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Gergiev under fire. How a silly statement and half-hearted attempt at nuance worries Rotterdam. And exposes a bigger problem.

Protests abound again tonight at a concert conducted by Valery Gergiev, this time at London's Barbican. Many of the protesters are demanding that the orchestra emphatically distance itself from the Russian star conductor and speak out openly against gay legislation in Russia.

Sound familiar?

True. Hardly had NRC reported that the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Royal still, was going to campaign in Russia against precisely that legislation, or the news followed that this was not so after all. We call that a rectification, although the NRC presented it differently.

The discussion is also well known. And is all too often conducted over the heads of artists and athletes. Politicians shouting that a top skater should think something about something and take action. Musicians who should do the same.

The rebuttal is equally familiar: you shouldn't make culture and sport political. After all, you can't skate bisexually any more than you can play the violin heterosexually. And gay football can only be played by Rene van der Gijp.

Let everyone make their own choices?

A sportsman, actor, musician deserves independence. And should not be forced to take positions that have nothing to do with their own field. In that light, it was understandable that Prime Minister Rutte refused to speak out clearly on whether or not the RCO would take action in Russia, but pointed out that the queen will be present as patroness of the orchestra and that taking action then quickly takes on heavy political overtones. Orchestra management used the same arguments.

A touch cowardly, too. Because nobody needs to force the RCO, the orchestra is of course allowed to have an opinion. Because just how widespread and pervasive homophobia still is, Stephen Fry shows just these weeks in a wonderful documentary series.

The Gerviev case

But what if a world-renowned conductor like Gergiev, currently chief in London, before that of the Rotterdam Philharmonic and namesake of the festival that still bears his name, makes all kinds of political statements in public?

Telling people you are voting for Russia's current president is nothing wrong with that. But what if a little later you also tell him you support his gay legislation? (And then dryly conduct Tchaikovsky, but that could be because he missed his family, according to that latest state reading).

And that you condemn Pussy Riot, because they carried out their action "just to benefit financially" on the very day that a transfer saw one of its imprisoned members 'lose'?

And, to top it all off, believes that those laws are not so much against homosexuality, but mainly to "protect Russian children from paedophilia"? A hurried half-hearted statement in which you report that you really believe that everyone else is equal then becomes very implausible. Then you won't get away with "no comment" and "we make no statements about political views" even as a Dutch or British orchestra.

 Consequences for Rotterdam?

That Gergiev, in exchange for his support for Putin, was allowed to receive not only many state awards but also many millions with which he not only saved the Kirov from oblivion but, above all, became very wealthy himself, is playing the man. But it does explain his support for Putin and the curious split he and his orchestra now find themselves in. And why, in turn, a city like Rotterdam should seriously reconsider its support for the Gergiev Festival.

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Henri Drost

Henri Drost (1970) studied Dutch and American Studies in Utrecht. Sold CDs and books for years, then became a communications consultant. Writes for among others GPD magazines, Metro, LOS!, De Roskam, 8weekly, Mania, hetiskoers and Cultureel Persbureau/De Dodo about everything, but if possible about music (theatre) and sports. Other specialisms: figures, the United States and healthcare. Listens to Waits and Webern, Wagner and Dylan and pretty much everything in between.View Author posts

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