Rotterdam: We have spoken to Gergiev

Rotterdam: We have spoken to Gergiev


norman lebrecht

March 01, 2022

The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Valery Gergiev’s oldest relationship outside Russia, has spoken to the conductor in an effort to persuade him to detch homself from Putin’s war.

They failed, and have now fired him.

Here’s what they tell us:
The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and the board of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Festivals (organiser of the Gergiev Festival) have taken the decision to terminate their relationship with Valery Gergiev with immediate effect.
Following last week’s invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Valery Gergiev was invited to respond and to publicly distance himself from the acts of President Putin in Ukraine. In anticipation of any response, we had suspended our relationship with the conductor as indicated in a press release dated last Friday.
Yesterday evening we were able to contact Mr Gergiev. However, at the end of this conversation insurmountable differences remained. The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Festivals therefore consider they have no choice but to terminate their relationship with the conductor. Concerts with Mr Gergiev will be cancelled, likewise the NTR Saturday Matinee. The Gergiev Festival will also be disbanded.

This action ends a very close relationship between the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Valery Gergiev stretching back to 1988.


  • MacroV says:

    Good for Rotterdam. I don’t like seeing this happen, but we are at the point that an association with Putin can be no more acceptable in polite society than an association with Hitler. I can appreciate that Gergiev doesn’t want to walk away from the Maryinksy, the extraordinary institution he has built up over the last 35 years, and its many employees, but he could. Failing to do so should mean the end of his career outside Russia and maybe Belarus; I hope the Maryinsky enjoys trading Carnegie Hall for Minsk.

    • Back to Hell says:

      The Marinski has no choice to trade anything. They are located inside Russia, in case you haven’t noticed yet. But I guess you leave them the choice to commit suicide, you wonderful heroic and enlightened human being.

      • guest says:

        You not so wonderful and embittered human being, how could the Mariinsky commit suicide? They are a state institution in a totalitarian state. The state decides their fate – keep them alive, shut them down, in times of peace bolster their international image, whatever. The only option they don’t have is suicide, because this implies freedom of choice, even if the choice is grim.

        The first half of your first sentence was correct – the Mariinsky has no choices, period, they are a propaganda instrument. A very sad circumstance for their artists, who for 20 years or so were fooled into thinking they have a semblance of freedom. As sorry as I am for them, their fate doesn’t compare with that of the civilians who die right now in the Ukraine, just because. @Back To Hell, the hell is not in Russia, it is in the Ukraine. Your tribalism blinds you.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Yes, he knows that you don’t turn your back on a vicious tyrant. Read some Russian history.

      • Novagerio says:

        Back to Hell, Gergiev is the super-boss of both Marinskys, and he’s responsible for some 3.000 employees. Of course he would never oppose himself to his president, especially not in the West.
        And by the way, Putin is the godfather of his son.
        The West and most of its musical market has had this blind Laissez-faire attitude towards Gergiev for almost three decades, knowing about his oligarchical style and leadership in St.Petersburg.
        Why so much indignation suddenly?

  • Putin is appalling, and most all the things said about him are true, but I hope the conversations will soon turn toward how to obtain a cease fire, how to get the parties involved at the negotiating table to stop the killing and establish peace. We in the classical music world have no voice in world affairs, and ironically, we are cutting ourselves off from what tiny influence we might have had.

    As angering as it might be, I would like to hear what Gergiev has to say when faced with challenging questions. It might provide perspectives on how we might find some common ground, stop the killing, and return to sanity. Sadly, in times of war, it often takes months or even years of bloodshed before people finally decide to start talking with each other.

    • James Weiss says:

      You just cannot be taken seriously. “Get the parties involved to stop the killing.” Only one side is doing the killing: Putin and Russia. You would have negotiated with Hitler in 1939. Shameful. Appeasement. Putin and Russia stands condemned before the world. I have NO interest in hearing what Gergiev thinks at this point. His silence is all I need to “hear.” “Talking with each other.” Seriously? You have the largest country in Europe telling a smaller country in Europe that they have no right to control their own destiny, that they have no right to even exist. What kind of negotiation can come out of that stance? Ukraine has a right to decide what it wants for its own people. Shame on anyone who thinks that this is something that can or should be “negotiated.” I am proud to see Arts organizations take such a strong stand. Bravo them and Glory to Ukraine!

