Pro-Kremlin maestro Gergiev named head of Bolshoi Theater

Russia on Dec. 1 appointed notoriously pro-Kremlin maestro Valery Gergiev, a personal friend of President Vladimir Putin for decades, to lead Moscow's world famous Bolshoi Theater.

Gergiev takes over Russia's main stage at a time when Moscow is increasingly casting culture as a battleground in its clash with the West while troops fight in Ukraine.

The musical giant, shunned by the West for failing to denounce the Ukraine campaign, is already head of Saint Petersburg's Marinsky Theater, bringing unprecedented change to the two theaters' management.

He replaces Vladimir Urin, who led the Bolshoi for a decade, and who signed an open letter calling on all sides to end hostilities in Ukraine in February last year.

Gergiev was fired as main conductor of the Munich Philharmonic for failing to denounce the Ukraine campaign and shunned by other Western institutions, where he had been a regular for years. He has since performed at home, going on tour only to China, with whom Moscow has sought closer ties.

As he addressed the Bolshoi troupe on Dec. 1, he downplayed his status as a persona non-grata in Europe and said he wanted to focus on working in Russia.

"Today, I am thinking about what to do in Russia. Not because we are not being invited anywhere - quite the opposite: We recently were in China where we performed and opened a new hall in Beijing," he said.

"But it is important for me and for us to work at home."

The Russian government said it had appointed Gergiev by decree as General Director of the Bolshoi for a period of five years.

The move came after rumors swirled in November Putin wanted to install Gergiev in the Bolshoi ahead of his expected re-election in March 2024, which would extend his long rule...

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