Conductor Spivakov’s politics draws call for boycott of May Harvard performance
Russian violinist and conductor Vladimir Spivakov has been applauded for virtually his entire life for his skills and charitable work, but a step into politics is drawing protests and a boycott call against tour stops in the United States next month.
In March, Spivakov let the Russian Culture Ministry use his name in supporting Russia’s actions in Ukraine, where military forces are occupying Crimea and massing at the border. Spivakov hasn’t explained his signature at length, but he and other cultural figures who signed have been unrepentant, with one answering criticism by saying, “Do you really not see that Ukraine is becoming a hostage of America? Just like Belgrade or Iraq. Do you really not see that aggression is coming from the West, not Russia?”
Spivakov, though, has strong ties to the West, starting with a 1975 debut and the treasure of a baton bestowed upon him by Leonard Bernstein. (He also performed in Ukraine three days after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, according to his website biography.) He has a multi-city tour with a stop at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre on May 11.
And now he has a petition growing against him for his cooperation with the Culture Ministry. “While we deeply respect Spivakov as a musician, by signing the letter he unjustly used his fame and influence to support and promote aggression,” the petition says, calling on promoter Maestro Artist Management to cancel the tour and for residents to boycott his 35th anniversary performances with the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra.
Members of the Harvard community are also expressing concerns in a letter dated April 7 that was sent to various university officials and publications and addressed to Eric Engel, director of the Memorial Hall/Lowell Hall Complex. The letter warns that Harvard performances by Spivakov and Russian pianist Denis Matsuev, another signer of the letter, “while of excellent artistic quality … provide a stage to two loud supporters of Russian President Putin and his unprecedented aggression against Ukraine.”
“By hosting these events Harvard University further boosts the reputations of these musicians, who use their fame and influence to support and promote war,” the letter says, urging reconsideration of the concerts. Matsuev is scheduled to perform June 14 at Sanders.
When the controversy dogged Spivakov to Canada last month, promoter Show One Productions resisted calls to cancel.
“Our artists come from various ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs and sexual orientation. Some may have political views which differ from our own. We present them with one consideration only: their artistic merit,” company president Svetlana Dvoretsky said.
In an interview last week with Boston Neighborhood Network News, boycott supporters Natasha Dukach and Virginia Savova – each born in Eastern bloc nations and members of Music Lovers Against Putin’s Aggression, which posted the petition – said Spivakov seemed neither coerced into signing nor interested in showing nuance about the political situation.
“A lot of people have not signed the letter,” Savova said. “One example is Evgeny Kissin, the pianist, who is also a beloved musician. He didn’t do it and he’s still fine. He still came here [last month], he still lives there and there are no repressions that I can see against people who didn’t sign.”
Maestro Artist Management and Harvard arts officials have been emailed for comment.
This post was updated April 15, 2014, to include details of the Harvard community letter.