Valery Gergiev, a Putin Supporter, Will Not Conduct at Carnegie Hall
Carnegie Hall and the Vienna Philharmonic announced on Thursday that the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, a friend and prominent supporter of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, would no longer lead a series of concerts there this week amid growing international condemnation of Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Mr. Gergiev, who had been slated to conduct the Philharmonic in three high-profile appearances at the hall beginning Friday evening, has come under growing scrutiny because of his support for Mr. Putin, whom he has known for three decades and has repeatedly defended.
No reason was cited for his removal from the programs. But the extraordinary last-minute decision to replace a star maestro apparently over his ties to Mr. Putin — just days after the Philharmonic’s chairman insisted that Gergiev would be appearing as an artist, not a politician — reflected the rapidly intensifying global uproar over the invasion.
While Mr. Gergiev has not spoken publicly about the unfolding attack, he has supported Mr. Putin’s past moves against Ukraine, and his appearance at Carnegie was expected to draw vocal protests. He was the target of similar demonstrations during previous appearances in New York amid criticism of Mr. Putin’s law banning “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships,” which was seen as an effort to suppress Russia’s gay rights movement, and his annexation of Crimea.
Carnegie and the Philharmonic also said that the Russian pianist Denis Matsuev, who had been scheduled to perform with Mr. Gergiev and the orchestra on Friday, would not appear. Mr. Matsuev is also an associate of Mr. Putin; in 2014, he expressed support for the annexation of Crimea.
Mr. Gergiev will be replaced for the three Carnegie concerts by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who on Monday leads a new production of Verdi’s “Don Carlos” at the Metropolitan Opera, where he is music director. A replacement for Mr. Matsuev was not immediately announced.
Both Carnegie Hall and the Vienna Philharmonic had previously defended Mr. Gergiev. But Mr. Putin’s declaration of the start of a “special military operation” in Ukraine on Thursday placed new pressure on the hall and orchestra to reconsider.
Activists started a #CancelGergiev hashtag on Twitter and were circulating photos of Mr. Gergiev alongside Mr. Putin. The two have known each other since the early 1990s, when Mr. Putin was an official in St. Petersburg and Mr. Gergiev was beginning his tenure as the leader of the Kirov (later the Mariinsky) Theater there.
In 2012, Mr. Gergiev appeared in a television ad for Mr. Putin’s third presidential campaign. In 2014, he signed a petition hailing the annexation of Crimea, after Russia’s Ministry of Culture called leading artists and intellectuals to suggest they endorse the move. Mr. Gergiev was quoted at the time by a state-run newspaper as saying, “Ukraine for us is an essential part of our cultural space, in which we were brought up and in which we have lived until now.”
In 2016, Mr. Gergiev led a patriotic concert in the Syrian city of Palmyra, shortly after Russian airstrikes helped drive the Islamic State out of the city. On Russian television, the concert was spliced with videos of Islamic State atrocities, part of a propaganda effort to nurture pride in Russia’s military role abroad, including its support for the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Mr. Putin was shown thanking the musicians by video link from his vacation home on the Black Sea.
In recent days Mr. Gergiev has also come under pressure in Europe, where he maintains a busy touring schedule. Officials in Milan said on Thursday that he should condemn the invasion or face the prospect of canceled engagements with the Teatro alla Scala, where he has been leading Tchaikovsky’s opera “Queen of Spades,” according to Italian media reports.
The Vienna Philharmonic said as recently as a few days ago that Mr. Gergiev was a gifted artist and would take the podium for the Carnegie dates. “He’s going as a performer, not a politician,” Daniel Froschauer, the orchestra’s chairman, said in an interview on Sunday with The New York Times.
Understand Russia’s Attack on Ukraine
What is at the root of this invasion? Russia considers Ukraine within its natural sphere of influence, and it has grown unnerved at Ukraine’s closeness with the West and the prospect that the country might join NATO or the European Union. While Ukraine is part of neither, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
Clive Gillinson, Carnegie’s executive and artistic director, had also previously offered support for Mr. Gergiev, saying he should not be punished for expressing political views.
“Why should artists be the only people in the world who are not allowed to have political opinions?” Mr. Gillinson said in an interview with The Times in September. “My view is you only judge people on their artistry.”
Activists who had been planning to protest Mr. Gergiev’s appearances at Carnegie rejoiced at news of his withdrawal. “The arts have to be against aggression,” said Valentina Bardakova, a math and science teacher in New York who had been helping organize the protests.
Mr. Gergiev is scheduled to return to Carnegie in May to lead two performances with the Mariinsky Orchestra; it is unclear if those performances will take place as planned.
Mr. Gergiev has appeared frequently with the Vienna Philharmonic in recent months, in Austria and abroad. He recently tested positive for the coronavirus and was forced to cancel some performances, including one with the Philharmonic last week. He has since recovered and returned to conducting, including a performance of “Queen of Spades” in Milan on Wednesday evening.