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A conductor on why he remained in Russia after the invasion began

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A conductor on why he remained in Russia after the invasion began

As Russian forces launched their attack on Ukraine in late February, Estonian-American conductor Pavo Jarvi was in Moscow, prime rehearsal for a long-planned engagement with a Russian youth orchestra.

Jarvi, who was born in 1962 in Tallinn, Estonia, then part of the Soviet Union, had a difficult decision to make. Friends urged him to cancel the outfit to protest the invasion. But Jarvi stated that he did not want to disappoint the players of the Russian National Youth Symphony Orchestra, he decided to stay in Moscow and lead the group in the works of Richard Strauss on 26 February, two days after the invasion began, in February. 27 before departure.

Jarvi’s appearance drew criticism in some corners of the music industry. A day after the concert, Jarvi, chief conductor of the Tönhalle Orchestra of Zurich and the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo, issued a statement condemning the attack and defending its decision.

“These youths should not and cannot be punished for the barbaric actions of their government,” Jarvi said in the statement. “I can’t turn my back on my young colleagues: musicians are all brothers and sisters.”

In an interview with The New York Times by email from Florida, Jarvi reflected on his visit to Moscow, examining Russian artists in wartime, and the future of cultural exchange between Russia and the West. These are edited excerpts of the conversation.

As an artist who was born in the former Soviet Union, how do you view Putin’s invasion of Ukraine?

It is difficult to even find a word for what is happening in Ukraine at the moment. It is utterly barbaric, horrific, dehumanizing and shocking, yet ultimately surprising: in 1944, the Soviet Union did the same to Estonia, practically bombing Tallinn to the ground by carpet bombing.

How does your Estonian heritage affect how you view this war?

Deep suspicion and distrust of the Soviet Union (to put it mildly) is literally encoded in our DNA. My family left Estonia when I was 17 to escape the communists. My parents and my grandparents never trusted the Soviet Union, but life here in the West makes you forget some realities. Over the years, we young immigrant generations are becoming more Westernized, complacent and slowly accepting the view that Russians have somehow changed and evolved, that they are no longer dangerous and are treated as partners. could.

Many older Estonians living abroad are still afraid to go and visit, not to mention go back to Estonia because of their deep fear and hatred of the Soviet Union. (I intentionally avoid using the word “Russian” because it’s actually the hatred of the Soviets, communists, and Soviet leaders we’re referring to.)

You were in Moscow as the Russian invasion of Ukraine was underway. You’ve said that you initially felt conflicted about your decision to stop by to lead a concert. What was going through your mind?

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Giving back to the next generation of musicians has always been a part of my mission, which is why I regularly conduct youth orchestras. That was the reason I was in Moscow, but if the war had already started, I obviously would not have gone there.

Everyone was already incredibly nervous and tense at the start of the week, and when it actually happened, it was a complete shock.

Why not cancel and leave, as some of your friends urged?

I felt a responsibility. I could not turn my back on these young musicians during such difficult and confusing times. I wanted them to experience something worthwhile. Something that could sustain them in times of isolation and blockade that was obviously going to be imposed on them for a very long time, perhaps decades.

The concert was played in the spirit of defiance of aggression and solidarity with young musicians, and in the deep solidarity and support of the Ukrainian people.

As long as the invasion continues, will you return to Russia to conduct?

I certainly will not return to Russia as long as the war is on, and I find it very difficult to imagine returning even after the war is over, because after it has ended, the human suffering, wounds, hatred of ordinary people everywhere And the suffering will continue for generations.

What do you think Western artists should have with Russia in light of the ongoing war? Is it necessary to isolate Moscow culturally, or should there be a free exchange of arts?

Artists outside Russia should not interact with Russia at all as long as the war continues and innocent people are being bombed and dying.

How do you think this war will affect art in Russia and Ukraine?

The impact on Russian artists is about to be devastating. There will be boycotts for a very long time as a new Iron Curtain will be in place. In the worst case, there’s probably going to be the old Soviet model that will be reinstalled. At every level – and culturally, of course, including music – life would be as different from the West as in the pre-Soviet years.

Are you concerned about the effects of war on global cultural exchange? Will Russian art and artists be viewed with suspicion?

I don’t think Russian artists will necessarily be viewed with suspicion or any less respect or admiration from the music-loving public, but there is a lot of blame on Western arts organizations and presenters for following a strong party line to boycott Russia. There will be pressure or face situations.

In recent days, several art institutions have begun to review the artists’ political views, demanding that some condemn the invasion and Putin as a condition for the performance. Do you support these efforts?

I cannot fundamentally agree with the policy of universally demanding artists who denounce attacks or Putin himself to be invited to perform. That’s what the Soviets would do. It goes against Western principles of freedom of expression and many other core values ​​of which we are proud.

On the other hand, it is understandable to require a clear position from artists who have previously and publicly associated themselves with Putin. Each case should be looked at separately, and common sense and human decency should prevail and be the guiding light in making decisions which are difficult in the current hostile environment.

Russian stars who have had connections with Putin, such as soprano Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev, have been observed. West’s canceled engagement, But cultural institutions are not yet entirely sure where to draw the line with other artists.

Standards of behavior differ markedly during war and peace; Right now, it is clearly war time. It is absurd to talk about the “rights” of Russian artists when one sees innocent civilians, children and maternity wards being bombed indiscriminately.

There is no easy answer as many Russian musicians live outside Russia. I believe most of them are against Putin’s war. And many Russians living in the West have relatives in Russia and saying anything negative about Putin or the war could have dire consequences for their families living back in Russia.

We can never forget that in the case of Russia we are not dealing with democracy. It is a dictatorship, and disagreements are dealt with with extreme force and brutality.

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