молчание (Silence)

In BBC Proms, Classical Music on August 8, 2013 at 8:52 am

AMENDED – 11 August 2013.

I wasn’t going to write this blog. But the silence of Russian artists over Putin’s vile position on gay rights continues to unsettle me.

I cannot hope to be as eloquent as Stephen Fry and everyone should read his letter to the IOC and David Cameron.

It is inspiring.

Music and politics have always been fused together. From the medieval times, if not before, music was used to demonstrate wealth and power both by the aristocracy as well as the clergy.

Opera – the genre I love above all else – was originally an art form exclusively for the nobility.

By the Eighteenth Century composers, singers and instrumentalists were part of the aristocratic and royal households. Some of the music we all know and love – the quartets, symphonies and masses by Haydn, the early operas by Mozart as well as the music of JS Bach, Handel and countless others – was written specifically for the elevation of either the landed classes and government or priests.

As society changed – as revolutionary and then Romantic ideals swept across Europe – music also came to symbolise, and in some cases personify the great movements that wracked the late Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries. Think of Rouget de Lisle’s Marseillaise, Beethoven’s original intention for the Eroica, the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary operas of France.

And after music itself had been totally liberated from a reliance on patronage, the relationship of power and music remained.

Of course there have been times when music and artists have been ‘appropriated’ – willingly or not – by regimes. Fascism is the example we all can think of. But in the midst of that darkness music also became the path of resistance for some. I think specifically of the music on the haunting recital disc, Terezin-Theresienstadt.

Therefore because of the relationship between power, politics and music, musicians are in a privileged position. Not only in terms of the patronage they received but also the power they themselves have to express on the widest platform their own feelings or the feelings of the wider audience and community.

So it stuns and depresses me that the Russian performers that many of us love and admire – from Valery Gergiev and Anna Netrebko to Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Marina Poplavskaya – have been so stubbornly silent on the single issue of Vladamir Putin’s vicious, thuggish and – let’s face it – murderous homophobia.

I struggle to think what is stopping these educated people – and all their Russian colleagues and peers – from stepping forward and making their position known.

They cannot ignore the simple fact that Russia boasts some of the greatest artists whose work is still cherished and performed today – and who were gay.

There is an irony that the opening night opera at the Met is Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and two of the world’s most eminent performers will be on stage and in the pit that very night.

Of course it could be fear of stepping forward that makes then unable to say anything. Putin is a thug. People have lost their lives opposing him.

Or it could be that they don’t want to lose Putin’s patronage which looking at Gergiev, is clearly munificent.

But what if – and it has to be considered – that the reason they haven’t said anything is because they actually agree with Putin – that they agree with – and support – his ignorant view?

I admit that this is – hopefully – not the case. But it is worth thinking about considering their silence.

And if this is the case, what then?

Surely one of the next questions has to be what are artistic institutions outside Russia prepared to do about it?

Will the Edinburgh Festival ask their Honorary President to clarify his position?

Will Peter Gelb ask Gergiev and Ms Netrebko for their view on LGBT rights in Russia ahead of his opening gala night?

Will the Board of Directors at the London Symphony ask Gergiev ahead of his Prom next Tuesday? Will Tony Hall or Roger Wright at the BBC?

Will Kasper Holten challenge Marina Poplavskaya?

Will their fellow artists – and their labels – also ask the question?

And finally, what will we – the audience – do?

Again it comes down to power. In the digital world we live in, none of us is powerless.

What if we were all to ask these people to clarify their position?

Andrew Rudin has started a petition in advance of the opening of the Met Season. Can they truly ignore everyone?

Stephen Fry puts it bluntly – [Putin] is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews.

If Russia’s artists continue to remain silent, their silence is a sign of their complicity.

Anna Netrebko has since issued the following statement:

“As an artist, it is my great joy to collaborate with all of my wonderful colleagues — regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. I have never and will never discriminate against anyone.”

Clearly written by her PR people it’s a meaningless and cowardly statement as it doesn’t address the issue of Putin’s thuggery.

  1. […] I wasn’t going to pen this review because of Ms Netrebko’s position on the dehumanization of gay people in Russia and her own sit-on-the-fence statement. However this recital marks a […]

  2. […] is happening in their country, much of it far more eloquent that this.  The London-based blogger Lieto Fine wrote an excellent piece earlier this summer.  I also feel that these performances must have been […]

  3. […] of culture in the UK, Putin’s homophobic savagery fell on the deaf ears of Russia’s conductors and performers. Indeed it was only when pushed into a corner that the likes of Gergiev and Anna Netrebko were […]

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