Extracts from the article “Russia – Power vs Culture” by Sergey Neller published on 9 April 2013 in the Austrian newspaper Contrapunkt.

Extracts in English translation:

Context : “Moscow, 9 February 2013 – The founding meeting of the so-called “All-Russian Parental Resistance” with engaged Kremlin propagandist Sergei Kurginjan. The official reason for the meeting is the rectification of the school literature curriculum, which shouldn’t include modern Russian writers like Ludmilla Ulizkaja and Viktor Pelevin.”

{…} “If a writer or other figure of culture does not associate himself with the powers that be, or even if he shows their disgrace in his work, that person is said to be an enemy of the people. It is particularly important to notice that these people are not portrayed as enemies of the authorities, but as enemies of the people.  

This Stalinist expression “enemy of the people” was no longer used in Russia after perestroika, but was “resurrected” in the era of Vladimir Putin. Realistically speaking, there are many similarities between Russia nowadays and the ex-Soviet Union: Stalin’s hymn, the red stars on the towers of the Kremlin, the leader of the world proletariat Lenin placed on display in the mausoleum on Red Square, severe censorship in the SMI3, hatred for the West and civil rights activists, state propaganda, etc.

It is important to point out that one of the main aims of Putin’s policy is the deliberate dumbing down of his own people. There is an obvious and undisguised war on education: state budgets for educational purposes are being slashed, universities are being closed and television has long since been reduced to a mere culture of entertainment. The reason for such a policy is more than obvious: it’s much easier to govern a people who let themselves be governed than an educated society.

Educated people don’t like this power and never will. According to sociological studies, the vast majority of people who take part in protests, known as “white-collar” opponents, have a high level of education. They include a large number of representatives of culture and the arts.

Remember the famous Pussy Riot trial? Why were these young women (usually students) sentenced to two years in prison? Did they steal or kill someone? Worse: in their sad and famous song, sung in Moscow’s Saviour’s Cathedral, they asked the Virgin Mary to oust Putin.

They were arrested, threatened, deprived of sleep, escorted into the courtroom by a team of guards with dogs, and attempts were made to force them to sign a contract with the investigative service…

How can the adoption of these laws in recent months be explained, if not by the aforementioned fight against dissidents? These include protection against information harmful to children, a ban on informing minors about homosexuality and criminal prosecution of defamation. Any undesirable work of art can now be classified at will under one of these new laws, and its creator imprisoned.

What’s more, the wording of the laws is very broad, allowing the law to be interpreted according to the needs of ‘jurisprudence’. As far as the laws are concerned, I would like to add that the Russian parliament has long since disappeared – it has been replaced by a group of people who vote in favour of every law put forward by the Kremlin.

{…} I’ve always tried to understand why certain leading figures in the arts, recognised in Russia and throughout the world, do business with the regime, accept handouts, openly express opinions contrary to general human values and associate themselves with dictators? It’s not just a matter of power, it’s above all a matter of conscience.

{…} I have a deep conviction: anyone who supports the power of criminals (and this is where you realise that it’s not just politicians who are criminals, but this power itself) must be destroying something very important within himself, a vital organ that is responsible for morality.

{…} Stage directors, artists and actors who are pursuing their goals, whether it’s restoring the theatre, finding money for new productions or getting a subvention, are ready to embrace power, kiss it and sing its praises. I don’t think it’s a good idea to be around such people, but I do admire their talent and what they create artistically.

Russian society is currently divided. {…} Unfortunately, this division has also spread within the cultural elite, leading to conflicts between representatives of the arts. Sometimes artists refuse to perform on their colleagues’ birthdays, or people are prepared to break contracts for moral and political reasons.

The tactic of blacklisting (obscurantism) has been elevated to the level of state policy, and the “All-Russian Parental Resistance” meeting on 9 February 2013, with Sergey Kurginjan at its head, is the best proof of this.

It should not be forgotten that at the end of the meeting, President Putin himself appeared, which was unexpected. He made it clear that he would continue to support this strategy and the disintegration of culture, because it is the best way of maintaining his power.”

IMG news : Sergey Neller conducts Ariadne auf Naxos

“Neller has the sort of charisma given only to few conductors. […] the Widmann was a riot, despatched with crisp panache, and Ne​ller has a sense of humour. Best of all was the Mahler. This was taken at a genuine Adagio and fully sustained. It was truly impressive with that rare sense of time suspended. […] the Mahler was profoundly impressive. Neller clearly commands the grand manner of some older maestros and he can also get playing of real inwardness and spirituality.”

Douglas Cooksey (Classical Source UK)

“Sergey Neller leads the excellently established opera orchestra through the two-hour performance from the first bar to the last note with precise, no-frills conducting, producing nightmarish, never-ending intensity that ideally accompanies the action on stage.”

Das Opernglas

“The young Sergey Neller pushes the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra to peak performance. […] An excellent craftsman who shines with superior understanding and yet shows a modesty. He has done something very beautiful!”

“The Prague performance was anchored firmly in the music. Shchedrin’s score is dramatic, emphatically theatrical, but containing a clearly-discernible internal logic. Neller unveils it all with accuracy and subtlety. He weaves the threads of the mounting uncertainty of the first part – and hits home powerfully with the heavy emotion in the second. Up to the very end, the musical fabric burns and scratches. Neller works hard in shaping an orchestra that is not always ready to be disciplined, and provides total leadership for the choir and soloists.”

Music Life Magazine ( UK )

“Neller is clearly a remarkably talented artist. He never broke a sweat or seemed overburdened in the slightest with his dual role of featured soloist and conductor. He both played and conducted entirely from memory, with wit and delight, earnest and utterly lost in the moment.”

Timothy Tuller

The Florida Times-Union. ( USA )

“Still, much of the credit for the eveningʼs success lay in the pit, where Russian-born German conductor Sergey Neller did a brilliant job drawing every note and nuance from the State Opera Orchestra.”