The esteemed Russian conductor was fired because he would not publicly condemn Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. Rotterdam, Vienna, Carnegie Hall also let him go.
No Freedom of Silence
By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium New
Valery Gergiev, the conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, was fired for privately refusing to denounce Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. It is not a freedom of speech issue as he was not sacked for something he said, but for what he would not say.
Gergiev, who led the orchestra since 2015, made no public announcement at all regarding the war. But that evidently was not good enough for many in Munich’s classical music community. Some of his concerts had been cancelled in the past week and he was made to resign from honorary posts for not speaking out about the intervention.
His manager, Marcus Felsner, dropped Gergiev because he supported Putin. Felsner said in a statement:
“In the light of the criminal war waged by the Russian regime against the democratic and independent nation of Ukraine, and against the European open society as a whole, it has become impossible for us, and clearly unwelcome, to defend the interests of Maestro Gergiev.”
Felsner told The Guardian that dropping Gergiev was “the saddest day of my professional life.” He called Gergiev “the greatest conductor alive and an extraordinary human being with a profound sense of decency,” but he was unable to “publicly end his long-expressed support for a regime that has come to commit such crimes.”
After the pressure mounted, Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter gave Gergiev an ultimatum. After Gergiev refused to answer by Monday, Reiter said he had no choice but to dismiss him. “I had expected him to rethink and revise his very positive assessment of the Russian leader,” Reiter said in a news release. “After this didn’t occur, the only option is the immediate severance of ties.”
Gergiev has yet to say a word about the military action. He was not fired for publicly supporting Putin and the war, but because when goaded he remained silent rather than give in to the pressure to utter something he clearly did not believe.
A friend of Putin’s, Gergiev was the artistic director of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg for 27 years before leaving for Munich. In 2013, Putin honored him as a “Hero of Labor.”
Munich is not the only orchestra that has punished Gergiev for his views.
From 1995 to 2008 he was lead conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, but it told him he would be dropped from its September festival if he did not denounce Putin. La Scala in Milan wrote to Gergiev asking him to declare support for a peaceful settlement in Ukraine or he would not be able to finish his engagement conducting Tchaikovsky‘s The Queen of Spades.
The Vienna Philharmonic also pulled Gergiev from a five-city U.S. concert in the tour. Here is Gergiev conducting a victory concert after ISIS was defeated in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra:
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe