Thursday, 15 December 2011

When Valery Abisalovich called Vladimir Vladimirovich...

According to The Guardian, Valery Gergiev has called the Russian Prime Minister on his annual 'phone-in'. Luke Harding reports:

Gergiev likens Putin to the composer Sergei Prokoviev "who came up with a lot of different productions". (Is this a way of saying Putin should go on and on?) Russia isn't just an oil and gas country but a country rich in poets and writers, Gergiev says. A classic piece of quality toadying, if you ask me.

Putin is clearly delighted by the question. He says he loves St Petersberg [sic], where Gergiev is general and artistic director of the celebrated Mariinsky Theatre. Putin says he will do his best to support Russian culture.

Gergiev is now praising Putin, comparing him to Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great. Putin chides Gergiev for stealing artists for his theatre from Moscow's famous Bolshoi. This is all very pally.
(I wonder what the original Russian for 'different productions' was; there is always the possibility, doubtless, that something might have been lost in translation.) Click here for a fuller report from The Guardian on the Russian people's audience with its present Tsar.  For a time when Russian rulers - and just maybe, even top-ranking musicians - had a few more scruples, see below:

Valery Gergiev, lest anyone need reminding, is Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. It is difficult to conceive of his predecessor, Sir Colin Davis, having behaved similarly. Imagine Sir Colin, when Music Director of the Royal Opera, calling Margaret Thatcher and likening her to Gloriana...


SorrowfulYoungW said...

To begin, just to point out that the transcript is available here (cut-and-pasted into Norman Lebrecht's terribly dreary blog:

Unfortunately, my russian is basic and unidiomatic, so I find the text pretty difficult - but to take Lebrecht's suggestion of putting it through Google Translate leaves you with a conversation akin to two teenagers doing a role play with sole aim to piss off their teacher... so we are left with the Guardian's indubitably biased version.

You say something may have been lost in translation, I think it might be more subtle than that. Firstly, my impression of these heavily screened Q&A vox-Putin-i sessions is one of utter charade. One must ask what the hell Gergiev is doing there in the first place. In fact, if you can answer that, then I think the conversation speaks for itself. Autocrat, yes, you have to admit that it is better for Gergiev to be on Putin’s side than actively against him.

In relation to the rest of your post, “For a time when Russian rulers - and just maybe, even top-ranking musicians - had a few more scruples, see below…” – are you kidding? Boris Child-Killer is a standard you hold to because he breaks down in remorse on his death-bed? (unbelievable performance from Pape, though – thank you for the excuse to revisit this turgidly-staged-beautifully-sung piece!)

But I take particular issue with “Valery Gergiev, lest anyone need reminding, is Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. It is difficult to conceive of his predecessor, Sir Colin Davis, having behaved similarly.” I agree – it would be strange for British conductor Sir Colin Davis to phone in and endorse Putin.
By your logic, it would be equally egregious for Sir Simon Rattle to turn up on the One Show with David Cameron and pat him on the back for, say, money they have pledged to musical education etc etc…
To state the obvious, Gergiev is Russian – the LSO knew he was Russian when they engaged him, you cannot take away his right to be a spokesperson for arts in his country just because he is also a figurehead of another culturally important establishment in a country that doesn’t like his one.

I really believe that this is unwarranted musical politicism – can you tell me please how exactly the LSO are effected by this particular event? (I am assuming that your main issue with this is related to his position with the LSO – let me know if this is not the case?).


Mark Berry said...

Agreed about the ludicrous suggestion about putting it into a translation engine, though on what basis - I'm genuinely interested - do you say that the Guardian's version is 'indubitably biased'? I simply don't have the Russian to know.

The comparison with Boris Godunov was meant ironically, more a literary device than anything else, though if we were to draw comparisons, I doubt we'd find the Tsar had more blood on his hands than the present autocrat of all - or some - of the Russias. And I'm not sure we have any remorse to which to point from him either.

Concerning Sir Colin Davis, I said that I could not imagine him calling Margaret Thatcher - who, whatever one thinks of her, is surely not a villain on Putin's scale - and comparing her to Elizabeth I. Again, it was as much a literary device as anything else, but I am not sure the milder comparison is entirely inappropriate. Yes, I'd certainly take issue with any prominent musician complimenting any of our philistine political class. If Sir Simon Rattle, to take your example, or indeed anyone else, were to offer a fawning tribute to one of our own war criminals, such as Blair, then I should hope that a good number of us would be outraged. (And I'd hope that a good number of people in Berlin would be too.)Furtwängler, in a far more difficult position than Gergiev, never said anything remotely comparable to even the mildest versions of what is being alleged in this case.

I am not sure what you mean about a country not liking another; I certainly have nothing against Russia at all. Far from it. However, I have a great deal against a regime such as Putin's: a position I should hardly have thought was unusual, especially at a time when protests are taking place against what would appear to have been massively rigged elections.

SorrowfulYoungW said...

Wow - great reply.

Re – The Guardian’s ‘indubitably biased’ “translation”: Again, my russian is unidiomatic, but I think that Gergiev sounds much less exact than normal, and quite sarcastic. The 'pallyness', to me, comes from Putin – but, fair enough, Gergiev doesn't reject it. The Catherine/Peter bit, to my reading, is much more a confused statement than simply 'comparing' Putin to them, it is more like a thought from a Shostakovich symphony (I guess the juxtaposition is sufficient for some people to assume it is positive…)

Re Boris: we can wait to see what remorse Putin expresses on his deathbed!

When it comes to your original point about Colin Davis and Thatcher – sorry, but I don’t see it as a valid comparison – unless you are putting yourself into the place of the Dresdeners? (my chronology may be off here, but let’s say he was in Dresden at the time).
Although I agree it was a softer analogy, you add in parentheses that you hope a good many Berliners would be upset if Rattle had a friendly pow-wow with Blair – is this ‘absolute’ outrage or domestic-bias?

Because I think what we are talking about is “a foreigner in an British institution praising an “enemy” of Britain”; What do the LSO care about Gergiev’s relationship to Putin except that the English Gov don’t like Russia right now?

My point is that music is international, politics less so – but whatever the political power of music, I strongly believe that artists should be able to (simultaneously) be from a certain place while being the people of the world. The resulting political actions of that should not cross over to the 'day job', because it is not relevant – it is simply confusing what a person is to what a person does. It is about recognising the difference between institutions and people.

“Furtwängler, in a far more difficult position than Gergiev, never said anything remotely comparable to even the mildest versions of what is being alleged in this case” No – he just gave a Nazi salute to Hitler. I adore Furtwängler's music and I don’t feel required to delve into his politics to clarify my choice.

Either way, I think that fundamentally, we have different levels of disdain for Putin -I would prefer him not to be there, but he is not a bad leader for Russia in my eyes. And these country-season (“Arab spring”, “Possible Russian Winter” etc) revolutions are a media invention anyway…

Mark Berry said...

Just a brief point of fact: Furtwängler, despite enormous pressure, never gave the salute.

SorrowfulYoungW said...

My apologies to Furtwängler - thank you for pointing that out.

Anonymous said...

as a native speaker I can not say that Gergiev sounded sarcastic. unfortunately and very sad