Ukraine benefit featuring Russian ensemble is canceled in Vienna
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Ukraine benefit featuring Russian ensemble is canceled in Vienna
The Vienna Konzerthaus said it canceled the concert after the Ukrainian ambassador to Austria, Vasyl Khymynets, expressed concern about featuring Russian artists at an event meant to benefit Ukraine. ©

by Javier C. Hernández

NEW YORK, NY.- A planned benefit concert in support of Ukraine was canceled in Vienna on Monday amid concerns about the Russian-based ensemble it was to feature, MusicAeterna, which is led by conductor Teodor Currentzis and is supported by a state-owned bank in Russia.

The concert, organized by the Konzerthaus in Vienna, one of Austria’s premier halls, was to take place Tuesday and feature MusicAeterna, which is based in St. Petersburg and is financed in part by VTB Bank, one of Russia’s largest financial institutions. The United States and other Western countries have recently imposed sanctions on the bank because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Vienna Konzerthaus said it canceled the concert after the Ukrainian ambassador to Austria, Vasyl Khymynets, expressed concern about featuring Russian artists at an event meant to benefit Ukraine. The ensemble’s founder, Currentzis, who was born in Athens, Greece, is a charismatic conductor who has built a large following in Russia and abroad.

“The Vienna Konzerthaus cannot ignore the political dimension of the performance of a St. Petersburg-based orchestra at a time of immense suffering caused by the Russian Federation’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” Matthias Naske, the hall’s chief executive and artistic director, said in a statement. “We understand and share the despair over the war crimes in Ukraine and condemn this aggression without reservation.”

The Konzerthaus said that it would suspend ticket sales for future appearances by MusicAeterna until the group secured an independent source of financing. But it also said it would allow MusicAeterna to perform a separate concert planned for Monday night. (The ensemble already performed at the hall Sunday.)

Khymynets and the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The cancellation of the benefit concert comes as tensions between Russia and the West continue to reverberate in the performing arts. Several high-profile Russian artists have lost global engagements in recent weeks because of their ties to the government of President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

MusicAeterna, renowned for its intense, electric performances, has come under scrutiny for its connections to VTB Bank, which has helped finance some of its tours and recording projects.

Currentzis called for peace in Ukraine in a statement issued last month by the SWR Symphony Orchestra in Germany, where he is chief conductor, although he has not directly criticized the Russian government or Putin.

“Teodor Currentzis and the members of the SWR Symphony Orchestra unequivocally support the common appeal for peace and reconciliation,” the statement said.

The orchestra has said it was aware of MusicAeterna’s association with VTB Bank, but it has continued to defend Currentzis. “From today’s perspective, this is certainly problematic, but it has existed for a longer period of time,” the statement said, referring to the bank’s support for MusicAeterna.

The benefit concert in Vienna was to feature works by Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and others.

MusicAeterna is set to perform in Germany, Austria and France in the coming weeks. Currentzis is scheduled to lead the ensemble in a production of Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” at the Salzburg Festival this summer, paired with “De temporum fine comoedia” by German composer Carl Orff.

The Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Germany, another major concert hall, said Monday it had no plans to cancel a series of engagements this week by MusicAeterna.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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