Cardiff Philharmonic pulls Tchaikovsky from concert programme over Ukraine conflict

10 March 2022, 10:33 | Updated: 29 March 2022, 21:09

The all-Tchaikovsky programme was pulled from an upcoming concert
The all-Tchaikovsky programme was pulled from an upcoming concert. Picture: Alamy

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

The Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra has pulled the Russian composer’s 1812 Overture from an upcoming concert, saying it felt “inappropriate at this time”.

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The Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra has faced public backlash after its decision to pull 19th-century Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky from a concert due to take place on 18 March.

The original all-Tchaikovsky programme, which included the composer’s 1812 Overture, a piece written in 1880 to memorialise the 1812 defence of Russia against Napoleon, has now been replaced by works from Dvořák, Elgar, and film composer, John Williams. The performance will be taking place at St David’s Hall in Cardiff.

Retitled, ‘Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra: Classics for All’, a statement from the orchestra on the St David’s Hall website reads: “In light of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra, with the agreement of St David’s Hall, feel the previously advertised programme including the 1812 Overture to be inappropriate at this time.

“The orchestra hope you will continue to support them and enjoy the revised programme.”

Read more: 200 classical musicians join London orchestral flashmob in solidarity with Ukraine

The Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra is “Wales’ Foremost Non-Professional Orchestra”, and the ensemble celebrates its 40th birthday this year.

A spokesperson for the orchestra also told The National Wales that 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”.

The orchestra further justified its removal of Tchaikovsky’s works as, “There were also two military-themed pieces as part of the programme – Marche Slave and 1812 Overture – that we felt were particularly inappropriate at this time.”

The full original programme would have opened with Marche Slave, followed by Symphony No. 2 (nicknamed the ‘Little Russian’ – which is considered offensive to Ukrainians), The Sleeping Beauty Suite, and ending with the 1812 Overture, a work which, in the original score, features cannon fire.

The spokesperson added, “Whilst 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 Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Rimsky-Korsakov.

“So, in summary, this is a one-off decision made with the best of intentions.”

Read more: Russian ballet and music performances cancelled as arts venues voice support for Ukraine

The move has been met with some criticism on social media, from musicians, politicians, and the general public.

Matt Duss, foreign policy adviser to former US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, called the move “doubly absurd” noting Tchaikovsky “spent a lot of time in Ukraine, and incorporated a lot of Ukrainian folk music and stories into his work”.

However, some musicians are more understanding of the orchestra’s decision. Classic FM’s Composer in Residence, Debbie Wiseman, said on national radio this morning, “It’s an extremely delicate situation. But of course, it’s very hard when you start targeting historical figures like Tchaikovsky, [because we could] suddenly stop playing all of their music.”

“But of course, music is an incredibly powerful force as we know, and it goes straight to people’s hearts and emotions.

“Therefore I can understand why this particular moment in time, they would feel like not playing [these particular pieces of music]”.