Music is divided over Gergiev’s Palmyra concert

Music is divided over Gergiev’s Palmyra concert


norman lebrecht

May 06, 2016

Many Russian musicians this morning are expressing pride that their president chose to mark the ‘liberation’ of Palmyra by Russian and allied forces with a symphony concert.

Syrian government representatives at the concert seemed acutely uncomfortable.

Valery Gergiev spoke on television about the defeat of ‘terrorism’, as did President Putin in a video message (you can watch here). The president’s favourite cellist played a quadrille by Shchedrin.

As the concert went to air, reports came in of an air strike on a refugee camp in Syria, killing 28 people. The strike is reported to be by Russian or Syrian government forces. There is supposed to be an international ceasefire in Syria.

So what was achieved by the concert?

As far as the West is concerned, nothing. But the event was stage chiefly for internal purposes. For Russians, the concert reinforces the Stalin-era perception that their government is uniquely civilised because it places culture at the centre of state propaganda.

And Valery Gergiev is its willing instrument.

gergiev palmyra


  • harold braun says:

    Nonsense.Gergiev simply made a statement against IS Barbarism,Islamofascism,and radical Islamism,which is the biggest threat to civilization since Hitler….same as Toscanini did against Hitler 75 or so years ago….Russia is one of the few fighting this evil,not pandering to it,or looking away…

    • Milka says:

      To believe your nonsense one has suspend all reason and be
      most careful when crossing a bridge.The apologists for mother
      russia all surface when the hypocrisy is most transparent .

    • pooroperaman says:

      Indeed. It would be good if Ivan Fischer cared that much about the future of Europeean civilisation.

  • Bill McMahon says:

    Well said, Norman! Propaganda of art and culture… Any thoughts on when the West would join in this motion? Or do you think perpetual war and actual media propaganda is better?

  • Susanna Caetani says:

    Dear Norman the culture of music of our occidental governments is a desert. They have no vision no interest no knowledge of what music can achieve to develop a pacific harmonic society. Russia sends to Syria its best orchestra as Flag of Peace. It would be good to see other similar initiatives organized by our “democratic” countries!

  • Devil's Advocate says:

    When he took the orchestra to perform in Tshkinvali South Ossetia (anschlussed) during the war with Georgia in 2008, musisicans did not know where they were going. They were told that they are flying to Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia. When they landed, they were surprised to see tanks…. and then, when they asked on the ground where they were, they were in for a surprise. Likewise for this event, they found out last minute that they will be chartered to Syria.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    If it saves Palmyra then I’m all for it. I noticed that the news channels did not say who was responsible for the bombing of the refugee camp but implied it was Assad. Time will tell.

    Gergiev depends on the Russian state for monetary support so I suppose he has to do as he’s told – it’s a fine line. With his fame in the west he is bound to be “used” instead of Joe Soap who is unknown and would not attract the worlds’ media.

  • Mick says:

    Everyone understands that Russia is in it to save Assad rather than fight ISIS. Yet things started to turn to the worse for ISIS just a little bit only after the Russians went in, the West having done nothing to stop this plague (too busy feeling guilty for the colonial past, crusades etc. and trying to accommodate a million new arrivals). In today’s tiny world you can’t “stay away” from anything, it’s either you come to them or they’ll come to you. Problem is not that Americans interfered too much, it’s that they never have done enough to secure the gains. This kind of indecision might prove fatal, and I do hope the coming new administration will finally change that.

  • Fernando says:

    As far as I can see, reading the news, Rossini’s opera Aureliano in Palmira wasn’t remembered. The plot is about a dispute over the city, defeated and reconquested by the Roman Empire. It would have been a very good choice to perform an extract of the opera at the concert.

  • MH1963 says:

    Gergiev plays for peace in Palmyra. Dudamel plays for peace at the UN.

    Both of them today’s willing, musical mercenaries for the world’s most corrupt, barbaric, kleptocratic dictatorships that insist on sanitizing their image, in true communist style, with the age-old highbrow disinfectant of classical culture. In Putin’s case, even the cellist himself is his personal money launderer, facilitator of the grand-scale theft of state assets.

    It seems that all career ends justify all political means in the world of classical music, and there is no shortage of apologists willing to pardon these bizarre, Faustian pacts.

    This concert has absolutely nothing to do with the defeat of terrorism, and everything to do with old-school triumphalism and carefully-produced, highly choreographed, state-funded propaganda. End of story.

    Meanwhile, “What passing bells for those who die as cattle?”

    Disgusted beyond further words…

  • M2N2K says:

    Even if Russia is given the benefit of the doubt by patting them on their collective backs for fighting on the “lesser evil” side in Syrian conflict, this performance did absolutely nothing to advance the presumed goal of defeating the enemy but did once again demonstrate a typically Soviet-style disregard for participating musicians most if not all of whom were rather cynically used for purely propagandist purposes.

  • Peter Phillips says:

    I recall that Barbirolli took the Halle Orchestra to play behind the battle lines in northern France in 1945. Is that OK because it was “us” whereas Gergiev and his orchestra are perceived to be “them”? After what has been inflicted on Palmyra in recent months it was good to see music being made there. After all, very few of us have pure motives.

    • M2N2K says:

      So, what is impure about your (or some others’) feeling good when seeing music being made in Palmyra? Can it be the fact that you (and most of us) are comfortably thousands of kilometers away?? No, your motives may actually be pure, but the conclusions are nevertheless erroneous. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about Halle and Barbirolli in 1945, but all I am learning so far about this week’s event in Palmyra seems very unattractive indeed (except for the setting of course which is quite picturesque).

  • Mick says:

    Meanwhile congratulations everyone on the new mayor of London

  • Marked Pollo says:

    Some of these comments are just dumb.
    Love or Hate Putin shouldn’t factor into the equation.
    The Chaconne was wonderful, and the Prokofiev was good, despite the heat and mics having a negative effect on the acoustics. The cellist wasn’t the best for the Shchedrin, but then again, the cello gets affected more than most with sunlight and heat, and Roldugin is getting arthritic.
    But wait! There’s more!
    This US kid playing Gershwin in Iraq:
    Yeah. Russians aren’t the Only ones. The Brits played Barber’s Adagio for strings after 9/11; oh no! They’re trying to make it seem as though they have feelings!
    Seriously. It’s a PR thing, sure, but it’s also a celebration of art and humanity over war and barbarity.

  • Alan says:

    Sure this concert is a propaganda device more than anything else. But does that justify such an article: containing hardly anything but irrelevant allegations and a bunch of dated Western propaganda clichés? Please do your readers a favor and concentrate on the music. Brainwashing is being taken care by other media outlets.

    • M2N2K says:

      Unfortunately, quite a few of those “dated Western propaganda clichés” about Russia are becoming true once again, and yet – despite plenty of reasonably unbiased information being available – far too many Westerners these days prefer being brainwashed by RT and its media brethren worldwide.

  • Lesia says:

    Another manifestation of the Kremlin’s extreme cynicism.

  • Lesia says:

    First they bomb civilians, then they send musicians — another manifestation of the Kremlin’s extreme cynicism.