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Banning Tchaikovsky won’t hurt Putin or help Ukraine.

In Wales, the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra had scheduled a performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Tchaikovsky? He’s Russian, isn’t he? Can’t have that!

So they pulled it from the program.

“In  light of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra, with the agreement of St. David's Hall, feel the previously advertised programme including the 1812 Overture to be inappropriate at this time,” a statement said. The 1812 will be replaced by an overture by John Williams, who wrote the music for Star Wars and Superman. It’s called The Cowboys.

Ridicule followed. “Everyone needs to get a grip,” tweeted cellist Max Weiss of the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra in Baltimore.

“We had our HSO concert on Saturday. We began the program, fittingly, with the Ukraine National Anthem. We then went on to play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1.”

A university in Milan “postponed” a course of lectures about the books of the 19th century novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. Well, he’s Russian isn’t he? Paolo Nori, who was to give the course, said: “I realize

what is happening in Ukraine is horrible, and I feel like crying just thinking about it. But what is happening in Italy is ridiculous. Not only is being a living Russian wrong in Italy today, but also being a dead Russian, who was sentenced to death in 1849 because he read a forbidden thing. That an Italian university would ban a course on an author like Dostoevsky is unbelievable.”

Fortunately for common sense, world-wide derision forced a backdown.

More seriously Valery Gergiev, perhaps the world’s best living conductor, has been effectively banned in the west. The reason? He has been a friend of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin but is not a financial supporter or political enabler.

He has done nothing to promote, assist or encourage the invasion of Ukraine. The demand was that he either condemn

Putin and the war, or be sacked from engagements in the west. This put him in an impossible position. He could work either in the west, or in his homeland. Not both. So he remained silent.

Gergiev’s biggest project has been the revival of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, its orchestra and its two fabled companies – the Kirov Ballet and the Kirov Opera.

When people running performing arts companies need money, which they always do, they usually have to schmooze the government. In Russia, that means Putin. If Gergiev suddenly condemned Putin and his war, what price the Mariinsky?

The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has cancelled a major tour by the Bolshoi Ballet. They had been scheduled to perform the company’s spectacular Spartacus with one of their great stars, Denis Rodkin, dancing the lead.

Denis Rodkin in Spartacus

The Bolshoi, Rodkin and Spartacus came to Brisbane in 2019. After watching a dazzling evening of dance, I had a late supper with Leo Schofield, who helped organise the tour, and with John Pendleton, the Bolshoi's Russian-speaking Australian company manager, at a restaurant near the arts centre. We were the only ones there until Denis Rodkin and his ballerina girlfriend walked in. They came over for a long, very friendly chat.

“How are you feeling?” I asked him.

“Oh, a little tired,” he replied.

Right. I was exhausted and I'd only been watching. But these people – and particularly the stars – are special. And like most dancers, they are also pleasant, considerate people. Many of them bitterly oppose Putin’s war – though that makes little difference to the indiscriminate cancellers in the west.

“I cannot but say that with all the fibres of my soul I am against the war,” wrote the Bolshoi prima ballerina Olga Smirnova, who has family members in Ukraine. “I am a quarter Ukrainian. Probably every other Russian has relatives or friends living in Ukraine."

Smirnova danced the female lead, Phrygia, in Spartacus in Brisbane and was due to do the same in London.

“I never thought that I would be ashamed of Russia," she said. "I have always been proud of the talented Russian people, our cultural and sporting achievements … We continue to live in the 20th century, although nominally in the 21st … We cannot remain indifferent to a global catastrophe.”

Many other ballet stars, not only from the Bolshoi but also from the Kirov and other companies, have expressed similar passionate revulsion to the war. Not that it makes any difference. They’re still cancelled.

Banning some of the world’s great art and artists simply because of their nationality contrasts with the recitals of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven given during the Blitz in 1940 by the renowned pianist Dame Myra Hess at the National Gallery in London. The walls were empty of pictures, removed for safe-keeping, and the people of London were hungry for culture and for an antidote to war. It was a statement that German culture did not belong to Adolf Hitler, any more than Russian culture belongs to Putin.

Myra Hess performing at the National Gallery

The 1812 Overture celebrated the repelling of a brutal invasion and the defeat of a despot – in that case it was Napoleon – but that music stands for Ukraine, not Putin.

Spartacus is about the resistance of desperate slaves and gladiators against the brutal and inhuman Roman, Crassus. Today, Crassus equals Putin. Spartacus equals Zelenskiy.

That American cellist was right. Everyone needs to get a grip.

Sanctions by the United States and other nations are designed with one purpose in mind – to force an end to the invasion. Cutting Russian banks out of the world financial system, stopping internet access, crippling the Russian economy are consistent with that aim. Banning ballet dancers and 19th century novelists is not.

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