14 March 2022

On Wednesday Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra dropped Tchaikovsky from their programme, saying it was “inappropriate” at present with the current war in Ukraine. As our next two concerts feature music by the Russian composer, we wanted to address it and explain why, for now, our concerts will be going ahead as planned.

Tchaikovsky was born in the Russian town of Votkinsk, but he was anything but a nationalist. His grandfather was born in what is now Ukraine, and he made frequent trips to his sister’s estate in Chrhryn, south of Kyiv, and Sumy. His visits to Ukraine are reflected in his music, with at least thirty works incorporating folk tunes from the country.

ASO does not believe Tchaikovsky would have, or indeed want, any place in Putin’s Russia. Not only did he have familial and emotional ties to his Ukrainian friends, he would not have fit into the mould of Putin’s regime. By all accounts, he was something of a rebel and believed in a free society where individuals could live their lives as they pleased – which may have stemmed from the fact he was likely gay, something that was not allowed at the time. Arguably his most nationalist work, his 1812 Overture, he hated, saying it was “written without warmth or love”.

Like everyone else in the UK, ASO stands shoulder-to-shoulder alongside Ukraine. We denounce the actions of Putin. But we believe that performing the music of Tchaikovsky, a liberal composer who believed in individualism and held a great love for the country of Ukraine, sends a far more powerful message than deciding not to. In the words of columnist Allison Pearson: “Art should never be a casualty of war; at its best, it is the antidote to war’s poison.”