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Japan orchestra dumps Tchaikovsky's '1812' Russian victory piece to protest Ukraine war

This 2021 photo provided by the Chubu Philharmonic Orchestra shows the group on stage.

The Chubu Philharmonic Orchestra has announced that it will replace Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture with another piece in a concert to be held in central Japan later this month, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine and global condemnation of the attack.

    The professional orchestra based in Komaki, Aichi Prefecture, will perform in the city on March 26. It decided to drop the classical piece because it was composed to celebrate the Russian victory over Napoleon's invading army in 1812.

    According to the Chubu Philharmonic Orchestra's administrative office, it also decided to cut the overture because the local high school band they were to perform the piece with could not practice enough, after extracurricular activities were suspended during the latest COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency.

    In place of "1812," a popular orchestral piece which even included cannons going off in some performances, the orchestra will perform Finlandia, an 1899 symphonic poem by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957).

    "We stand with Ukraine by following the example of this piece, which is a wish for the freedom and independence of Finland, then under Russian rule," explained the orchestra office. They will also add a different piece by Tchaikovsky "Trepak," from "The Nutcracker" ballet.

    Chubu Philharmonic Orchestra board chairman Takahisa Kato commented, "'1812' is a piece that evokes different emotions for different people, including those in the audience and the orchestra members performing on stage. While there are people who can appreciate it purely as music, there are others who might question why we would perform a Russian victory hymn. Rather than excluding Russian musical culture, though, we included an extra piece."

    Orchestras in western Japan have also changed concert programs to leave out the overture. The Akashi Philharmonic Orchestra in Hyogo Prefecture decided not to perform "1812" during a March 21 concert. On its official Twitter account, it stated that the piece was dropped out of consideration of world events.

    While some orchestra members apparently stated that dropping the piece was unnecessary as "the work itself is harmless," and "it has a completely opposite context to the current invasion," there were also many who expressed reluctance to perform it under current circumstances.

    Meanwhile, the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra had plans to play "1812" as the finale of a music festival scheduled for April 29 to May 1 at Biwako Hall in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture. But Biwako Hall artistic director Ryusuke Numajiri told a press conference in late February that the program could change, adding, "While Tchaikovsky is not at fault, I personally don't think it's suitable to do a piece celebrating a Russian victory."

    Another individual affiliated with an orchestra in western Japan commented, "Music and politics are essentially separate, and the piece is free of blame. I'm praying that anti-Russia sentiment won't spread to the music world."

    (Japanese original by Yasuo Yamada, Nagoya News Center, and Toko Kurata, Osaka Cultural News Department)

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