Sibelius violin competition bans Russian participants ‘in order to protect other competitors’

12 April 2022, 13:12

The 12th International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition has excluded Russian competitors
The 12th International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition has excluded Russian competitors. Picture: Getty

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

The international competition, which takes place in Finland, has decided to exclude Russian competitors, despite previous commitments to non-discrimination.

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The International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition has been held every five years since 1965. The prestigious competition for violinists under 30 was set up in memory of the national treasure Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), with the first iteration held to mark the centenary of the composer's birth.

In what should have been the 2020 competition, which was pushed back due to Covid-19, the 2022 competition committee announced on Friday that it would exclude Russian participants, due to the continuing war in Ukraine.

The statement comes one month after the competition made a statement in line with World Federation of International Music Competitions saying that, “competitors should not be excluded from the competition solely on the basis of nationality”, and “all competitors would be judged purely on their artistic merits”.

A statement posted on the competition’s website last Friday however, gave the competition’s justification for a u-turn saying, “the situation has changed since the beginning of March as the war in Ukraine has continued to intensify”.

Read more: “Musicians are all brothers and sisters”: Why a leading Estonian conductor chose to stay in Russia after Ukraine invasion

The statement continued: “Therefore, on 8 April 2022, the Competition Committee re-examined the possibilities for Russian competitors selected for the Jean Sibelius Violin Competition and concluded that, in the current exceptional circumstances, participation in the competition was not possible.

“The horrors of the war and the recently uncovered atrocities have meant that the Competition Committee has no moral or ethical option but to exclude the Russian participants from the competition in order to protect other competitors and the competition as a whole.

“With this decision, the Competition Committee also wants to guarantee a neutral and peaceful environment for all competitors.”

The competition has consistently attracted strong competitors from Russia, including the winner of the 2010 competition, Nikita Boriso-Glebsky. During the first five iterations of the competition, five of the winners came from the USSR.

Winner of the 10th International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition, Russian-Belgian violinist Nikita Boriso-Glebsky
Winner of the 10th International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition, Russian-Belgian violinist Nikita Boriso-Glebsky. Picture: Getty

The shortlist of entrees for this year’s competition was revealed last month. Out of 240 applicants, 49 violinists from 16 countries were selected for the competition. Two of these violinists were from Russia; Ravil Islyamov and Galiya Zharova. Two were also from Ukraine; Dmytro Udovychenko and Georgii Moroz.

Islyamov and Zharova have since been excluded from the competition, due to take place in Finland from 18 to 29 May 2022. Zharova posted the email she received from the competition on Facebook, noting the change of opinion the competition had had on discriminating against competitors’ nationalities.

Commenters under the post make comparisons to the Dublin International Piano Competition in Ireland, and the Honens International Piano Competition in Canada, who both announced they would exclude Russian competitors last month. Honens has since reversed its decision and will now allow Russian participants to compete.

Month ago me and Равиль Ислямов were chosen to participate Sibelius violin competition. Competition emphasized that...

Posted by Galiya Zharova on Friday, April 8, 2022

The cultural boycott of Russian and Belarusian musicians was the subject of an open letter signed by multiple high profile musicians last month.

Led by the Russian conductor, Vladimir Jurowski, musicians including Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Mark Elder, Sir Antonio Pappano, and Nicola Benedetti, signed a letter calling to ‘Stop the war against Ukraine and stop the blanket boycott against Russian and Belarusian artists.’

Read more: Russian maestro Vladimir Jurowski joins classical stars in high-profile ‘Stop the War’ open letter