PHOTO: LUCA PERLMANMarch 4, 2022: I woke this morning, brutally at a loss for words of my own. Instead, these: Simon Wynberg’s, from Back in Focus, the final section of this issue, echoing in my head.

“Hard to watch and impossible to ignore.” So I reached automatically for the remote, channeling to the BBC, where I go as an admittedly weak antidote to CBC and CNN –  the closest thing I can find to a triangulated viewpoint on world news within a closed and often self-congratulatory loop where refugees in adjacent seats on the same bus, fleeing the same war, can expect to be treated differently at the border to freedom, based on the colour of their skin.

Uncannily, this is what flashed immediately onto my screen.

BBC: The acclaimed Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, has been sacked by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra for refusing publicly to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The mayor of Munich said Mr. Gergiev could no longer remain in his position because of his support of President Putin. Well, Semyon Bychkov joins me now. He is the chief conductor and music director of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and he is Russian. 

Semyon Bychkov, let me ask you, first of all, unlike some other very prominent culture and art figures from Russia living in the west, are you prepared to condemn what you see happening in Ukraine? 

SB: Since day one when this war has begun, since the invasion happened, myself as well as the office of the Czech Philharmonic immediately issued statements to that effect and I have gone further in the following days. You know, there is time in life when one feels one must take a position on something that is so existentially important as this particular subject today. Everyone is free to make up their mind what they want to do if anything. In my particular case I’m free to take the position that I take, which is fiercely opposed to this genocide, this act of aggression.

BBC: Well you couldn’t be clearer Mr. Bychkov, but when you say you’re free is that because you have made a decision to cut your ties with your homeland completely? 

SB: I have emigrated in 1975 at the age of 22. And at that time, people have asked me but why have you left your country, and I said because I had to be free. And the question sometimes comes up today, and the answer has never changed. And I am actually fortunate to be free – not to have any debt to any state or company. The only debt I have in life (which will be for the rest of my life) is to my family, to my friends, to my teachers, to those colleagues, those orchestra musicians, all of the musicians with whom I make music, all those who helped me be better than I otherwise could have been. And that debt is something that I am very happy to pay.

Therefore I am absolutely free to express my opinions on the matter when it is called for, and I feel that, now, silence is not the right thing, because basically it means acquiescence to this, ah, power of evil if you will, and that is what we are faced with.

BBC: Mr. Bychkov thank you very much for speaking to us. 

David Perlman can be reached at

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