Russian conductor Valery Gergiev resigns Edinburgh Festival post

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Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Valery Gergiev, a supporter of President Putin, has failed to condemn the invasion of Ukraine

A renowned Russian conductor has been forced to resign his position as honorary president of the Edinburgh International Festival.

Valery Gergiev, a close friend and supporter of President Putin, has been under pressure to speak out against Russia's invasion of Ukraine but has so far not condemned the move.

In a statement, the festival said his resignation was effective immediately.

It added that the decision had been made in support of the people of Kyiv.

"The board of trustees of the Edinburgh International Festival has asked for, and accepted the resignation of, Valery Gergiev as honorary president of the festival," it said.

"Edinburgh is twinned with the city of Kyiv and this action is being taken in sympathy with, and support of, its citizens."

In 2014, the conductor backed Mr Putin over the annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine.

Mr Gergiev once led a concert in the ruins of Palmyra in Syria, after Russian forces helped Syrian forces to recapture it from the so-called Islamic State in 2016.

Media caption,
The BBC's John Simpson reported from the concert in Palmyra in 2016

Afterwards, Mr Gergiev conducted the Mariinsky Symphony Orchestra at the historic Roman Theatre in Palmyra in a broadcast which was widely covered.

It came months after IS posted footage online showing some of its fighters carrying out killings in the ancient theatre.

Mr Gergiev was previously principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and was the music director of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, until his contract with the German orchestra was terminated on Monday.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Mr Gergiev is a supporter of President Putin

He has also been dropped from performances this week with the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, The New York Times reported.

The newspaper also said further appearances leading the Mariinsky Orchestra at the venue have also been cancelled.

He has also been dropped by the Verbier Festival in Switzerland, and his management company has said it will no longer represent him.

Earlier on Monday, the Russian State Ballet of Siberia cancelled its remaining UK tour dates, after theatres in Edinburgh, Bristol, Wolverhampton, Northampton, Bournemouth, Southend and Peterborough cancelled visits by the ballet company.

And Glasgow Film Festival, which begins on Wednesday, has withdrawn two Russian titles from its programme, Kirill Sokolov's No Looking Back and Lado Kvataniya's The Execution.

It follows a plea from the Ukrainian Film Academy on behalf of the country's cultural sector, for support from the international community by boycotting Russian cinema and filmmaking.

A statement from the festival said: "This decision is not a reflection on the views and opinions of the makers of these titles. We just believe that it would be inappropriate to proceed as normal with these screenings in the current circumstances."

Valery Gergiev is one of the world's most prolific and successful conductors but he is also one of the most controversial.

A long-term supporter of President Putin, they've known each other since the 1990s.

The relationship was mutually beneficial. Putin supported Gergiev's career at the Mariinsky Theatre, Maestro Gergiev endorsed his re-election and appeared at concerts in support of the Russian president.

His concerts have sparked protest before. LGBT activists interrupted performances in New York in 2013 after Putin introduced anti-gay legislation.

Now he's one of a number of high profile artists who've been urged to denounce Putin or lose their jobs.

Some like the singer Anna Netrebko, have released statements opposing the war. It may not salvage her forthcoming engagements but it does offer the prospect of performances in the future, not least the New York Met where she's due to appear later this year.

The Met released a statement this weekend which said they would not allow artists who support Putin to perform there.

This has serious ramifications for Valery Gergiev.

Not only has he been forced to resign from the Edinburgh International Festival, where he's been an honorary patron since 2011, he's had a string of cancelled engagements and most significantly, been dismissed as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic.

Gergiev was the third honorary appointment at the Edinburgh Festival, following Yehudi Menuhin and Charles Mackerras.

The challenge of aligning professional with personal was summed up by Marcus Felsner, who resigned as his manager on Monday saying on social media that it had become impossible to defend the interests of "one of the greatest conductors of all time, a visionary artist loved and admired by many of us, who will not, or cannot, publicly end his long-expressed support for a regime that has come to commit such crimes."