Russia's Bolshoi Theatre conductor quits after pressure to condemn Ukraine invasion

Russia's Bolshoi Theatre conductor quits after pressure to condemn Ukraine invasion

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A distinguished Russian conductor on Sunday announced he was resigning from a pair of orchestras – the renowned Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and another in Toulouse, France – after he received pressure to speak out against the invasion of Ukraine

Tugan Sokhiev, the chief conductor at Bolshoi Theatre, also said he was resigning from the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse after French officials pressed him to clarify his position on the invasion.

“During last few days I witnessed something I thought I would never see in my life. In Europe, today I am forced to make a choice and choose one of my musical family over the other,” Sokhiev wrote on Facebook

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Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre Tugan Sokhiev attends a ceremony opening a new season in Moscow, Russia September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre Tugan Sokhiev attends a ceremony opening a new season in Moscow, Russia September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

“I have decided to resign from my positions as Music Director of Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse with immediate effect,” he added. 

Sokhiev noted that at Bolshoi Theatre and in Toulouse, he regularly invited Ukrainian singers and conductors.

“We never even thought about our nationalities,” he said. “We were enjoying making music together.”

The mayor of Toulouse, Jean-Luc Moudenc, denied that officials demanded Tugan make a choice between Russia and France, according to the New York Times.

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“We never expected or, worse, demanded that Tugan [Sokhiev] make a choice between his native country and his beloved city of Toulouse,” the mayor said. “It wouldn’t have made any sense. However, it was unthinkable to imagine that he would remain silent in the face of the war situation, both vis-à-vis the musicians and the public and the community.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin 

Russian President Vladimir Putin  (Yuri Kochetkov/Pool)

The invasion of Ukraine has led some cultural institutions to place pressure on internationally known Russian artists. Some artists are worried they could face consequences at home for denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin, reports said. 

Last week, the Munich Philharmonic dismissed chief conductor Valery Gergiev, who is close to Putin, after he failed to condemn the invasion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, presents a medal to then Mariinsky Theatre's Artistic Director Valery Gergiev, during an awarding ceremony in Moscow's Kremlin, Russia, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, presents a medal to then Mariinsky Theatre’s Artistic Director Valery Gergiev, during an awarding ceremony in Moscow’s Kremlin, Russia, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016.  ((AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, pool,file))

“I cannot bear to witness how my fellow colleagues, artists, actors, singers, dancers, directors are being menaced, treated disrespectfully, and being victims of so-called ‘cancel culture’” Sokhiev said. “We as musicians are given extraordinary chance and mission to keep human race kindhearted and respectful to each other by playing and interpreting those great composers.”

Despite resigning under pressure to condemn the invasion, Sokhiev claimed he has “never supported, and I will always be against any conflicts in any shape and form.”

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Sokhiev argued that musicians were “ambassadors of peace,” and that their music should be used to “unite nations.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report