Conductor Gergiev, shunned in West, named director of Russia’s Bolshoi

By Mark Trevelyan

LONDON (Reuters) -Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, shunned by Western concert halls since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was named on Friday as director of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre.

The appointment puts the 70-year-old in control of Russia’s two pre-eminent opera and ballet houses, as he has also headed the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg since 1996.

After performing for decades on the world’s biggest classical stages, Gergiev has been cold-shouldered in the West since the start of the war in February 2022. The following month, he was fired as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra after the city’s mayor said Gergiev had declined to “clearly and unambiguously” distance himself from the invasion.

The Bolshoi has long been known not only for its magnificent gilded interior and for the quality and epic scale of its ballets and operas, but also for its artistic intrigues and rivalries.

The government announcement of Gergiev’s appointment said his predecessor Vladimir Urin had asked to be relieved of his duties, but it did not give any reason.

Gergiev, also a former principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, has long been controversial outside Russia because of his support for President Vladimir Putin.

He spoke out in favour of Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014. Two years later, he led a concert in the ancient Roman theatre at Palmyra in Syria – which Putin addressed by live video link – after the area was recaptured from Islamic State by Russian-backed Syrian forces.

In a TV interview last month, Gergiev was asked about the prospect of taking on an increased workload in Russia, and spoke of his sense of duty and responsibility.

“To work in your own country – I’ve said this before – we consider this essential and necessary,” he said.

(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)