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Thursday in the ancient amphitheater in the historic Syrian city of Palmya, the Russian Mariinsky Theater Orchestra gave a beautiful concert, titled, “With A Prayer for Palmyra—Music Revives the Ancient Walls,” whose impact is already uplifting millions internationally. The event was dedicated to the memory of those who have lost their lives to the terrorists.
In particular, to the memory of Dr. Khaled al-Assad (1934-2015), the Syrian archaeologist, who was custodian of the Palmyra antiquities for 40 years, and was publicly beheaded last August by IS, after refusing to give them access to still more statues to destroy; and to the memory of the young Russian special forces officer, Aleksandr Prokhorenko, killed in mid-March, after calling in Russian airstrikes on his own position, when he was surrounded by IS during the battle for Palmyra. He has been posthumously named a Hero of Russia, and his body was returned home today.
The orchestra’s conductor Valery Gergiev led the program, with principal players Pavel Milyukov, violin, and Sergei Roldugin, ‘cello, the latter the artistic director of St. Petersburg’s House of Music. Also in the official Russian delegation was the Director of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage museum, Mikhail Piotrovsky. Representatives from China, Zimbabwe, and Serbia attended.
The Classical program featured Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chaconne, the First Symphony by Sergei Prokofiev, and by modern Russian composer, Rodion Schedrin (widower of the famed Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya), an excerpt from his opera, “Not Love Alone.” When Gergiev introduced the pieces in the program, he pointed out that Prokofiev wrote his symphony “in homage to the great masters of the past—Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven,” whose work expresses “optimism and hope.”
At the opening of the event, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave greetings live by video from Sochi. He spoke out against terrorism, and expressed appreciation for the concert, which he called a “sign of gratitude, remembrance and hope.” He said, “I see this as remembrance for all victims of terror no matter the place and time of crimes against humanity, and, of course, of hope not just for the revival of Palmyra as a cultural asset of the whole of humanity, but for modern civilization, from this horrible fate of international terrorism.”
Putin thanked the musicians and support participants. “Today’s action involved major inconvenience and dangers for everyone, being in a country at war close to where hostilities are still ongoing. That has demanded great strength and personal courage from you all. Thank you very much.” Gregiev is a close associate of Putin, and ‘cellist Roldugin, a good friend.
Conductor Gergiev spoke before the music—in Russian and English. He said, “We protest against barbarians who destroyed wonderful monuments of world culture. We protest against the execution of people here on this great stage,” referring to the public mass killings by the Islamic State last November in the amphitheater. Gregiev is Music Director of the Munich Philharmonic, as well as conducting the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra.
The audience filled the amphitheater. Along with local Syrians, and military personnel from both Syria and Russia, dignitaries included Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky, who has led the commitment to rescue and restore Palmyra antiquities. He was moved to tears by the event.
Thanks to superb amplification and recording, the concert itself, and also views of the striking setting of the Palmyra ruins, are now available widely internationally, after the live broadcast. In Russia, the event is the lead news of the day, and the video is fast reaching the world over.