A Conductor Plays Politics and Leads a Great Orchestra

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Valery Gergiev leads the Mariinsky Orchestra on a tour of Bay Area Concert Halls (Photo: Courtesy of Cal Performances)

Conductor Valery Gergiev leads the Mariinsky, his home orchestra, on a barnstorming tour of the Bay Area this month, playing Shostakovich and Prokofiev and other classics. It's a big deal. Gergiev conducted Prokofiev’s opera War and Peace, based on the Leo Tolstoy book, at San Francisco Opera in 1991, and the music remains vivid for me as one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen.

The Mariinksy is one of the world's outstanding orchestras. But in the past few years, I've wondered about Gergiev's politics as he's expressed vocal support for Vladimir Putin, despite the leader's harsh crackdowns on dissent and LGBTQ rights. My co-host Tomas Riley notes he's never believed in the notion that politics stops at the art house door, "but as with any good Russian novel," Riley said, "the levels of intrigue get deep and expansive, and you don’t have to like every character." Details here.