      • Frank says:

        “You would have negotiated with Hitler in 1939. Shameful. Appeasement.”
        Hitler didn’t have 6000 nuclear warheads. Yhe game has changed…

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Totally agree. The world of Pollyanna politics, as espoused by the Left, is ENDED. This cohort is filled with dimwits. There absolutely has to be a leader somewhere between the deluded and incoherent Trump and the dithering, equally incoherent Biden.

        • John Kelly says:

          You would think. Those two are the best that a country of 330m can come up with. Still, in these times of war, I support the President whoever they may be. This is the USA not some banana republic.

      • DCB says:

        Well said. The ignorance of Osborne’s comments are staggering. I could care less what Gergiev’s ‘perspectives’ are on this unjust, despicable attack on the beautiful people of the Ukraine. Negotiating or finding common ground indeed.

    • anon says:

      Rotterdam reports that, after having had the conversation you desire, “insurmountable differences remained”. I suspect they asked your “challenging questions” and clearly found the answers unacceptable or nonexistent.

    • A.L. says:

      Well intentioned thoughts but what negotiations? Sovereign nation that Ukraine is, there is absolutely nothing for it to negotiate with an unprovoked aggressor/invader, other than the latter getting the hell out asap with zero concessions.

    • Anonymous says:

      You’re 100% wrong. We *DO* have a voice in world affairs. I was listening to a major network’s news coverage and they mentioned that “… philharmonic conductors are being sanctioned …” or something to that effect. This *DOES* have an impact, however small. We’re on the right side of history here. Why do you think that we’re cutting ourselves off?

      We ought to think of Gergiev not as an artist, but as an oligarch with orchestras instead of yachts, his form of enjoyment (although he might have yachts, too). He must pay the price. Musicians have been complicit for far too long with the ties to the regime.

    • MacroV says:

      “how to get the parties involved at the negotiating table to stop the killing and establish peace.”

      That sounds a little more “both sides”-ish than I assume was intended. Only one side needs to stop killing – and then beat a quick path home, apologizing profusely for its actions.

      Nothing is stopping Gergiev from holding a press conference and forcefully and unambiguously denouncing the invasion of Ukraine. Carnegie Hall would probably have been glad to arrange one last Friday afternoon.
      He’d have been greeted as a hero that evening.

    • V.Lind says:

      Gergiev probably only spoke under a gag request that Rotterdam has honoured.

      It seems clear to me he is NOT going to speak out. His silence has indeed been golden — it has spoken louder than words.

      Presumably he returned Russia before the airspace was closed to him.

      Where he must be sitting in his undoubtedly elegant home contemplating a career in tatters.

      I do not see this ending without Putin being toppled. And Russians, whatever the goodness of their great hearts, have seemed incapable of responding positively to anything but pretty tyrannical leadership. Yes, there are large demos, risky as they are, but in numbers terms, they are pretty insignificant.

      Either Russians tacitly support Putin or they are afraid to speak out. Either way, don’t expect either a grand public endorsement of this invasion from Gergiev, or any critique until he is out and the breast-beating begins.

    • Monsoon says:

      “We in the classical music world have no voice in world affairs, and ironically, we are cutting ourselves off from what tiny influence we might have had.”

      Except that classical musicians and organizations often do insert themselves into internationally affairs while proclaiming to be politically neutral, such as the New York Philharmonic visiting North Korea (to Norman’s credit, he was one of the few people at the time to blast the NYP). Or, they accept funding from international organizations that have their own, less than benevolent agenda, such as using the credibility of an arts organization to plaster over their misdeeds (the NYP again comes to mind when Credit Suisse became its global sponsor after they got caught helping Iran avoid sanctions).

      Gergiev and Mariinsky are case in point how authoritarian regimes use culture to try and fool the world into believing that they are not in fact oppressive, that they are “civilized.” Do you really think Putin spends so much money on culture because he believes in it, or that he likes the picture of Russia it presents to the world?

      Wanting to hear what Gergiev has to say grants credance to the idea that Russia’s actions have some level of justification. This is an unprovoked attacked by nuclear power with one of the largest armies in the world — there’s no “common ground” here. Unlike many Russians who only have access to Kremlin-controlled media and have no contacts outside of Russian, Gergiev travels the world and has access to every news source — he knows the truth and has decided to put his career ahead of countless dead Ukraines.

