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No Russian Music?

Should we ban Tchaikovsky because of Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine?


At Classical Music Daily, we hate what's happening in Ukraine and hope that Vladimir Putin's forces will be repulsed very soon, with as little further loss of life as possible. Maybe the best solution might be, in Russia, for Putin to be deposed, peacefully and democratically, as leader?

Banning superstars close to Putin such as Valery Gergiev and Anna Netrebko is one thing, but banning all performances by Russian musicians and all performances of Russian music is quite another.

One of my colleagues in London, Ukrainian baroque oboist and conductor Alexander Koshelev, was born in Kyiv, and is currently performing, in a bunker, for those sheltering in Ukraine's second city, Kharkiv.

Watch and listen — Tchaikovsky: theme from Swan Lake
(Performed in a bunker in Kharkiv, Ukraine on 9 March 2022)
Recording © 2022 Alexander Koshelev :

Surely if Koshelev can play music by Tchaikovsky to those directly under fire, we shoudn't be blocking even listening to Russian music in the West?

See Béla Hartmann's recent feature on this subject, Listening to Tchaikovsky.

There are various reports of this happening, though, and I've experienced it myself over the last couple of days, on a lower level, with an amateur orchestra in London telling me that it wasn't the right time to perform the Musorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition.

Viktor Hartmann's plan for a Kyiv city gate
Viktor Hartmann's plan for a Kyiv city gate

Another colleague, John Cronin, sent through details of a CD for review, yesterday, with the following message:

With the album 'Outcast', The Matangi Quartet make a case for artistic freedom and musical expressiveness. This is an ode to musical troublemakers and outsiders; three Soviet-Russian composers who wrote music that went dangerously against the tastes of the regime under which they lived. Just goes to show that little seems to have changed!

Described as 'avant-garde' or 'western', the featured composers stuck their necks out with their work, risking their careers or - in the case of Dmitri Shostakovich under Stalin - even their personal freedom. Shostakovich for instance always had a packed suitcase in readiness for his possible arrest by the KGB. Alfred Schnittke was also severely held back by his own government. His work was viewed with suspicion and performances were regularly thwarted. In addition to his musical oeuvre, the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov is known for his political opposition to the rulers of the former Soviet Union and present-day Russia.

The new album 'Outcast' advertised on the Matangi Quartet's website
The new album Outcast advertised on the Matangi Quartet's website

Russian artists and others will have very mixed emotions in the current climate, particularly when it appears to be forbidden to speak out against the Putin regime.

Various organisations are currently publishing their policies on all things Russian. Classical Music Daily's editorial team has no money invested in Russia or Russian businesses. We can't make the same guarantee for everyone writing for this magazine, though.

Our policy is not to filter out features about Russian music or by Russian musicians. It is also to encourage dialogue on this matter.

We hope that Alexander Koshelev and other musicians currently performing in Ukraine will keep safe, and for an early end to this horrible conflict.

Posted 11 March 2022 by Keith Bramich






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