WASHINGTON, October 8 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) – Famed Russian conductor and artistic director of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Valery Gergiev, spoke publicly for the first time in Washington Monday night about his country’s controversial legislation on homosexuality, shrugging off pressure on him from gay rights groups to oppose the law and telling RIA Novosti he has no reason to apologize.
“I came here to work as a conductor, not as a person who will talk from early morning until late evening about other things than music. If you start to think every minute of people who are not necessarily involved in what you do, then your concentration is gone,” Gergiev said during a brief interview with RIA Novosti at the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation’s 2013 Annual Gala at the Russian Embassy.
“Mariinsky never discriminates against anyone. Simply never. I’m there for 25 years, as the head of Mariinsky. We don’t have any sort of discrimination. But once you start to talk like this, you start to sound like someone who has to apologize. We have nothing to apologize for,” he added.
Gergiev was targeted in a protest that disrupted the start of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s Russia-themed opening night gala last month, but has remained quiet in the face of mounting calls from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community for him to speak out against the law.
As the performance of “Eugene Onegin” by famed Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky was poised to begin with Gergiev conducting, several protesters stood and began to chant “Valery, your silence is killing Russian gays!”
Gergiev is an important voice in Russia who has a moral obligation to oppose what many gay rights supporters see as a war on homosexuality that has led to violent attacks on gays in Russia, several protesters told RIA Novosti following the Met protest.
“Look, I come to work. I don’t run the Met. I come as a conductor. It’s the opening of the season. Demand on my time is also very high. So, I want to do things not being disturbed,” Gergiev said.
“I think it’s not the place to take away from opera, take away from the opening of the season,” he said.
Signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this year, the law bans the promotion of non-traditional relationships to minors.
The Kremlin maintains it does not prevent adults from making their own choices and is aimed at protecting children, but critics claim the legislation is part of a much wider crackdown on Russia’s LGBT community.