Swiss festival offers to give back Russian donations

Swiss festival offers to give back Russian donations


norman lebrecht

February 28, 2022

The Verbier Festival has belatedly responded to the Ukraine crisis by removing Valery Gergiev as music director and creating a cordon sanitaire around its pro-Putin supporters.

Here’s the statement:

The Verbier Festival today announced the first in a series of responses to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Martin T:son Engstroem, Verbier Festival’s Founder & Director, summarised the strength of feeling felt by everyone at the Festival when he commented:
“The Verbier Festival, its staff, management and Board, strongly condemns Russia’s gruesome aggression against Ukraine. We follow with sadness and horror the violation the Russian regime is imposing on the people of Ukraine. We pray for them and the courage they show in
refuting the aggressor. The Verbier Festival has always been an advocate of building bridges through music between young and old of all nationalities, backgrounds and beliefs.”

The Verbier Festival has asked for and accepted the resignation of Valery Gergiev as Music Director of the Verbier Festival Orchestra.
Among the measures implemented by the Festival with immediate effect are the return of donations from any individual sanctioned by a western government and the exclusion from the Festival of all artists who have publicly aligned themselves with the Russian government’s
Further details will be announced in due course.



  • musician says:

    Bravo to Martin Engstrom and the board in Verbier.

  • Andy Lim says:


  • Frank says:

    I wonder just how happy VG will be confined in Russia, as an apparatchik of Putin? I suspect he will bear a grudge against those who have recently shunned him. In truth, he should not. Their actions merely signify his karma payback for all his past associations, words, support for a corrupt regime. To put it mildly, his wings are now severely clipped internationally, and not before time, I believe. The only other one to lose out will be the private jet company/ies that ferries him from one unshaven, late and mediocre appearance on a podium to the next. He has taken the money and run (almost literally) for decades, so his existence one assumes is comfortable – backhanders to his Kremlin master notwithstanding. The west has paid him far too handsomely for his mediocrity for too long. Opera and orchestra bosses should have long memories and maintain the current position, rather than welcome him back into the music community when the present invasion is over. Only time will tell what their moral fibre and conscience will tell us about them. If they fail to show any backbone, acquiesce and welcome him again, then it will be down to the public to avoid Gergiev’s concerts, etc.

    • V.Lind says:

      I agree with everything you say. But I look at his fate, and what do I see: he will “only” be Music Director of the Mariinsky Orchestra. Presumably there might be guest gigs at some of Russia’s other no-slouch orchestras. Sure, some of the fees might not be western in scale, but money can hardly be a worry to him. The prestige — and, if it matters to him, the musical and artistic satisfaction — remain.

      What might be interesting would be if the Mariinsky would drop him. The Bolshoi has taken a position. it may happen…

      Meanwhile, the gum tree he is stuck up seems to be on the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

  • John Kelly says:

    Those donations would be better routed to Ukrainian refugee relief. No need to return the money.

  • Peter says:

    Can we expect other festivals in receipt of monies from now sanctioned individuals, or those banks and organisations that profited or handled the same, to similarly announce the return of those funds? Cancelling concerts is not enough.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Was he due to conduct any Proms. this summer?

  • James Weiss says:

    It’s about time. Now I wonder when Carnegie Hall will remove the Putin-supporting Russian oligarch from its board?

    • Stephen Lawrence says:

      I think that’s quite good. Possibly better even than shunning the Artist is to shun the Honorary Executive. Possibly even more meaningful to say ‘you may come back if you…’?

  • Just optics says:

    Oh? Just when the ruble collapsed… maybe they can investigate the CCP’s influence on EVERY “arts organization” and re-educational institution.

  • Jonathan Sutherland says:

    Martin T:son Engstroem’s decision regarding Verbier is welcome.
    But what about his even more dubiously funded Riga-Jūrmala Festival?
    This idyllic Latvian Baltic sea resort has been the preferred holiday destination of discerning Russians since Imperial Tsarist times.
    Regrettably the boorish behaviour and tawdry table manners of Communist apparatchiks lessened the ton esthétique of Jūrmala in the 70’s and 80’s, but this undeserving seaside nirvana has more recently become the unwilling playground of Putin’s shameless schifosi.
    Discreet wooden villas have been surrounded by electrified Gulag-like fencing and the gentle sand-dunes defiled by garrisons of murderous Dobermann guard-dogs.
    Most of the raffish Russian Festival attendees are more interested in posturing in their Prada and Patek Philippe’s than following the partitura.
    If Engstroem is indeed serious about cleaning out dirty Russian money from his operations, he should start with a thorough purge of the Moscow mafia currently desecrating Jūrmala.
    Their level of conspicuous corruption is only exceeded by their parvenu crassness.
    Both are manifestly unwelcome in a serious musical Festival or civilized society.

    • Pierre says:

      Why look as far as Jurmala, just look at Salzburg!!!
      Isn’t that just a parade of tastelessness and exorbitant show off?!? And there are not only Russians there!!!

      • Jonathan Sutherland says:

        I agree with Pierre but the difference between Salzburg and Jūrmala is that there are very few Russian oligarchs with dachas by the Salzach.
        The Latvian resort is so rife with Russians it feels like a banlieu of St. Petersburg – albeit with less air pollution.
        The only pollution in Jūrmala is the stench of stolen roubles.

    • Kenny says:

      The Riga festival has been cancelled.

    • musician says:

      He did. Keep up.

  • Russian oil and gas, however, will be happily accepted by all, and the funds will help maintain Putin’s political power.

  • guest says:

    “the return of donations from any individual sanctioned by a _western government_ (?)”

  • Fernando says:

    What the Hell are this festival related to the shit of politics????

    What’s the sin of artists, people in general, about being born in their different countries????

    So, if the Swiss government takes any decission we don’t like this means that all Swiss workers must be fired??????

    In what world of dictatorship do you live????? You aren’t related at all nor with Art neither with Freedom. That’s a fact. And now we start to understand how Switzerland stole at the IIWW Jewish goods while handling the Jewish owners to the Nazis.

    Shame on you, Verbier Festival!!!!

    Never again to participate or help any of your seasons!!!!

    You are a dirty instrument of Dictatorship, anihilating the sacred Freedom of Thinking and Speach!!!

    Shame on you, small instrument of global tiranies. We, the free People, whatever we may think or be, will overcome shameful instruments of dictatorship as you.

    Fernando Espineira
    Spanish citizen

  • Blahblah says:

    Have British orchestras had weathly Russian donars recently?