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Does Russian conductor risk Western ire?

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gergiev.jpgRussian conductor Valery Gergiev has long been a darling of the West, and is currently serving as principal conductor at the London Symphony Orchestra. It will be fascinating to see whether, following his highly politicized decision to lead a performance of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich amid the damaged buildings of South Ossetia’s Tskhinvali this week, that popularity wavers.

The charismatic musician’s actions will appeal to many Russians, who blame Georgia for sparking the crisis in the Caucasus by seeking to re-take the breakaway enclave and for shelling the regional capital. By likening the attack to the 9/11 strikes on the United States, Gergiev only upped the stakes.

Much of the rest of the world believes Russia is the villain of the conflict, leaving Gergiev, an ethnic Ossetian, open to a backlash in western capitals where he is used to red carpets and royal treatment.

Music and politics have often  gone hand in hand, of course, and we need look no further than Shostakovich as proof. His Seventh Symphony, which Gergiev performed on Thursday, is seen as a symbol in Russia of Leningrad’s defiance before the Nazi siege during World War II.

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