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Beet Salad For Dessert? Russian Symphony Conductor Slammed For Mocking Tatar Music

Aleksandr Sladkovsky is the chief conductor of the Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra.

The head of the Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra has come under fire for invoking beet salad in what are being seen as disparaging remarks about Tatar classical music.

Aleksandr Sladkovsky, the symphony's chief conductor and musical director, caused an outcry on social-media when he said on May 16 that playing Tatar music during an upcoming Russian music festival in Kazan would be akin to offering a "vinaigrette" -- a hodgepodge salad usually containing chopped potatoes, carrots, cabbage, pickles, and the all-important beets -- for dessert.

In Russia, a "vinaigrette" is a type of beet salad. (file photo)
In Russia, a "vinaigrette" is a type of beet salad. (file photo)

The Tatar orchestra will perform at the White Lilac music festival in Kazan on June 30, in an event scheduled to coincide with soccer World Cup games in the Tatar capital.

"During the championship, why do you plan to perform in the capital of a national [ethnic] republic the music of only one ethnic group?" Sladkovsky was asked by a Tatar-Inform news agency reporter.

"Why do you think we have to perform some kind of ethnic music during the [World Cup]?" Sladkovsky retorted. "You are asking me a provocative question in a very aggressive way, pushing me toward a scandal. People could ask me to have a Miras ("heritage" in Tatar) festival of the musical works created by Tatar composers. We could have that instead of the White Lilac festival."

He continued: "I do not think that your question fits reality. The White Lilac festival's concept, its ideology -- the Russian classic music has been offered for the [soccer] tournament. [If] in the program we will offer the works of Tatarstan's composers as well -- if that happened then instead of sweet cookies let us eat the vinaigrette. You know what you are doing? You are offering the vinaigrette instead of the dessert."

Aleksandr Sladkovsky (left) performing in Moscow in 2013.
Aleksandr Sladkovsky (left) performing in Moscow in 2013.

Sladkovsky's comments were seen as offensive to many people in Tatarstan, some of whom commented on Facebook.

Sladkovsky, a People's Artist Of Russia honoree, is not from Tatarstan and is a graduate of the Moscow and St. Petersburg conservatories.

Tatar poet Rail Saidulla said of Sladkovsky's comments that "Finally, the true face of the man with the black heart has been revealed."

Tatar activist Ilshat Saitov said "Sladkovsky showed that he suits those who are at the top [of the government]. If he had a Tatar soul he would have been kicked out [of his post] long ago."

Rasim Ilyasov, the head of the Kazan Nura orchestra, said "during international events such as the FIFA [World Cup], Tatar music should certainly be heard. Otherwise how do we show Tatar culture to our guests?"

This is not the first time that Sladkovsky has expressed dismay with Tatar music.

After a five-city tour of Spain by the symphony in February 2017, an RFE/RL journalist asked him why there was no Tatar classical music within the program.

He answered that unfortunately there was no Tatar music that could be successfully "sold" abroad.

Vil Mirzayanov, an ethnic Tatar scientist living in the United States, said on Facebook: "There are several outstanding Tatar symphonic works, such as [pieces] by composer Rashid Kalimullin. At least one of them could be performed. Sladkovsky should be driven from Tatarstan."

The office of Tatar Culture Minister Irada Ayupova said on May 17 that it had not yet heard Sladkovsky's comments but would issue a comment about them.

Sladkovsky, 52, has headed the Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra since 2010.

Written by Pete Baumgartner and Alik Gilmullin based on reporting by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service