudes and opinions, especially when seen from a safe distance.

  • Stephen says:

    If you can’t even realize that Gergiev is a great conductor than you know nothing about music.

  • milka says:

    Has anyone read the inane statement by UMS boss ken fischer ……….
    must be full of dim wits at ums ….talk about moral cowards……..