Montreal symphony orchestra cancels Russian pianist's performances

The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) has been under pressure from the Ukrainian community to cancel the performances by Alexander Malofeev, a 20-year-old piano virtuoso who had been set to play in three concerts this week.

Alexander Malofeev, 20, was to perform Prokofiev concerto in 3 concerts this week

Alexander Malofeev, 20, seen here playing in Moscow on Jan. 23, said on Facebook Monday that he has family in Ukraine and 'every Russian will feel guilty for decades' about the war. (Alexander Malofeev/Facebook)

The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) has announced a young Russian piano virtuoso will no longer perform in three concerts scheduled for this week.

Alexander Malofeev, 20, had been set to perform for the first time in Montreal, under the direction of the celebrated American conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, on March 9, 10 and 13.

Malofeev's withdrawal from the concert series follows pressure from the Ukrainian community, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Some OSM musicians also said they would refuse to play if Malofeev did.

In a statement, the orchestra said Tuesday it would be inappropriate to have Malofeev perform this week. 

"We continue, however, to believe in the importance of maintaining relationships with artists of all nationalities who embrace messages of peace and hope," the OSM said in its statement.

"We look forward to welcoming this exceptional artist when the context allows it."

The Orchestre symphonique Montreal (OSM), seen here in 2020, will play without Alexander Malofeev at a series of concerts this week, after several musicians said they would not perform if the 20-year-old Russian pianist showed up. (OSM/Facebook)

Katherine Palyga, a violinist with the Montreal orchestra, said she had quietly asked not to play with the Russian.

Palyga's partner has family in Ukraine.

"I don't think I could manage," Palyga said. "With the fee that the OSM is paying him, [the money] will still be returning to Russia, no matter what."

'Terrible and bloody decision,' says pianist

The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is deepening as shelling intensifies this week. Food, water, heat and medicine have grown increasingly scarce in what the country has condemned as a medieval-style siege by Moscow to batter it into submission.

Malofeev has condemned the Russian invasion on social media.

"The truth is that every Russian will feel guilty for decades because of the terrible and bloody decision that none of us could influence and predict," he wrote on Facebook.

No problem can be solved by war, and people cannot be judged by their nationality, he wrote Monday, "But why, in a few days, has the whole world rolled back into a state where every person has a choice between fear and hatred?"

Malofeev said he understands his problems are "very insignificant compared to those of people in Ukraine, including my relatives who live there."

"The most important thing now is to stop the blood. All I know is that the spread of hatred will not help in any way, but only cause more suffering."

His anti-war sentiments, however, failed to move some people, including Montreal resident Mariya Makivchuk, who is from Ukraine. 

"It's time to take concrete action and join the global community of cultural institutions and boycott the Russian cultural product," she said.

The Russian pianist had also been scheduled to appear in Vancouver this summer, but that performance was cancelled last week.

He had been scheduled to perform  Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Opus 26 — the work of the great Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, who was born near Donetsk, in present-day eastern Ukraine.


  • A previous version of this story stated Kathryn Palyga was among the OSM musicians who had refused to play with Alexander Malofeev. In fact, Palyga is the only musician who CBC confirmed had requested not to play with the Russian pianist.
    Mar 11, 2022 7:27 PM ET

with files from Rowan Kennedy