Teodor Currentzis and MusicAeterna face scrutiny over Russian ties.

SALZBURG, Austria — Teodor Currentzis is known as one of classical music’s most original voices, a rebellious conductor who can breathe fresh life into well-known works. In this European capital of culture, where artists, agents and enthusiasts gather every summer, he is omnipresent, his name emblazoned on banners and brochures. His fans travel from all over the world to hear his performances.

But this summer, it’s not just their music that’s being talked about. Salzburg FestivalOne of the most important events in classical music. Currentzis — who is conducting a new double bill of Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” and Carl Orff’s “De Temporum Fine Comoedia” starting here Tuesday — and his ensemble, MusicAeterna, are drawing attention for another reason. are: their relations with Russia;

During the war in Ukraine, the Krentzys and Music Eterna were targeted for their reliance on VTB Bank, a state-owned Russian institution that is sanctioned by the United States and other countries but is the ensemble’s main sponsor. Currentzis and his duo have been criticized for keeping quiet on the war and working with associates of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, some of whom sit on the board of MusicAeterna’s foundation. are

The scrutiny has complicated the career of Curtins, one of the most in-demand stars in the industry. And it has shaken up the 102-year-old Salzburg festival, whose leaders have stood by Music Eterna even as it has been shunned by other cultural groups.

It’s not that I’m a coward. It’s very sensitive,” the festival’s artistic director Markus Hunterhauser said in an interview. “We are not for Putin. There is absolutely nothing to talk about.”

Krentzis and his musicians are now at the center of a debate about how cultural groups should handle artists affiliated with Russian institutions. Many have cut ties with close associates of Putin, such as conductor Valery Gergiev, a longtime friend and prominent supporter of the Russian president, who once attended the Salzburg Festival.

However, other Western institutions have come under fire after canceling performances by Russian artists who are not associated with Putin, and even by some who spoke out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A Bartok-Orff double bill features the MusicAeterna choir. And its appearance, along with crinkles in the pit, has already prompted protests from politicians, artists and activists, who say the festival should not provide a forum for wartime music Eterna.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Austria, Vasyl Khamenets, said in an interview that he belongs to Putin’s regime. “He has not criticized this brutal war, yet he has the opportunity to appear on one of the most famous stages in Europe and perhaps the world.”

Esteemed pianist Evgeny Kisson, who performs frequently in Salzburg, said he would not object if the Krentzes appeared with Western orchestras, but Musik Eterna’s relationship with the Russian government was difficult.

“In the current situation, groups funded by the Russian state to perform in the civilized world,” said Kissin, who was born in Moscow and is now based in Prague, referring to Russia’s “criminal war in Ukraine.” should not be allowed.”

Currentzis, through his representatives, declined to comment.

Since founding MusicAeterna in Siberia in 2004, Currentzis has tried to defy labels. He is known as an uncompromising classical musician but has also earned a reputation as a punk, a goth and an anarchist. Born in Athens, he went to Russia to study music in his 20s and now holds a Russian passport. (Russian news media, in 2014 Putin granted him citizenship by presidential decree. Reported.)

Krentysz began his career as an outsider seeking to create artistic centers outside the traditional bases of Moscow and St. Petersburg, including the Novosibirsk State Opera in Siberia and the industrial city of Perm. He has stood up to Russian authorities, including in 2017, when his friend and colleague Kirill Serebrynikov, one of Russia’s most prominent theater directors, was detained in Moscow, a move that threatened life under Putin. Seen as revenge for critical portrayals of

More recently, Currentzis has worked to gain establishment support, finding a partner in VTB Bank, which has helped finance MusicAeterna’s concerts and recording projects since 2016. With the bank’s support, Currentzis opened a base for the joint in St. Petersburg in 2019.

The attack on Ukraine took place on February 24, his 50th birthday. On the same day, he led an anniversary concert with Musik Eterna in St. Petersburg, where he conducted Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. According to Rossi, he performed the same piece again two days later in Moscow to an audience of more than 1,500 people. News.

