Friday, 11 July 2014

Jurowski Conducts Britten’s “Gay Requiem” in Moscow

I was in Russia this week and heard about a remarkable concert earlier in the year, which doesn’t seem to have registered with the Western press. At the start of April, the London Philharmonic gave a performance of Britten’s War Requiem in Moscow under Vladimir Jurowski, a very high profile civic event linked to the year of cultural collaboration between Britain and Russia, and attended by a good number of high level dignitaries.
It is customary in Russia to give an address before concerts, and on this occasion Jurowski himself introduced the work. One of the points he made, quite emphatically, is that the work is a celebration of love, and specifically of homosexual love. He talks about the fact that Britten and Pears’ relationship had been illegal under British law and about the evils of institutional homophobia.
Given the current political climate in Russia, this was an extraordinarily brave move. A friend of mine who was there says that the VIPs in the audience all sat ashen-faced as Jurowski elaborated his point. Clearly, Jurowski exaggerated the matter; under other circumstances he would probably be unlikely to characterise this as a gay requiem. But his motivations for doing so here are clear.
A review of the concert published soon after (read it here) discussed Jurowski’s opening remarks at length, which is very unusual as critics usually ignore these addresses. The critic, Sergei Medvedev writes:
“Vladimir Jurowski has once again demonstrated not only that he is a great conductor, but also that he refuses to conform. This sets him apart from other well-known Russian conductors and is so important now in our cold spring of 2014, in a country obsessed with searching out its enemies and in the grip of paranoid homophobia.”
I’ll happily second those views. The most distressing aspect of what is happening in Russia now is the fact that so few people are willing to make a public stand of defiance. But Jurowski has, and congratulations to him.
A video of Jurowski’s speech can be found at: The relevant section begins around 7:30. If anybody with a better grasp of Russian than me could translate this section, I’d be most grateful.


  1. I'm hugely grateful to you, Gavin, for drawing attention to this. I knew the performance had taken place, but nothing about the speech. I wish I could make out more of it at the relevant place, but I believe he also points out that Owen was included in the number. Would also be grateful if someone could provide an exact transcription.

    And meanwhile Gergiev digs in even deeper on the other side, brushing off Mattila's views in refusing to perform with hom as 'ignorant', calling Ukrainians 'Nazis' and talking about Russian victims of the war without ever mentioning for a moment who unequivocally brought misery to eastern Ukraine and the Crimea.

  2. Yes, Gergiev digs an ever deeper hole. AND he (and Netrebko) will be back at the Met again in Jan/Feb... performing? Why... who else? Tchaikowsky. We DID manage to get their attention LAST fall, however, and ever since Gergiev has been dogged at many places where he appears. Meanwhile, Mr. Gelb, who last year insisted the Met must be above politics, seems to have taken a different stance in regard to THE DEATH OF KLINGHOFFER.

  3. I think Jurowski's speech in the heart of the 'lion's den' against the brutal repression of homosexuality from Russian official institutions calls for applause and admiration. I know Jurowski feels Russian to the core, but deplores many of the developments against civic rights that have been taking place in post-soviet Russia. Than you Mr. Dixon for making such extraordinary testimony availabla.

  4. Lali Otero de Saavedra24 July 2014 05:54

    Sorry, I did not intend to enter the above comment under Anonymous. (my mistake) My name is Lali Otero de Saavedra and I'm writing this from Bilbao, Spain.