      • V.Lind says:

        Well, I wonder how that’s working out (his career). Seems to me it has been pole-axed.

        Seems to me he has put some ideological nonsense ahead even of his career. Full credit to him for making the Mariinsky a fine orchestra, but if what I have read here in the last few years has any semblance of truth, his international career has all been about making money with minimal effort. He has had sufficient talent to carry him, but he also seems to have left an awful lot of disgruntled musicians and dissatisfied audiences.

    • Brettermeier says:

      “I would like to hear what Gergiev has to say when faced with challenging questions”

      Probably something like this:

  • A.L. says:

    He, along with Netrebko, are receiving their long overdue comeuppance. And as if it needed repeating (and political sides aside), Gergiev’s sloppy conducting and Netrebko’s sloppy singing, neither a news item, should alone have erased the two from the radar.

  • Concertgoer says:

    One reason they failed will have been that they publicly suspended him before reaching him, just as Munich issued a public ultimatum before he had had a chance to react to the invasion. On Wednesday night he led a premiere at La Scala, and then on Thursday morning he must have been on his way to New York for the Vienna Philharmonic concert the next day when the invasion began. So he was cornered. Many good people would clam up under that circumstance. The timings were chosen by the grandstanding politicians and nobody should pretend they were proper for communication. Even now, this Rotterdam statement reveals nothing about what Gergiev thinks of Putin’s action.

    • guest says:

      It is your right to believe he was on his way to New York when it all began. I however believe he was forewarned at least a few hours in advance and was on his way to Russia instead of New York. I beg to disagree, the Rotterdam statement reveals something. They say “at the end of this conversation insurmountable differences remained.” Unless you believe the board of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Festivals supports Putin, it follows that Gergiev supports Putin, otherwise the differences in opinion wouldn’t be “insurmountable.” And he talked because they had a conversation.

      It is interesting with what dedication some posters here try to excuse him, conveniently forgetting he had openly supported Putin for decades, and that he owes his elevated position to Putin’s support.

  • John Thompson says:

    There are several reasons why Gergiev might not want to make any statements. Indeed, for all we know, he could be a co-conspirator in a plot to bring down Putin. Has to be an inside job, if it’s to be done. Might be a human twist to this particular saga after all. Or there might not.

  • musicshouldnotbecancelled says:

    Why punish an artist in this way for staying out of politics, especially when it has no relevance to what they actually do?

    ….especially under such ‘gun to the head’ circumstances….

    Literally say what we want you to say or get fired.

    Which would you choose?

    I would rather be fired then let myself be corrupted by this kind of – ironically – totalitarian thinking.

    People killing people is always wrong, especially under false pretenses, but where are the American conductors being fired for the USA’s unjust war on Iraq which has taken the lives of tens of thousands and condemned millions?

    Artists carry the special responsibility to represent everyone and to be able to be able to speak to everyone otherwise they will only ever be preaching to their respective choirs.

    Shame on Rotterdam and the other orchestras that have taken this kind of action. Mute voices instead of sparking dialogue.

    This is a sign of a corrupt, tyrannical mentality.

    • guest says:

      “sparking dialogue” and Gergiev in the same sentence, now that was funny. You should write fiction. If the Rotterdam board are corrupt and tyrannical, what should we say about Putin?

      musics-should-not-be-cancelled – My, aren’t we feeling entitled? It is not music that is being canceled (read fired), it is just an oligarch conductor with strong ties to a politician currently playing Adolf, and with too many conducting jobs he was doing poorly, for which he was paid with Western taxpayer money. Music is doing fine, that you very much.

  • MMcGrath says:

    Obviously, what this blog has long said about the conductor is true. Gergiev used to be a better conductor, a more humble person.
    Now he’s just another wounded ego-centric and rich oligarch, bosom buddy of the the pint-size, would-be Stalin.
    Burning bridges like this, I guess he plans to never conduct in the West again.

  • Satoshi says:

    Ahhhh…the spokes in the wheel now get their revenge – how satisfying!

    Orchestral musicians tend to be really horrible people. If the general public knew, no one would attend their concerts.

  • JoshW says:

    It must be repeated: Why is his American manager, Doug Sheldon, remaining quiet?

  • John says:

    How many damn orchestras was he aligned with?

  • Thomas says:

    You would think a musician would have more empathy for humanity. Clearly , he has more empathy for Putin.