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Nearly 20,000 Russian artists are demanding a withdrawal from Ukraine

Chief conductor Kirill Petrenko conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker philharmonic orchestra in Berlin
Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch
Voicing out.
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Russian artists, including many stars of the classical music scene, are speaking out against the invasion of Ukraine.

Here’s a partial list:

Semyon Bychkov, conductor: The musical director of the Czech Philharmonic issued a statement encouraging Russians to speak out. “Silence in the face of evil becomes its accomplice and ends up becoming its equal,” he wrote. “To remain silent today is to betray our conscience and our values, and ultimately what defines the nobility of human nature.”

Evgeny Kissin, pianist: In a solemn video titled Note of Protest, the sought-after soloist described Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine as a crime that cannot be justified.

Alexander Melnikov, pianist: The 48-year old pianist expressed shame over his government’s actions. Addressing the audience during a Feb. 24 concert in Bochum, Germany, Melnikov said “I’m furious with [Putin’s government] for making me feel guilty about being Russian—a feeling that has been with me for as long as I can remember.”

Kirill Petrenko, conductor, The Berliner Philharmonic’s Russian-Austrian maestro didn’t mince words in his criticism of the Russian attack. “Putin’s insidious attack on Ukraine, which violates international law, is a knife in the back of the entire peaceful world. It is also an attack on the arts, which, as we know, unite across all borders,” he wrote in a Feb. 25 statement.

Natalia Pschenitschnikova, soprano, flutist, and composer: Speaking to the classical musical journal Van,  Pschenitschnikova lamented how the violence affects generations: “I want to scream on behalf of the Ukrainian mothers whose children have died in shelling. On behalf of the Russian mothers whose children have been made into invaders and murderers. But I scream on my own behalf: Russia, stop this war! I don’t want this shameful and traitorous war!”

Polina Osetinskaya, pianist: The renowned pianist expressed solidarity with Ukraine. “I ask Ukrainians and the whole world to remember that a lot of Russians do not want and did not want this fratricidal war,” she said in a statement to Van magazine.

Daniil Trifonov, pianist and composer: The virtuoso pianist expressed his sadness over the war’s toll. Trifonov wrote on Instagram: “Every war is a tragedy. As a musician, I wish to bring solace and peace in these difficult times.”

The cultural sector appeals to Putin

Over 17,000 Russian culture sector workers have signed a petition imploring their government to “stop hostilities and withdraw Russian troops.” In the letter posted on the arts blog Spectate, culture workers declared their solidarity with Ukraine and outlined the invasion’s economic ramifications:

Everything that has been done culturally over the past 30 years is now at risk: all international ties will be severed, cultural private or state institutions will be mothballed, partnerships with other countries will be suspended. All this will destroy the already fragile economy of Russian culture and significantly reduce its significance both for Russian society and for the international community as a whole. It will be almost impossible to engage in culture and art in such conditions.

To their point, major cultural institutions are already taking a hard stance. Earlier this week, the Munich Philharmonic sacked its chief conductor Valery Gergiev for refusing to publicly denounce Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And New York’s Metropolitan Opera announced it will no longer work with any performer or institution which support Putin’s policies and promptly ended its standing partnership with Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre.

Reuters/Alessandro Garofalo
Russian opera singer Anna Netrebko in Milan’s La Scala in 2019.

Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, who is slated to star in the Met’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot in April, denounced the war but argued that “forcing artists, or any public figure, to voice their political opinions in public and to denounce their homeland is not right.”  For now, she remains on the Met’s cast, but her performances in Milan and Zurich have since been cancelled.

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