By Anno Hellenbroich

In the midst of the tragic war in Syria, an astonishing cultural event took place. On May 5th the famous Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, now chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra in Germany and former conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, performed a concert with musicians from St Petersburg’s Mariinsky orchestra. The concert was titled: “Prayer from Palmyra: Music Revives the Ancient Walls.” With him was the cellist, and artistic director of St Petersburg’s House of Music, Sergei Roldugin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a video address to the concert, which was cheered by a crowd including UNESCO dignitaries, Russian and Syrian troops and officers, Muslim and Christian clergy representatives as well as citizens from the neighboring villages including enthusiastic children in national costumes.

Wearing a white baseball cap to protect himself from the sun, Gergiev stated : “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 was also honoring the 82 year old archaeologist of Palmyra, Khaled al–Asaad, who was tortured and killed in 2015 by ISIL terrorists, because he didn’t say where were the treasures, which before ISIL terrorists attacked Palmyra had been hastily taken away.

Before the concert began, Maestro Gergiev addressed the audience. „Our concert in Palmyra is dedicated for peace and unity“ and to those who work against terrorism, he stated. It is dedicated to the citizen of Palmyra as a humanitarian action. The music should give us memory and hope. “We have chosen the Chaconne by Bach, a work which symbolizes the greatness of human spirit.” This great work of art from the 2nd Partita in d-minor for Violin was performed by Pawel Miljukow, the winner of this year’s Tschaikovsky-competition. “We perform also a piece by the Russian Composer Rodion Shedrin (1932 -) ‘Kadril’ with the solo cello [an extract from the opera “Not Love alone” (1962) A.H.] which is expressing optimism.” Gergiev and Roldugin played the nice piece very rhythmically, like a dance. Gergiev also announced that from “the greatest Russian composer Serge Prokofiev we play the Symphony op 25, also very optimistic, which expresses his admiration for the great classical composers Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven”.

President Putin was beamed-in, live from Sochi. In his greeting he addressed the “Members of the Syrian Arab Republic Government, Maestro Gergiev, musicians of the St Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, performers, UNESCO ambassadors, scholars, residents of Palmyra,” and underlined that he would like to thank all for the wonderful humanitarian event “this concert in Palmyra, now liberated from the terrorists.”

I see this event as a symbol of gratitude, memory and hope. It expresses gratitude to all who fight terrorism at the cost of even their own lives, memory for all victims of terror, no matter where or when these crimes against humanity are committed, and, of course, hope, hope not only to restore Palmyra as part of humanity’s heritage, but to free today’s world from this terrible scourge of international terrorism. To do this, each and every one of us must look at any success in the fight against terrorism as a common victory, and always, everywhere, must see any victim of terror as a personal loss and sorrow. Only with this attitude to this absolute evil will we be able to defeat it once and for all.

I know that today’s event involves great inconveniences and dangers for all taking part, the dangers associated with being in a country at war, and with military operations still going on not so far away. This demands great strength and effort on your part and certainly great courage.”

What had happened to Palmyra

During their 10-months lasting occupation, ISIS fighters destroyed and blew up several of Palmyra’s most famous sites, including the Temple of Bel and the Arch of Triumph. While some treasured monuments were destroyed, still much of the historic site was left less damaged and important archaeological ruins, such as the theatre and the Agora, survived.

The Syrian army, which was assisted by the Russian air forces, recaptured the city in March, but found it full of mines. Russian combat engineers, or sappers, de-mined almost 3000 explsive devices in the historical part of Palmyra alone, the chief sapper, Yury Stavitsky, said on May 5th.

The Russian conductor Gergiev was among the first to offer support to the embattled city. It was not the first time Mr Gergiev has performed in a war-torn city. In August 2008, the native Ossetian conductor took the Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra to the ruins of Tskhinvali located in the separatist Georgian region of South Ossetia, which had been heavily damaged during the short Russian-Georgian war that year. He also conducted a charity concert in Tokyo for the victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2012, and he led a charity concert tour to raise funds for victims of Russia’s Beslan school massacre in 2004.

Support was also given by Konstantin Dolgov, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs human rights chairman who according to “Russia Today” sent his message on Twitter: The concert in Palmyra is a highly spiritual response to those who wanted to destroy Syria, split the country along national and religious lines, and deprive it of Christian of principles”.

As one person said after the concert:“they brought our soul back to Palmyra”, reported Russia Today.

Wiesbaden, May 2016

 

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