Royal College of Music suspends professor who played piano amid Russian ‘war crime’ remains

2 August 2022, 15:00 | Updated: 2 August 2022, 15:37

RCM piano professor, Alexander Romanovsky, was recently filmed playing for Russian state-controlled media in Mariupol
RCM piano professor, Alexander Romanovsky, was recently filmed playing for Russian state-controlled media in Mariupol. Picture: Getty
Classic FM

By Classic FM

A pianist and violinist were recorded playing in front of the remains of a theatre, in what commentators are calling an act of ‘Russian Propaganda’.

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The Royal College of Music has suspended one of its professors pending a formal disciplinary process, after he was filmed playing the piano for Russian state-controlled media in front of a bombed-out theatre in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

Alexander Romanovsky, who teaches piano at the London music school, also reportedly gave an interview alongside the performance.

The Donetsk Regional Drama Theatre was sheltering hundreds of civilians when it was bombed by Russian forces in March in a shelling that according to estimates, killed between a dozen and 600 civilians. Human rights organisation Amnesty International has since labelled the attack a war crime.

Mariupol endured two months of fighting, before falling into the hands of Russian soldiers at the end of May. Today, the city remains Russian-occupied.

Romanovsky appears in the video (watch below) playing alongside Russian violinist, Petr Lundstrem. Lundstrem is an outspoken supporter of the war, and has shared pictures on Facebook wearing a shirt emblazoned with the letter Z – a Russian pro-war symbol.

Read more: Russian music students bravely condemn conductor’s pro-Putin ‘Z’ stunt

The video above was published on Yuriy Podolyaka, a Ukrainian blogger’s, YouTube channel on Saturday. In the caption Podolyaka names Romanovsky, calling him an “Italian-born but Russian-minded pianist”.

According to Romanovsky’s RCM profile, the pianist was actually born in Ukraine in 1984, before moving to Italy during his early childhood. He subsequently studied for 15 years at the Imola Piano Academy, before later leaving for London where he gained an Artists Diploma from the Royal College of Music.

Now a teacher at his alma mater, Romanovsky is currently on summer break from the musical institution, and has seemingly chosen to spend his free time in Russia-occupied Ukraine before the next school year begins in September.

Despite his reported Russian leaning views, Romanovsky shared on his Telegram account his sadness at seeing the bombed out theatre in person.

“I had seen this place, [like many of] you for the first time in March 2022 on TV,” the pianist wrote on the social media platform. “And as for every person linked in the least part to art and culture, this painful image was imprinted in my heart.

“Death and suffering in Mariupol is everywhere, but there is more here, because the theater is the place where people come to feel like men with a soul. Through art the soul awakens and feels alive. You come to the theater to feel alive.”

Read more: Donbas music school destroyed by Russian shelling in Eastern Ukraine

Estimates of the amount of civilian deaths from the bombing of Donetsk Regional Drama Theatre in March range from a dozen to 600
Estimates of the amount of civilian deaths from the bombing of Donetsk Regional Drama Theatre in March range from a dozen to 600. Picture: Getty

Dr Mark Galeotti, a Senior Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, told The Times that Romanovsky may have felt he had no choice but to do what the media asked of him. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to put the boot into an individual,” he said.

“If the state says, ‘We want you to do this,’ it’s not wise to say, ‘Nah, you’re all right’. Even if he’s based outside Russia, he may have family there.”

Read more: Musicians of Ukrainian orchestra mourn their pianist, killed in the battle for Mariupol

The RCM told Classic FM that Romanovsky is “suspended pending a formal disciplinary process”.