Ukraine’s Culture Minister calls for Tchaikovsky boycott until the end of the war

12 December 2022, 17:15

Ukraine’s Culture Minister, Oleksandr Tkachenko, has asked Western allies to pause all performances of music by the 19th-century Russian composer
Ukraine’s Culture Minister, Oleksandr Tkachenko, has asked Western allies to pause all performances of music by the 19th-century Russian composer. Picture: Getty

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Last week, Ukraine’s Culture Minister called on his country’s Western allies to boycott all music written by the 19th-century Russian composer, until the end of the war.

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Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraine’s Culture Minister, has called for all performances of music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to be ‘paused’, in a first-person article published in the Guardian last week.

Tkachenko argues that throughout the war in Ukraine, Russia have not only attacked the country physically, but they have also attacked its culture. Since the start of the war, Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture and Information Policy has recorded more than 800 cases of destruction; from works of art, to museums, historical buildings, and monuments.

The Ukrainian minister referenced in his article a decree signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this year. This decree titled ‘a humanitarian policy of the Russian Federation abroad’, described Russian culture as an “instrument of soft power”, and described how this could be used as a tool to strengthen the country’s international standing.

Tkachenko uses this decree as a justification for why Russian culture, specifically in this case the music of Tchaikovsky, should be put on pause.

Many orchestras across the world omitted Tchaikovsky from their concert programming in solidarity with Ukraine earlier this year, in particular, the 1812 Overture, which commemorated in music the successful Russian defence against the invading Napoleonic army.

Read more: Cardiff Philharmonic pulls Tchaikovsky from concert programme over Ukraine conflict

In ballet houses across the world, the music of Tchaikovsky is a mainstay throughout December, thanks to the 19th-century composer’s festive work, The Nutcracker.

The Guardian contacted the Royal Ballet, and the English National Ballet, who both confirmed they would be going ahead with their performances of The Nutcracker.

Without referencing the ballet in name, Tkachenko suggested other Ukrainian originating works of music that could be listened to in lieu to the works of Russian composers this winter season, including the Carol of the Bells.

This popular Christmas carol is based on the folk chant, Shchedryk, and the arrangement we know today was written by the Ukrainian composer, Mykola Leontovych in 1916.

Read more: Kyiv children’s choir sings powerful ‘Carol of the Bells’ in New York Grand Central

Tkachenko however, is clear that his ask is not “about cancelling Tchaikovsky, but rather about pausing performances of his works until Russia ceases its bloody invasion.

“Boycotting Russian culture is an important step,” he continued, “Ukrainian cultural venues have already done this with him and other Russian composers. We’re calling on our allies to do the same.”

Alongside boycotting Russian composers, Tkachenko also spoke on performances by Russian artists who support the war.

While many opera houses across the globe cut ties with pro-Putin, and pro-war artists, Tkachenko says that some of these venues have “since renewed their ties” with these performers.

Read more: Russian soprano Anna Netrebko distances herself from Putin, but Met Opera ‘not prepared’ to change mind

In some instances, Russian performers who lost their contracts with international venues due to their pro-war views were replaced with Ukrainian performers.

Amongst these musicians is Russian soprano Anna Netrebko’s replacement at the the Metropolitan Opera earlier this year, Liudmyla Monastyrska. The Ukrainian soprano draped herself in her country's flag during her curtain call as the lead in the Met’s production of Puccini’s Turandot.

Tkachenko cites these representatives of Ukrainian culture, as being on a mission to “overcome the violence and destruction caused by Russia.”

Repeating his boycotting ask, the Ukrainian minister concludes, “Rejecting representatives of Russian culture who support its totalitarian regime and preventing concerts of Russian performers who openly support its war of aggression are conscious steps for a mature democratic society to take.”