DAMASCUS (Web Desk) – A renowned Russian artist has performed a triumphal concert in the ruins of Palmyra in Syria, which had been recaptured from the terrorist group, Islamic State (IS), in March.
Valery Gergiev, a supporter of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, conducted the Mariinsky Symphony Orchestra, from St Petersburg, at Palmyra’s Roman Theatre on Thursday. The concert was titled “With a Prayer from Palmyra: Music Revives the Ancient Walls”, the BBC reported.
Last July, the terrorist group had posted footage online showing some of its fighters carrying out killings in the ancient theatre. Syrian forces, backed by Russian air strikes, retook the historic site.
Mr Gergiev led the orchestra through pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, Sergei Prokofiev and Rodion Shchedrin, in front of a crowd of Russian soldiers, government ministers and journalists.
This was not the first time Mr Gergiev performed in a war-torn city.
In August 2008, the native Ossetian conductor took the Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra to the ruins of Tskhinvali in the separatist Georgian region of South Ossetia, heavily damaged in the short Russian-Georgian war that year.
Mr Gergiev also conducted a charity concert in Tokyo for 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.
Pictures of the concert, broadcast on Russian state television, were occasionally interrupted by footage of military action – showing Russian military backing Syrian government forces as they liberated Palmyra from IS militants.
‘Protest against violence’
Mr Gergiev was until recently principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and is music director of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra.
The maestro described the concert as a protest against the barbarism and violence exhibited by the so-called “Islamic State” militants who had used the city’s Roman amphitheater to execute prisoners.
The Russian president also addressed the audience, by video link from his Black Sea residence in Sochi.
He called terrorism a contagion of which the world needed to rid itself, and said the fact the concert was taking place at all was “surprising”.
‘Force for good’
“Today’s event was inconvent and dangerous for everyone, as it was held close to where hostilities are still ongoing,” Putin said.
By organising a concert in the ruins of Palmyra, Russia wants the world to see that it is making a positive contribution in Syria: bringing peace and stability to the country, and, in the case of Palmyra, saving a Unesco heritage site.
Moscow will be hoping that images of its classical musicians in Syria will reinforce the message that Russia is a force for good.
But Western officials remain suspicious of Russia’s intentions. Moscow has faced accusations that it has not done enough to rein in Syrian government forces. The Russians deny that and accuse America of not using its influence with the Syrian opposition to halt the fighting.
‘Rising from ruins’
Islamic State destroyed a number of monuments during its 10-month occupation of Palmyra and its associated Unesco World Heritage site.
Two 2,000-year-old temples, an arch and funerary towers were destroyed by IS militants.
The terrorist group, which has also demolished several pre-Islamic sites in neighbouring Iraq, believes that such structures are idolatrous.
While some treasured monuments were destroyed, much of the historic site was left undamaged.