Leading musicians use concert platform to highlight human rights issues in Putin’s Russia.

Gidon Kremer’s highly anticipated concert “To Russia With Love” has gone ahead in Berlin’s Philharmonie with a line up of soloists including Martha Argerich, flautist Emmanuel Pahud, trumpeter Sergei Nakariakov, pianist Khatia Buniatishvili, composer Giya Kancheli, cellist Nicolas Altstaedt, bayan player Elsbeth Moser, the Ukrainian children’s choir, conductor Roman Kofman and Kremer’s own Kremerata Baltica. A range of human rights agencies including Amnesty International supported the concert.

A hushed crowd packed the concert hall to hear a meditative program that included moving performances of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Sinfonietta, one of Sofia Gubaidulina’s Seven Last Words, Arvo Pärt’s gentle Estnisches Wiegenlied and Giya Kancheli’s The angels of sorrow. In a gesture of support, the 78-year-old Kancheli was in the audience.

Among the solo highlights was a beautiful rendition of the Allemande from Bach’s Second Cello Suite by Altstaedt, a blistering account of the third movement from Prokofiev’s Seventh Piano Sonata by Khatia Buniatishvili, and Pahud playing a delicate flute transcription of Lensky’s Aria.

The finale featured blockbuster performances from Martha Argerich and trumpeter Sergei Nakariako in the last movement of Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto.

The concert was programmed to highlight a wide range of human rights issues that have taken place in Russia over the last ten years, in particular, the murder of Russian-American journalist Anna Politkovskaya who was shot dead in her home in Moscow in 2006, an event that coincidentally took place on the birthday of President Vladimir Putin. Despite western politicians and human rights groups calling for the case to be resolved there has been no progress to date. The musical program was complemented by impassioned readings of Politkovskaya’s words by Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch and Herta Müller.

News footage, such as demonstrators on Bolotnaya Square protesting the death of Sergei Magnitsky, was used to highlight specific issues and in particular the current fate of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the longest standing political prisoner in Russia’s recent history. Interviews, shown in the interval, included eloquent statements from Buniatishvili, Kancheli and Kremer about the current state of political and social freedom in Russia.

Kremer, who had organised the event, was at pains to stress the peaceful nature of the protest, hence the reflective quality of much of the music. He had previously declared that he and his fellow musicians wanted to stand up and fight for freedom and against arbitrariness and abuse of power in the tradition of artists such as Mstislav Rostropovich, Leonard Bernstein and Yehudi Menuhin. In a plea beforehand the violinist stated: “Let’s dedicate ourselves through this concert to all those who died for freedom and to all who continue to fight this fight and work to ensure that those who are still in prison and can’t be with us tonight be free.”

The entire concert is currently available for viewing online at Arte Live Web.