November 21, 2008 / 11:54 AM / 10 years ago

Hard times demand good music, conductor says

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - It’s better to tackle tough times with a song in your heart — especially a tune from the classical repertoire, Russian conductor Valery Gergiev says.

About to embark on a two-week tour of Japan at the head of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), Gergiev said that while classical music may be expensive, it’s not a luxury.

“We have to talk about when people need culture rather than when people have to worry about the economy,” he told Reuters on Thursday.

“And I think when things are looking less safe, the public and people in general need music ... they may even enjoy it more than before because if they don’t enjoy the economic story, they will certainly have a chance to come and enjoy great music.

“Music doesn’t lose its share price ... it doesn’t lose its value.”

Gergiev made the comments following a press luncheon to discuss the LSO’s upcoming Japanese tour, sponsored by Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical Company.

Beginning on Nov 27 in Sapporo and ending on Dec 10 in Miyazaki, Kyushu island, it is the LSO’s 20th tour of Japan but its first with Gergiev, who became principal conductor in 2007.

A champion of the Russian repertoire, Gergiev will treat Japanese audiences to an all-Russian diet of Rachmaninov and Prokofiev, including all seven Prokofiev symphonies, his violin and piano concertos and the children’s piece Peter and the Wolf.

“I believe it will be very exciting to play all those symphonies for the audiences in Japan. Yes, this is a very good repertoire,” Gergiev said.

Gergiev makes no secret of his love for his homeland, which informed his decision following the Russian invasion of Georgia to lead a performance of Tchaikovsky in Tskhinvali last August among the bombed-out buildings of South Ossetia.

At that time, he lambasted Georgia for shelling the city and drew a parallel with the attacks on New York on September 11, 2001.

Speaking in London, Gergiev, who was born in Moscow but grew up in North Ossetia, did not mention the invasion but talked about how living in the North Ossetian city of Vladikavkaz shaped his musical tastes.

“There were great artists coming from Moscow, sometimes foreign artists, but mainly I remember ... it was waiting from one visit of (violinist David) Oistrakh to another visit of (pianist Sviatoslov) Richter, a visit of (cellist Mstislav) Rostropovich...”

Today, Gergiev said the baton is being passed to new countries, particularly to China where he said the phenomenal success of piano wizard Lang Lang has inspired tens of millions of Chinese.

“Some people think it’s only 20 million, some people think it’s 50 million pianists in China, some even say 70 — I cannot be the source of this information,” he joked.

“That is one big country of course...(and) other big countries can follow...Brazil, India, and I think Russia has not spoken its last word.

“...No one is sleeping and waiting for disaster to make a move. Even in difficult times people find a way, so that’s why I think classical music will survive, and I think it will be in good shape.”

Writing by Michael Roddy, editing by Paul Casciato

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