Cardiff Philharmonic condemned for removing Tchaikovsky from concert schedule

Orchestra claims inclusion of Russian great is 'inappropriate' given Ukraine conflict but many dissent

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The Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra on Thursday came under fire for its decision to remove works by Russian composer Tchaikovsky from its programme of concerts amid the war in Ukraine.

The CPO had said it would be "inappropriate at this time" for Russia's putative greatest composer to feature "in light of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine" but the cancellation has sparked a widespread censure.

Fay Jones, the Conservative MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, tweeted:

Conductor and composer Debbie Wiseman struck a more conciliatory tone in a BBC interview, although still made her opposition to the decision clear.

"I can understand on one hand why the members of the Cardiff Philharmonic would feel uncomfortable and it's inappropriate to play this music but it's very hard when you start targeting historical figures like Tchaikovsky or Russian composers," she said.

Tchaikovsky adored Ukraine
John Suchet, Classic FM presenter

"You can't tar everyone with the same brush. For me personally I think it's very hard to find a standpoint. You don't want to bring every Russian into the argument for the sins of their leader. I would personally try not to bring historical elements into what is today's war."

Ms Wiseman is the composer in residence on the UK commercial radio station Classic FM, and one of its presenters, John Suchet, pointed out one of the ironies of the cancellation.

"Tchaikovsky adored Ukraine," said Mr Suchet, who has also written a biography of the Swan Lake composer.

"He frequently stayed on his sister's estate there, and at the estate of his patron Nadezhda von Meck. He would be weeping at what is happening. Not just a useless gesture, but wrong."

British comedian Mark Steel took a more humorous approach to lampoon the move.

The opprobrium is unlikely to lead to the temporary ban being lifted.

Cardiff Philharmonic director Martin May released a statement explaining the stance – which relates specifically to the militaristic 1812 Overture and the 'Little Russian' of Symphony No 2 – although he acknowledged its controversy.

"A member of the orchestra has family directly involved in the Ukraine situation and we are trying to respect that situation during the immediate term," he said.

"While there are no plans to repeat the Tchaikovsky concert at the moment, we have no plans to change our summer and autumn programmes which contain pieces by Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Rimsky-Korsakov.

"So this is a one-off decision made with the best of intentions and there is no intention to exclude Tchaikovsky in particular. He is one of my favourite composers. We are aware that, whatever decision we made it would not go down well, so we are stuck between a rock and a hard place."

Cancel culture hits Russia

The move is the latest in a series of music resignations, cancellations and withdrawals that have been made since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Valery Gergiev, 68, was fired as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic because of his support for Russian President Vladimir Putin and for not rejecting the invasion of Ukraine.

Munich mayor Dieter Reiter said the decision was made after Gergiev, who had been the chief conductor since the 2015-16 season, did not respond to his calls to rethink and revise his very positive assessment of the Russian leader.

Gergiev's resignation as honorary president of the Edinburgh International Festival was "asked for and accepted" by the event's board of trustees last month.

A statement on the festival's website said: "Edinburgh is twinned with the city of Kyiv and this action is being taken in sympathy with, and support of, its citizens."

Gergiev has also been dropped from the Vienna Philharmonic's five-concert US tour and his management company said on Sunday it will no longer represent him.

The Rotterdam Philharmonic in the Netherlands also cut ties with Gergiev. It said "an unbridgeable divide" between the orchestra and conductor on the issue of the Russian invasion became clear after speaking to him.

Soprano Anna Netrebko withdrew from her future engagements at the Metropolitan Opera rather than repudiate her support for Mr Putin, costing the company one of its top singers and best box-office draws.

Updated: March 10, 2022, 1:57 PM