Outside of Center Makor in Brookline Wednesday night, concertgoers were greeted by a life-size cutout of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The cutout was the work of a local, pro-Ukrainian activist group called Arts Against Aggression, which was there to protest an appearance by pro-Putin jazz saxophonist Igor Butman. Organizers say seven people attended the demonstration outside Center Makor, the Brookline Jewish Cultural Center where the musician’s quintet performed. The Putin figure held a yellow sign that read: “Coming to my Butman show is your patriotic duty.”
“We are not protesting Russian culture, and we are not protesting his music," said protest coordinator Dmitry Smelansky via phone Wednesday afternoon. "It’s about politics, and it’s about human rights.”
Butman and the concert organizers declined to comment on the matter.
Butman sits on the Supreme Council of Putin’s political party, United Russia. In 2014, the Berklee College of Music graduate signed a letter alongside 500 Russian cultural figures supporting Moscow’s policies toward Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea. He also regularly appears with Putin in public.
A US citizen, Butman was originally scheduled to appear Wednesday at the Regattabar, in Cambridge, where he performed twice in 2018. But that concert was canceled a couple of months ago. Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Center Makor president Vladimir Foygelman said Regattabar simply double-booked the date. Regattabar did not immediately respond to phone calls and e-mails.
After the cancellation, Center Makor stepped up to host Butman’s concert. The decision was “no politics, just music,” Foygelman said. “[Butman] came here to perform jazz, and nothing else. We are just providing the space and the equipment.”
Around 200 concertgoers attended the ticketed show.
Pro-Ukrainian groups have protested Butman appearances elsewhere in the United States. Last week in New York, Butman faced four days of protests outside his concerts at the Blue Note Jazz Club. Tour dates in Chicago and Ann Arbor, Mich., were canceled earlier this month.
Here in Boston, Arts Against Aggression has a history of protesting concerts featuring musicians who support the Russian government. The group staged a cultural festival to protest pianist Denis Matsuev’s performance at Harvard University in 2014 and organized against violinist-conductor Vladimir Spivakov and singer Hibla Gerzmava’s 2017 concert at Emerson College’s Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston.
Diti Kohli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.