Why we must continue to play Russian music
It was inevitable. Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, this celebration of Russia’s successful defense against Napoleon’s invading army, has itself become a casualty of war. The Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra has withdrawn it from its next concert, in response to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
In this feverish period, the roar of cannon shots that can be heard there is undoubtedly in bad taste, and it is understandable why the orchestra (which includes a musician whose family is directly involved in the Ukrainian situation) took decision, fully aware of its incendiary impact. “We are aware that whatever decision we make will not go well, so we are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Martin May, the orchestra’s director, said in a statement. earlier this week.
Another potential flashpoint in the concert was the inclusion of Tchaikovsky’s 2n/a Symphony No. 2, known as Little Russian. This was the name given to Ukraine by the Russians during the Tsarist era, and it was claimed that Ukrainians might find it offensive. So the symphony also had to be scrapped, and in the end the orchestra rescheduled the whole concert from scratch.
It shows how quickly common sense can be set aside, when passions are inflamed by conflict. Anyone with knowledge of Russian culture will know that the diminutive form in the Russian language is a sign of affection. Far from being contemptuous, the name Little Russian is a sign of respect and love of Russians for Ukraine. Should we ban Tchaikovsky’s symphony – which actually quotes Ukrainian folk melodies – just because a man has altered this historical fact due to an armed invasion?
The question may seem trivial, when set against the immense human suffering unleashed in Ukraine right now. But this cancellation is only one of the signs of a broader cultural boycott currently being discussed. All over the world, musical or lyrical events involving Russia or Russians are questioned, or revised to eliminate any Russian participation. To give just one example, the Honens piano competition in Canada banned all Russian participants from attending.