A 23-year-old Russian violinist who recently came out online to show other young gay people they aren’t alone will perform with his string quartet in Halifax this weekend. But he doesn’t know if his brother who lives here will show up for the concert.
Artem Kolesov came to Halifax at 16 to study at Dalhousie University’s Fountain School of Performing Arts. His older brother, who was already living here with his wife, helped him get a scholarship by showing professors a video of the teen prodigy’s musical skills.
But a video Kolesov posted on YouTube recently about the struggle to reconcile his sexual orientation with his family’s strict religious beliefs has gone viral, leaving the musician unsure if he’ll ever be able to go home again.
“I know that everyone in Russia is very private about this matter,” Kolesov told Local Xpress.
“Everyone is afraid to talk about it openly.”
They fear Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, which bans people from discussing homosexuality with children, he said.
“There are people that do it, but there’s very few of them,” Kolesov said.
“People don't usually talk about it publicly and openly because they are afraid of the consequences that can follow. I thought that since I live in a free country and I don't have any visible and immediate threat, I could do that and hopefully inspire and empower those who are in Russia right now and who don't have a voice.”
In his video, the young Russian musician who now lives in Chicago explains what it was like to grow up in a town outside Moscow as the son of two Pentecostal pastors.
“In my family, I often heard that all gays should be destroyed, that they should be bombed, and that if anyone in our family turns out to be gay, my family should kill them with their bare hands,” he says in the video, part of a movement called Children-404 aimed at letting gay Russian youth know that they are not alone.
Kolesov knew he liked boys from the age of five. In his video, the violinist discusses his depression, multiple suicide attempts and how he prayed God would take his homosexuality away.
“It was a very religious household and we were always told that everyone outside of my church is sinners,” he said in an interview.
“Looking back at it, it was very strange. I was afraid to talk to (people from) the outside world.”
Now he’s scared to return to Russia.
“There is an anti-LGBT law that if you are telling someone who is a minor, so under the age of 18, that being LGBT is OK and it’s completely fine, you can actually be arrested or you can be charged,” Kolesov said.
“The problem with my video would be that I am actually speaking to the audience and I’m saying it’s OK.”
Kolesov’s fears of repercussions in Russia are grounded in recent events.
The Kremlin told journalists this week that investigators have found no evidence to back up reports from Chechnya earlier this month that police in the predominantly Muslim republic in southern Russia rounded up more than 100 men suspected of homosexuality and that at least three of them were killed. But the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged the Russian government to investigate.
There’s another more personal reason why Kolesov wouldn’t feel secure returning to his homeland.
“My family thinks that it’s something that needs to be cured,” the violinist said of his sexual orientation.
“And when I was talking to my mom in the last three weeks she would be telling me, ‘I really think you should have an MRI done because I think there’s something wrong with your brain and maybe we can fix you. There is a lot of doctors in Russia that can help you.’ I was just, like, wow. I don’t know if I would feel safe if I went back to my own family.”
Three different cuts of Kolesov’s coming-out video have now been watched a combined total of more than 150,000 times.
“So far 99 per cent of reactions have been very good,” he said.
“There are some of my friends who are kind of confused and they don't know what to say really. But some of my friends from Russia actually came out to me as well and they said, ‘We didn’t know that you were gay,’ and ‘We didn't know who to talk to.’ So they were in a similar situation that I was in when I was growing up. So it was kind of nice to see that there are so many LGBT around me and I didn't even know that.”
He’s fielded lots of compassionate messages from people around the world since coming out publicly. “I don't even know these people but they are supportive and they are sending me their love.”
Kolesov has spoken with his mother since posting his coming-out video.
“It’s been kind of tough talking to my mom. The conversations are very hostile and they’re very unfruitful. It’s just very difficult because she’s not listening to what I’m saying. She just thinks that she’s trying to cure me, basically, the entire time.”
Kolesov lived in Halifax for five and a half years. He left in 2015 and is now studying music at Chicago’s Roosevelt University. He returns to Halifax this Sunday for Cecilia Concerts’ presentation of his award-winning string ensemble YAS Quartet.
The violinist came to Halifax after he was given a full scholarship to study violin performance at Dal.
“One of my brothers, he lived in Halifax with his wife and children. He was kind of the one who brought a recording to my professor and that’s how it all started,” Kolesov said.
“He brought a recording of my performance and then I was invited to study.”
Kolesov’s brother, who still lives here, isn’t talking to him.
“He was the first one to find out about me (being gay). He read my journal and that’s how he found out. And then he sat me down with his wife and they said, ‘You know we love you, but we don’t think this is right.’ And they actually made an appointment with a therapist and they said, ‘We want you to go through this therapy because we know some people who found it helpful and they are straight now.’ I guess my family just wants to fix me.”
Kolesov said he hasn’t spoken with his brother here in more than two years.
“If he wants to see me, then I would be happy to see him,” said the musician.
Kolesov believes coming out as gay helped him become a better violinist.
“I think it really opened up my mind for music because I realized that I was always this obedient son and obedient brother who never went outside the box and I would do whatever people told me,” he said.
“I struggled with being creative in my music for a while, even when I was already in Canada. And then when I started coming out, slowly I realized that actually that was something that held me back from being creative and expressing myself in music. So it really helped me when I finally started telling my family.”
His quartet’s concert is slated for Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Maritime Conservatory of Music on Chebucto Road. YAS will perform a Ravel String Quartet, Beethoven’s Serioso String Quartet, and Webern’s Langsamer Satz.