It may come as a surprise, but Pepto Bismol-pink is actually quite the popular color to wear to a San Francisco Symphony recital these days at Davies. Outfits befitting colorblind mafia housewives dotted the crowd Monday night at a guest performance by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.
Wearing a sparkly balaclava over one's face like a Mexican wrestler, however, stands out. As does screaming just as the conductor's baton raises and the crowd collectively inhales.
"Yuri, you're a sexist Putinist!" shouted a woman dressed in the above ensemble seated in the terrace section of the auditorium at the moment the program was set to commence.
The interruption came on the night of a "Queer Pussy Riot Vigil" organized by Gays Without Borders outside the building, targeting the Russian state-funded symphony orchestra and its 75-year-old conductor, Yuri Temirkanov.
The conductor is one of those luminaries of classical music whose
business cards ought to have business cards. He's been presented with
warehouses worth of honors and baubles and has helmed the St. Petersburg Philharmonic
since 1988 -- through the waning days of Communism, the freewheeling era of unregulated capitalism, the ongoing kleptocracy, and, of late,
Vladimir Putin's muscular, homophobic dictatorship. And that's quite a feat in
and of itself.
Most objectionable to the protesters outside and the one inside, Temirkanov was feted by Putin on the event of the conductor's 75th birthday in December -- and, the protesters claim, Temirkanov is a member of a group called the "Putin 500 Trustees" supporting the 2012 reelection of Russia's Plutocrat-In-Chief. (Every last Google entry for the term "Putin 500 Trustees" comes up with material regarding tonight's planned protest, incidentally).
The woman who shouted at Termikanov was, if she wished, close enough to wing him with a well-tossed orange. The terrace section rings the orchestra but its poor acoustics and odd sightline over the players' shoulders render it one of the most affordable spots in the building.
Attendees seated nearby the protester said her 15 seconds of infamy cost $45.
If you're hoping to look a conductor right in the eye as you heckle him, however, it's the best seat in the house. After being roundly hissed by the rest of the paying crowd while shouting and waving about a rainbow flag, the woman in pink was escorted out of the theater. An usher who accompanied her out said the woman left the building under her own volition, adding that she was cordial and polite on the way in -- before affixing her chartreuse mask as the lights dimmed.
A planned disturbance within the symphony hall did not come as news to Davies staff. Ushers calmly told SF Weekly "we had a name and a seat number." The event was left to unfurl much like the pink protester's rainbow flag. And, just like that, it was done.
Certainly audience members, musicians, and Davies personnel alike peered about the pink-speckled crowd with trepidation. But no further demonstrations took place. Instead, the St. Petersberg Philharmonic played works by Rossini, Prokofiev, and Rachmaninoff -- before two quick encores featuring selections from the uber-Russian (and uber-gay) Tchaikovsky.