Russian Maestro Gergiev to perform on Bastille Day in Paris, under fire for ‘Putin friendship’

World-famous Russian conductor Valery Gergiev is set to perform with the French National Orchestra on Bastille Day. However, French media were quick to shift the spotlight from music to the “Putin friendship” blame game.

The concert is set to take place on July 14, at the Champ-de-Mars in Paris, before the traditional fireworks.

French media, however, decided to focus on other matters than the performance, noting that Gergiev has publicly expressed his pro-Putin views and supported the Russian law against ‘gay propaganda’ to minors.

I am just happy to be part of this huge national and international event,” Gergiev told RT while preparing for the big night. "I am a guest who is invited, I don't invite myself," the maestro added.

Gergiev said that he was especially looking forward to perform on Bastille Day, as several decades ago he had to miss the opportunity.

"In 1989, I was supposed to be assistant to the great American conductor Leonard Bernstein, but it was coinciding with my very first large tour with the Mariinsky – and no matter how much I wanted to be here with him, I just couldn't do it."

The musician said he has been "very impressed" with the celebrations organized in France this year.

"I was watching the parade, and it made a grand impression," Gergiev said, adding that the event looked important not only for French people, but made an impression of "fantastic relationships between many countries."

"This is a moment for many countries to make a bigger effort than ever before to somehow secure a strong future for hundreds of millions of people, especially for our children," he said.

For his part, he believed in the power of arts to bring various nations closer.

"The concert will feature Italian, French, Russian and German music. What can be more unifying as a force than music? You don't even have to understand the language," Gergiev told RT.

For decades of his work around the globe, including in London, New York, Milan, Vienna and Munich, he "always felt that what we [as musicians] do matters, and we don't do it for our own pleasure."

"You never know who's in the hall: you come to a hall of hundreds of people, you cannot ask their names or nationalities, you don't look at their passports. But you have a feeling and a hope that every time musicians perform, it is bringing people closer rather than makes them fall apart."

The French edition of Huffington Post called the choice of conductor “controversial,” citing a concert in Palmyra back in 2016, when the Syrian Army, with the assistance of Russian military forces, seized the city from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

Talking about the concert in Palmyra, Gergiev said that "in the first place, I wish that we, human beings, never needed concerts like this."

"It would have been much better if Palmyra stayed the way it was hundreds of years ago, and I would be performing somewhere in Moscow or in New York. It would have been a much better scenario, but unfortunately even after our concert in Palmyra it was destroyed further. This is a tragic truth about our times," the maestro told RT.

"The huge responsibility of heads of states, of international organizations is to stop a divide and come together, otherwise we will see much more frightening scenarios," Gergiev said.

Valery Gergiev, the head of the prestigious Mariinsky Theater, was also principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra in 2007-2015, going on to become the Musical director of Munich’s Philharmonic in 2015.

The conductor also holds dozens of Russian and international awards, with the French National Order of the Legion of Honor, as well as the Order of Arts and Letters among them.

Gergiev received the honorary title of UNESCO Artist for Peace in 2003.