Home ArtsMusic Amid Ukraine War, Orchestras Rethink ‘1812 Overture,’ a July 4 Rite

Amid Ukraine War, Orchestras Rethink ‘1812 Overture,’ a July 4 Rite

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In a deafening round of cannon fire and the spirit of victory, Tchaikovsky’s “Overture of 1812” has been a staple of the July 4th festival throughout the United States for decades, with glittering fireworks. It served as an exciting prelude to the exhibition.

But this year, many ensembles concerned about the history of the overture as a Russian military celebration — Tchaikovsky wrote it in commemoration of Napoleon’s rout in Moscow in the winter of 1812 — for the war in Ukraine. I’m rethinking my job.

Some groups have decided to skip it, claiming that the militant theme would be offensive during the war. Others eager to show solidarity with Ukraine have added the performance of the Ukrainian national anthem to their program to counter the uplift of the Russian Empire by the overture. Yet others are recreating it by adding a call for peace.

For the first time since 1978, the renowned Cleveland Orchestra has omitted its work from its July 4th concert featuring the Blossom Festival band. “Given Russia’s current behavior and the propaganda there, I think going to play music to celebrate their victory is annoying to many,” said Russia’s president and chief executive officer. Andre Gremilet said. orchestra. “Everyone will hear references to the current war involving Russia, equipped with cannons. It will be insensitive to the general public, and certainly to the Ukrainian people in particular.”

The reconsideration of the 1812 Overture is the latest example of the difficult problems facing cultural institutions since the beginning of the war.

The arts group has been pressured by the audience, board members and activists to break relationships with Russian artists, especially those who have expressed their support for President Vladimir Putin. Some have faced calls for scrap works by Russian composers, including respected figures such as Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Mussorgsky.

Many groups have resisted, claiming that deleting Russian works is equivalent to censorship. But there were exceptions. In March, the Polish National Opera discontinued the production of Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov”, one of Russia’s greatest operas, to express “solidarity with the Ukrainian people”. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra in Wales, and the Central Philharmonic Orchestra in Japan have all recently abandoned their plans to play the “1812 Overture” because of the war.

The approximately 15-minute overture is shy and patriotic, featuring Russian folk songs and a cannon fire volley set in the former Russian national anthem “God Save the Tsar!”. Some expressions include voice lines from the Russian Orthodox text “God protect your people.”

Tchaikovsky did not particularly like his overture when he made his debut in Moscow in 1882, but has since become one of the most famous pieces of classical music.

Overture has become a popular part of the July 4th celebration nationwide since the 1970s when Boston Pops began playing it in front of a crowd of hundreds of thousands along the banks of the Charles River. Each year, it is performed by hundreds of ensembles in big cities and small towns. Local governments often supply howitzers for the exciting conclusions of the overture.

Emily Richmond Pollock, an associate professor of music at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the interpretation of this work has changed over time. Initially used to celebrate the Russian Empire, it later became synonymous with American democracy. Now, in some circles, it symbolizes the authoritarianism of modern Russia.

“It has been used for a variety of purposes,” says Pollock. “In 2022, the ambiguity about Russia’s power came to mean something different, and it may mean something different in the future.”

Over the past few weeks, more than 12 ensembles such as Connecticut, Indiana, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Wyoming have decided to abandon the work, fearing opposition from Ukrainians and others against the war. did. Some have replaced the work with film musician John Williams and American works such as Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and “America the Beautiful.”

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra in Connecticut has been playing overtures since 1995, feeling that “celebrating the victory of the Russian army is a topic that is too sensitive so far” and removed the work from the program. , Said Steve Collins, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Ensemble. ..

“The risk of offending or rebelling our Ukrainian-American friends, the people we want to help, far outweighed the benefits of playing this piece,” he said. rice field. “In our final analysis, playing this piece this summer was not so important.”

The Grand Teton Music Festival in Wyoming has decided to skip this task because it does not want to alienate Ukrainians, including those involved in the festival.

“Given what’s happening in Ukraine, I didn’t think it was appropriate to program a piece featuring the sound of the cannon that accompanies God Save the Tsar,” said Emma Kale, executive director of the festival. Said. “I thought this year I would build a new tradition and keep it all American.”

Other ensembles, including Boston Pops and the Washington National Symphony Orchestra, usually play overtures in front of a large audience on live television glasses and plan to advance this work this year.

“We play this to celebrate independence and freedom, and those who are willing to make many sacrifices to achieve it,” said the Boston Pops conductor, who also plays the State Anthem of Ukraine. Keith Lockhart said.

Lockhart said that during the war, the overture may help remind us of the dangers of an attack. In 1812, he stated that Russia was dodging invasions from more powerful nations, such as Ukraine today.

“In that battle, the Russians were Ukrainians in 2022,” he said. “It’s not as simple as’Russia, bad’. What’s bad is the attempt by authoritarian powers to dominate other powers.”

The question of whether to carry out the overture put an unpleasant position on art leaders who were little accustomed to dealing with geopolitical issues.

In Massachusetts, the Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra faced questions from patrons about whether it was appropriate to play an overture at a holiday concert. The orchestra has decided to play this piece. I was worried that omitting it would give rise to the perception that the West is trying to eradicate Russian culture.

“Cancelling it is a perfect story for Putin to make us all believe. The world wants to abolish Russian culture,” said orchestra conductor Steven Karidoyanes. “It must not be different from the truth.”

Some ensembles, eager to show solidarity with Ukraine, but worried about canceling the important Independence Anniversary tradition, sought to find a creative solution. The Baltimore Symphony will perform the overture, but before the concert, we will discuss the history of the work and add a statement expressing solidarity with Ukraine.

In Naperville, Illinois, on the outskirts of Chicago, this year the Naperville Municipal Band tried to remove the reference to Russia. At that holiday concert, the on-stage narrator usually tells the history of the overture, including its origins as a memorial to Russia’s victory over France. This year, the narrator described the work simply as “a depiction of all the victories over oppression, including the War of 1812,” and talked about the Civil War battle in Gettysburg.

Ronald J. Keller, the band’s music director who has conducted 44 performances since 1977, told his colleagues that it is important to avoid discussions about Russia given the war.

“I said,’No, we’re not going to mention Russia. We’re not going to mention it at all,'” Keller recalled. “This in Ukraine and Russia isn’t very popular right now. We. Did not want to get involved. We wanted to keep our focus on America, our history, and what we are doing. “

Other ensembles made political statements using the performance of “Overture of 1812”.

During the concert in mid-June, the Westerly Choir on Rhode Island sang English texts written by group leaders instead of traditional Russian prayers.

The group’s music director, Andrew Howell, states that the choir not only maintains the musical spirit of Tchaikovsky, but also seeks to create a “non-denominational prayer of hope and peace” that reflects opposition to war. rice field.

The new text is:

Now let our voices unite in the song.

Raise your voice and join us to sing this song. believe.

There is peace to come.

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