Russia’s star conductor, Valery Gergiev, has been dropped by his management over his close ties to Vladimir Putin as he faces a deadline to publicly denounce the Russian president or lose yet another role in his career.
The 68-year-old Russian, an old friend and supporter of Putin, has faced increasing pressure to speak out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine over the last week.
He has been removed from performances around the world and faces more professional punishment if he does not condemn Putin’s aggression in the next 24 hours.
On Sunday, his manager, Marcus Felsner, announced he would be dropping Gergiev, who he called “the greatest conductor alive and an extraordinary human being with a profound sense of decency”, but who “will not, or cannot, publicly end his long-expressed support for a regime that has come to commit such crimes.”
“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 said in a statement, calling it “the saddest day of my professional life.”
The move by Gergiev’s management comes just before a Monday deadline imposed by the mayor of Munich, Dieter Reiter, on Gergiev to publicly denounce the invasion. If Gergiev does not comply, Reiter said he would be fired as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic.
At a performance of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades in La Scala last Wednesday, Gergiev was “lightly booed”, Italian press reported.
As Russian tanks moved into Ukraine the next day, the mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, who is also the president of the city’s La Scala opera house, urged Gergiev to condemn Russia’s invasion, saying “the collaboration will be over” if he did not issue a statement.
A La Scala spokesperson confimed to Variety on Friday that Gergiev had not yet responded and that he would be dropped from a performance on 5 March if he did not speak out. “We are still waiting for his answer. If he does not answer our request, we will be forced to find another conductor,” the spokesperson said.
The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, which has run an annual Gergiev festival since 1996, also said it would cancel the upcoming festival in September if he does not stop supporting Putin.
Gergiev is the music director of the Mariinsky theatre in St Petersburg and a Hero of Labor of the Russian Federation recipient. He has been close with Putin since the early 1990s and publicly supported the president many times, including appearing in a television ad for his 2012 presidential campaign, supporting the 2014 annexation of Crimea, and conducting a patriotic concert in the Syrian city of Palmyra, shortly after Russian airstrikes in 2016.