A hundred years after Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring sparked a riot at its Paris premiere, another noisy outburst has greeted the iconic piece – though it had nothing to do with the work itself.
Gay rights protesters brought their campaign against conductor Valery Gergiev to Carnegie Hall on Thursday night at a performance by the Mariinsky Orchestra of St. Petersburg. The protests were against Gergiev's support of Vladimir Putin, who earlier this year signed a law that prohibits public events promoting gay rights.
Shortly after Gergiev walked on stage to conduct a program of three Stravinsky ballets, several protesters from the group Queer Nation began to shout from the upper balconies, "Gergiev, your silence is killing Russian gays!" Gergiev kept his back to the audience and waited for the commotion to stop. Some members of the audience applauded the protesters; others booed. Security guards led them out and the rest of the performance proceeded without incident.
Earlier, outside Carnegie Hall, another group of about 20 protesters unfurled a rainbow banner that read "support Russian gay rights" while chanting slogans like, “Hey hey, ho ho, Gergiev has got to go!”
In a press release, Queer Nation said, "Valery Gergiev should not be able to perform without being called out for his vocal support of Russia’s anti-gay president." It added that Carnegie Hall has refused to condemn the Russian government's anti-gay laws.
Carnegie Hall released a statement Friday acknowledging that it has been the site of numerous political events throughout its history, but "as an artistic institution, its primary mission is to feature performances by the world’s greatest artists and ensembles, including Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra.
"Carnegie Hall firmly opposes all instances of discrimination, including discrimination against the LGBT community; however these concerts, as musical events, are not the appropriate setting for political comments."
This is the second time a Gergiev-led performance has been delayed by protests this month, the first being at the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera. In both cases, protesters cited an artistic justification for their actions: the Met performance featured the opera Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky, whom general manager Peter Gelb described as "Russia's great gay composer." At Carnegie Hall, the Stravinsky scores – The Firebird, Pétrouchka and The Rite of Spring – were commissioned by Serge Diaghilev, who was also gay, for his company, the Ballets Russes (whether Stravinsky himself was gay has also been debated recently).
Gergiev has not commented on the recent protests. The conductor, who campaigned for Putin's reelection in 2012, is the artistic director of the Mariinsky Theater, home to a ballet company, opera house and orchestra, all of which receive state support.
WQXR is a broadcast partner of Carnegie Hall.