Conductor Unbecoming: Portrait of the Artist as an Ugly Man

Shas may have turned corruption into a culture, but there are also those who turn culture into corruption.

Alex Levac

On January 11, the well-known conductor Valery Gergiev will visit Israel again. Under his baton, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra will play two works by Dmitri Shostakovich, who himself struggled with the devil and overcame him. Gergiev, on the other hand, offered up his soul for sale, and Russian President Vladimir Putin bought and enjoyed it. Old friends from the dark days of Leningrad and the KGB are never parted. Vladi and Valery have traveled a long road together, each holding a stick in his hand.

We have sunken so far in our kingdoms of flora and fauna – with Faina Kirshenbaum and the stench of her Yisrael Beiteinu party – that we have not found time to follow the history of our esteemed guest.

Did you know that Gergiev was, last November, declared persona non grata at the Saar Music Festival in Germany? Did you know that protests have accompanied him wherever he performs – from the Metropolitan Opera in New York to the Barbican in London? And when he conducted Wagner’s “Ring Cycle,” the public stayed away? His appointment as musical director of the Munich Philharmonic has recently run into opposition, which forced him to publish a “clarification” in an attempt to remove the stain.

Not just one spot, actually – Gergiev supported last year’s Russian takeover of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine (where they shoot down passenger airliners, too). He was awarded a medal in separatist South Ossetia, which was torn from Georgia by force and whose sovereignty is only recognized by the Kremlin.

Not only this: Gergiev also condemned Pussy Riot, the feminist rock band whose members were thrown into a Siberian jail for the crime of insulting the dictator’s good name. And even more: He justified Russian anti-gay legislation, in order to prevent “danger to children.” And when Putin wanted to show Barack Obama who’s boss, Gergiev climbed every podium to do so.

Putin has friends in Israel, too, with Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman his best friend. We can only hope this friendship is not unconditional and is linked merely by their mutual culture of government – the same values and ideas that allow them to purify such abominations as rigged elections and appointing family and friends. Maybe our foreign minister will be invited to the concert as a guest of honor.

You certainly must have noticed the joyous phenomenon: The children of the leaders of Yisrael Beiteinu – in particular their daughters – are especially successful young people, far ahead of others their age in attaining apartments and jobs. Faina and Sofa Landver – happy mothers; Lieberman – a proud father. How good it is to be branded with the Israel Cattle Breeders Association and the Dairy Board. Thanks to the parents who have brought us so far.

True, not in every case must a commander know every marginal detail about the edges of a local road of a remote regional council. But in most cases, the spirit of the commander is enough. And Putin’s spirit has reached all the way to Jerusalem via the Volga, with Lieberman the rainmaker in arid regions such as the Dead Sea and the Negev. It wasn’t because of their closeness that the leaders of the farming and laboring communities swallowed the vast ideological distances, but because of the rot. Can cobwebs be spun without a spider in their midst?

Last week, I wrote about Shas, which has turned corruption into a culture. This week, I am writing about those who have turned culture into corruption; about everyone who rents out their reputation to those in authority, and traffics in the sin. And in the creative classes – even more so. Don’t be an artistic muse for the government. There’s nothing uglier than the artist who sings so ingratiatingly.

But the tickets have already been bought, and you are sick of boycotts. You love the Philharmonic and its gala opening nights and bravos, which you come prepared for. And, besides, you’ve never heard of Alexei Navalny. But wait! Did I heard someone there, in the last row, shouting in protest?