College suspends pianist over Ukraine concert

London’s top music school is going after the Ukrainian-born teacher for playing in Mariupol

The Royal College of Music in London has suspended Alexander Romanovsky, one of its alumni and tutors, over a performance in the war-torn city of Mariupol. The conservatory cited a video on social media that showed the Ukrainian-born pianist playing a Schubert sonata outside the ruined Drama Theater, which British media described as the site of a Russian “war crime,” alongside another musician who openly supports Russia in the conflict.

Romanovsky graduated from the Royal College of Music in 2008 and was teaching there, as well as the Conservatorio di Reggio Emilia in Italy. On Tuesday, however, the RCM suspended him “pending a formal disciplinary process,” according to the Times of London.

The pianist’s apparent transgression was playing Franz Schubert’s Sonata No 1 in D Major outside the Mariupol Drama Theater, alongside violinist Petr Lundstrem, whom the Times described as “supporter of the Russian invasion.” 

The drama theater is where “more than a dozen people died in the bombing in March,” the British outlet said, further citing Amnesty’s description of the incident as “a clear war crime.”

Ukrainian authorities initially claimed more than 1,000 civilians had been killed in what they alleged was a Russian airstrike. The Russian military accused the neo-Nazi “Azov” regiment – which had held Mariupol until May – of blowing up the building with civilians inside, so it could accuse Russia of atrocities. Within two days, however, over 200 people were rescued from the rubble and only one of them had been injured. 

One of the major sources for the Ukrainian claims was human rights commissioner Lyudmila Denisova. She was fired by the parliament in Kiev at the end of May, for tarnishing the country’s credibility and reputation by fabricating claims of “mass rapes” by Russian soldiers.

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In addition to performing outside the ruins, Romanovsky’s “misconduct” seems to have been associating with Lundstrem. The Times said Romanovsky’s Telegram posts showed him and Lundstrem posing “in front of a sign for Mariupol painted in the colors of the Russian flag” and showing Lundstrem “wearing a T-shirt marked with a ‘Z’, a symbol which has become associated with the Russian invasion, and the word ‘Rus’, a nationalist term to describe a union of Slavs.”

Romanovsky’s Telegram also reportedly shows him driving past the scars of war in Mariupol and talking about the power of art to bring peace and love to stricken communities. The pianist told the Times on Monday that he traveled across Europe in 2021, holding more than 40 open-air concerts to help people who suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic and promote the idea that “live music is a primary need for the society.”

He felt the need to do the same thing in eastern Ukraine and said told the Times he would be “very happy to visit the other Ukraine territories if it was possible.”

The Royal Music College was established in 1882. In April, it was ranked “the global top institution for performing arts.”