Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Personal vs. Artistic Merit: One and the Same?

Recently during a London Symphony concert, a human rights activist took the stage of the Barbican Theatre to protest Valery Gergiev's (principal conductor) political and social beliefs. The activist went on stage dressed in a tuxedo before the first piece, leading most in the audience to believe that he was a Barbican spokesperson. Among his remarks, he stated, "Gergiev is a great conductor, but he colludes with a tyrant and shows little respect for freedom and equality," before being manhandled off of the stage.

This event brings up the question of whether we, as artists, can excuse certain radical beliefs of other artists. Examples throughout history come to mind, especially Wagner. As the writer of this article states, "Gergiev and the LSO's problem is that political actions have musical consequences... [When Gergiev conducted at the Met,] the New York Times reported an audience member in Carnegie Hall yelled, 'This is an artistic event,' as though distinguishing between Gergiev's political and artistic beliefs were possible."

I must say, I do not agree with Gergiev's beliefs, however, I do think we are able to distinguish between artistic and personal merits. Good art does not require a universal set of values from all parties involved; good art merely requires a commitment to good art. Gergiev has the right to support what he wants, and we (the public) have the right to disagree, both with our voices and our pocketbooks. In the article linked above, the writer headlines it "Gergiev's credibility has been shot to pieces." Perhaps this is true considering the amount of people who now know his true convictions and who may choose not to attend his concerts. In the words of the Barbican activist, though, Gergiev is a great conductor and will remain so.

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