Syria: Russian conductor stages concert in battle-torn Palmyra

Palmyra hosted concert conducted by Valery Gergiev. Picture: Getty Images
Palmyra hosted concert conducted by Valery Gergiev. Picture: Getty Images
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Renowned Russian conductor Valery Gergiev has led the Mariinsky orchestra from St Petersburg in a concert at the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.

The concert, dubbed With a Prayer for Palmyria, was held in the amphitheatre in Palmyra yesterday afternoon and the programme included Bach’s Chaconne for Solo Violin, a cello piece by Rodion Shchedrin and Sergei Prokofiev’s First Symphony.

The audience included Russian servicemen, including those who have been doing demining in Palmyra after Islamic State militants were routed from the city and it was retaken by Syrian government troops with the help of Russian airstrikes.

The IS militants badly damaged the world famous archaeological sites of Palmyra. In opening remarks, Gergiev said that, with the concert, “we protest against the barbarians who destroyed monuments of world culture”.

There was also a video linkup in which Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the audience.

Putin said he regards the concert “as a sign of gratitude, remembrance and hope – of gratitude to all those who fight terrorism; of remembrance for all victims of terror, regardless of the place and time of crimes against humanity; and of course hope not just for the revival of Palmyra as a cultural asset of all humanity but for the deliverance of modern civilization from this terrible ill, from international terrorism.” ”

Putin was beamed in live from Sochi. In an address broadcast from a video screen on the main stage, Putin hailed the operation to “liberate Palmyra”.

Dressed in a black shirt, and wearing a white baseball cap to protect him from the sun, Gergiev added: “We protest against barbarians who destroyed wonderful monuments of world culture. We protest against the execution of people here on this great stage.”

The concert got blanket coverage from Russian state TV channels. They have portrayed Moscow’s intervention in Syria – its first outside the borders of the Soviet Union since the cold war – as a humanitarian action against terrorists.

Gergiev, the former principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, is a controversial and outspoken supporter of Putin, warmly endorsing him before Russia’s 2012 presidential election. He has also backed official moves to ban what Moscow says is “gay propaganda”.

The conductor has appeared previously on other big patriotic occasions