Controversy as young Russian pianists banned from international music competitions

10 March 2022, 17:10 | Updated: 10 March 2022, 17:25

Two international piano competitions have rescinded their invitations to Russian competitors
Two international piano competitions have rescinded their invitations to Russian competitors. Picture: Getty

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Two international piano competitions have banned Russian musicians from participating, amidst the ongoing cultural backlash due to the war in Ukraine.

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The Dublin International Piano Competition in Ireland, and the Honens International Piano Competition in Canada have both withdrawn invitations to Russian pianists to participate in their contests this year.

Both competitions take place every three years, and invite young musicians from across the globe to compete for cash prizes and performance opportunities.

Russian pianist, Roman Kosyakov, 29, shared the email he received from the Dublin International Piano Competition publicly on his social media with the caption, “Here we are! All Russians participants have been banned from Dublin Piano Competition.

“I’m just curious, how this will help to stop the war?”

Kosyakov has lived in the UK since 2017, and is a recent graduate of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, where he held a full scholarship for his studies. In a following post on Facebook, the pianist added: “I do understand restrictions but it is definitely not fair and certainly terrible to make such decisions against all Russian citizens.

“I strongly believe that we shouldn’t fight each other in comments, unfortunately there are people who are already doing that in real life.”

Read more: Cardiff Philharmonic pulls ‘inappropriate’ Tchaikovsky from programme over Ukraine conflict

The Honens International Piano Competition, which takes place in Calgary, has also received backlash due to its similar decision.

Six pianists due to be participating in the Canadian international music competition have had their invitations revoked. In a statement on the competition’s website, organisation cited the ongoing violence in Ukraine as justification for their decision.

The statement read: “It is with a deep sense of sadness that the board of directors of the Honens International Piano Competition has made the very difficult decision to revoke the invitations of its Russian competitors to participate in the 2022 event.

“Honens acknowledges that there is no perfect outcome in this case and regrets that it is the six young pianists who will bear the brunt of a decision based on the brutal actions of the Russian government.”

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

The World Federation of International Music Competitions (WFIMC) has published a statement condemning the war in Ukraine, but also asking their partner organisations “not to discriminate against and exclude any young and gifted artists from participating in their competitions”.

Both Honens and Dublin are members of the World Federation, and it is unclear whether the competitions will have to reverse their decisions or face being removed from the international organisation.

The WFIMC state that its responsibility “is to prevent the instrumentalisation of young musicians.

“No candidate can be seen as an official of his/her government, and no participant can be automatically declared a representative of an ideology simply because of his or her nationality.”

The WFIMC concludes that the participating musicians “are fighting for a better future, and they are in dire need of all the support we are able to extend to them.”

Away from competitions, Russian performers are facing other disruptions to their performance schedules, as the line between Russian soloists and Russian state-sponsored soloists blurs.

Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev had his performances in Canada cancelled, after the venues faced pressure from the public due to Malofeev’s nationality.

The 20-year-old musician was due to perform at the Vancouver Recital Society, then with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra for three performances of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major.

Malofeev’s family lives in Moscow, and the young pianist has performed extensively with the Mariinsky Orchestra and their conductor, Valery Gergiev, who has been pushed out of multiple international positions due to his ties to Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

Piano soloist Alexander Malofeev
Piano soloist Alexander Malofeev. Picture: Facebook

Major record labels Universal Music Group, Warner, and Sony Music, have announced that they are suspending operations in Russia. All three of the labels have donated to Ukrainian relief funds.

The streaming service Spotify has shut its Russian offices and halted monetisation in the territory.