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Saturday Art: Edward Snowden’s New Gig in Russia?

Ed Snowden? - trumpeter closeup

This news item from The Voice of Russia late this week may be misleading:

Former CIA contractor Edward Snowden is planning to take a job in Russia in the near future, lawyer and head of a Public Chamber commission Anatoly Kucherena said on Thursday.

He did not specify the field Snowden had chosen to enter. “No comments, but as soon as he makes a decision, we will say it at once,” Kucherena promised.

Watching a recent performance of the excellent St. Peterburg-based Mariinsky Orchestra Friday, I was sort of blown away, looking at the trumpet section.  It seemed as if the soloist was a look-alike of Edward Snowden:

Edward Snowden's new gig?

Actually, the player who looks more than a little like Snowden, is chief soloist for the Mariinsky Orchestra, Sergei Kryuchkov, one of the finer orchestral trumpeters alive today.

Last week, Kryuchkov and his fellow players in the Mariinsky gave a set of New York concerts in Carnegie Hall.  The ensemble, and particularly its music director and conductor, Valery Gergiev, were greeted with protests from LBGTQ activists:

New York, NY (October 10, 2013) — Tonight, four members of the LGBT rights group Queer Nation disrupted the performance of the Mariinsky Orchestra, led by world-renowned conductor Valery Gergiev, demanding that Gergiev oppose the Russian government’s attacks on LGBT Russians and that Russia end its war on LGBT Russians.

Queer Nation members chanted, “Gergiev, Your Silence is Killing Russian Gays!” before the Carnegie Hall performance began. The protesters, who were met mostly with applause but also with some boos, were led away by security guards. There were no arrests.

Gergiev, the artistic and general director at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, is a longtime Putin friend and supporter. Gergiev has been honored by the Russian government and by the Russian Orthodox Church, both of which championed Russia’s anti-gay laws. Gergiev campaigned for Putin in 2012. The Mariinsky Theatre has received hundreds of millions of rubles from the Russian government.

“Valery Gergiev should not be able to perform without being called out for his vocal support of Russia’s anti-gay president,” said John Weir, one of the protesters. “Gergiev’s silence about Putin’s anti-gay laws is killing lesbian and gay Russians. We’re here to break that silence.”
Earlier in the evening, Queer Nation protested in front of Carnegie Hall. Demonstrators, including several Russian gay men and women, carried a 60-foot rainbow flag that read “Support Russian Gays” and held placards. Protestors also handed out informational flyers to arriving audience members and passersby.

On October 4, Queer Nation wrote to Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall’s executive and artistic director, asking that Carnegie Hall condemn the Russian government’s attacks on LGBT Russians. He declined, adding that “musical events are not the appropriate setting for political statements.”

I’m in strong disagreement with the notion that “musical events are not the appropriate setting for political statements.”  Cultural institutions such as the Mariinsky Orchestra, by receiving State funding, are reflections, however indirect, of State policy.  The Israel Philharmonic, which is State supported, has been disrupted occasionally by audience members protesting inhumane treatment of Palestinians:

Protesters have disrupted a Proms performance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall.

A live broadcast of the performance, which had gone ahead despite calls for a boycott by pro-Palestinian campaigners, was taken off air on Thursday night after protesters interrupted the concert at the London concert hall.

A BBC spokeswoman confirmed that the live broadcast had been taken off air on Radio 3 following the disruption.

The BBC Proms team tweeted: “We’re sorry that the concert was taken off air following hall disturbance. Glad both pieces were heard by the audience in the RAH.”

The team later added: “We regret that as a result of sustained audience disturbance tonight’s concert was taken off BBC Radio 3.”

Pro-Palestinian group The Palestine Solidarity Campaign had called for the BBC to cancel the concert, claiming that the Israeli orchestra showed “complicity in whitewashing Israel’s persistent violations of international law and human rights”.

Here’s the protest:

Quite disruptive, eh?  One of the protesters was my longtime friend, Deborah Fink, who has led or participated in many protests, as audience member, and, more importantly, as a performer of protest music.  Debbie has written her own lyrics to many of Kurt Weill’s songs, sometimes singing them on a soapbox in Hyde Park.  She has sung the soprano solo in my protest work, The Skies Are Weeping, on occasion.  Does Carnegie Hall director Clive Gillinson’s objection to concert protests extend to the performance of music that was written in protest of one thing or another?  If so, he would have to stop any performance of  Dmitri Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony.  Or his 5th, or 13th, all written to protest one aspect of Soviet society or another.

Many, me included, believe Shostakovich’s 11th was written in protest of the Soviet repression of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution:

Many now consider the work to carry a much more reflective attitude, one which looks at Russian history as a whole from the standpoint of 1957, four years after the death of Stalin. Another common interpretation is that the symphony is a response to the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956; it was composed immediately after the uprising, and his widow Irina has said that he had it “in mind” during composition.

That the composer had to mask his true feelings behind the public agitprop label of the symphony being reflective of the failed 1905 Russian Revolution doesn’t dilute the impression the work can make.

Ironically, the performance of this powerful masterpiece that got me to wondering what kind of job Edward Snowden might end up in (I have no idea whether or not Snowden is a trumpet player) is that very piece of protest music, Shostakovich’s 11th, performed recently in St. Petersburg by the Mariinsky Orchestra, led by Valery Gergiev.  The conductor’s Shostakovich interpretations are vivid and definitive.  This video offers one of the finest renditions of the final movement I’ve heard, especially in the wilder sections of the first and last movements.  This is also another one of Gergiev’s performances where he uses a toothpick for a baton:

Personally, I would like to hear what Gergiev feels about his friend Vladimir Putin’s homophobic policies.  His silence on this issue is deafening.

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Alaska progressive activist, notorious composer and firedoglake devotee.