Soon after, the ensemble began to face questions about their benefactors, and a performance at the Philharmonie de Paris was canceled while a performance at the Bavarian State Opera was postponed until 2024. In Vienna, a planned concert in support of Ukraine in April was cancelled. Later activists and officials – including Khymynets, the ambassador – objected to the idea of ​​presenting Russian artists at an event for Ukraine.

Some presenters were concerned about hosting an ensemble with ties to several top Russian officials, including VTB Bank chairman Andrey Kosten. Alexander Beglov, Governor of St. Petersburg; and Governor of the Central Bank of Russia, Elvira Nebulina. They all sit on the board of the MusicAeterna Cultural Initiative Support Fund.

Others sympathized with Krentys and his musicians, believing that they could face punishment in Russia if they expressed an opinion about the war. As criticism of the group has intensified, it has faced pressure to speak out against the attack and seek funding outside of Russia.

In March, the SWR Symphony Orchestra in Germany, where Currentzis is chief conductor, issued a statement calling for peace, though it did not criticize the Russian government or Putin. “Teodor Currentzis and members of the SWR Symphony Orchestra unequivocally support the joint appeal for peace and reconciliation,” Statement said.

Louwrens Langevoort is artistic and managing director of the Cologne Philharmonic. In an interview, he recalled that Krentzis, smoking a cigarette in his dressing room after an appearance there with the SWR Symphony in late March, said he longed for an “ideal world” in which he could see both Russia and the West. I can work.

“He was really aware that something had to be done,” Langevoort said. “There was pressure from all sides and he – because of the security of all parties living in Russia – would not make an announcement.”

Even some of Currencies’ staunchest supporters are scrambling to find new supporters. Among them is Matthias Naske, the artistic director of the Vienna Konzerthaus, who said in an interview that his hall would not join Musik Eterna until “the orchestra is completely independently financed.” Currents will still be allowed to perform there, he added.

“Tudor Currents is an extraordinary artist who uses the power of music to stand up for human values,” he said. “He feels responsible and sticks to his joints in Russia that he made there. It is wrong to punish him for not leaving his musicians.”

In Salzburg, festival leaders have tried to counter accusations that they are supporting Russia’s cultural aims. The opening ceremony of the festival on Tuesday included a work by the famous living Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestro. A keynote speech by Bulgarian-German writer Elijah Trojano was titled “The Tone of War, the Key of Peace.”

Hinterhäuser stated that he did not want to force MusicAeterna’s artists to speak out against the war.

They are not soldiers. They are not responsible for what is happening. “This is not a collective crime.”

The festival’s other ties to Russia have also come under scrutiny. One of the sponsors of the double-bill production is the GES-2 House of Culture, which is associated with Russian oligarch Leonid Mikhelson. After the invasion it was sanctioned by the UK and Canada – although not in the European Union, for Salzburg.

Currentzis, who made his Salzburg debut in 2017 with Mozart’s Requiem and “La Clemenza di Tito,” tried to focus on his art. Last week at the festival, he led a performance of Shostakovich’s “Bobby Yar” symphony, featuring members of the Music Eterna Choir and the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra.

Alexander Miraviglia-Crivelli, the orchestra’s artistic and executive director, said he had asked his players after the attack if they wanted to go ahead with the concert. Almost everyone wanted to play, he recalled, although one Ukrainian musician expressed concerns about accompanying Russian artists.

He said that we firmly believe that exclusion and cancellation in arts and education is wrong.

Krentzis’ defenders point to his performance of the Shostakovich symphony, written to commemorate the 1941 massacre of Jews near Kyiv by the Nazis, as an expression of his views on the current war. . But the performance was planned long in advance, and Curtinys made no comments at the concert.

At the end of the last movement, there was a long silence in the hall. Then he smiled as the audience gave a standing ovation that lasted more than seven minutes.

Joshua Baron contributed reporting from Salzburg, Austria and Milana Mazaeva from New York.