Following protests from the global music community, including a petition against the 'blanket boycott' of Russian musicians, the Honens International Piano Competition has reversed its decision to ban Russian competitors.


The Canadian competition originally withdrew its invitations to six Russian pianists in the wake of the military action in Ukraine, citing the decision as 'necessary' in order to ‘make a strong statement in response to this catastrophic and unconscionable humanitarian crisis’. It was one of two major piano competitions, the other being the Dublin International Piano Competition, to announce it would not be open to Russian pianists this year.

Since then, an array of high-profile artists including Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Mark Elder, Sir Antonio Pappano, Vladimir Jurowski, Leonidas Kavakos, Nicola Benedetti, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Ian Bostridge and Leif Ove Andsnes, have signed an open letter on calling to ‘stop the war against Ukraine and stop the blanket boycott against Russian and Belarusian artists’.

In an official statement, the organisational team behind the Honens International Piano Competition said:

'Since [our] decision, we have seen and heard so much. Alongside the horrific images from across Ukraine, we’ve seen thousands of Russian citizens arrested for passive protests against the invasion, and a steady exodus of citizens from Russia. Accompanying these images, we have also heard from many important voices from the global music community, including those of our own past Laureates and current competitors, who strongly believe that this decision negatively impacts those who neither played a role in nor support the Russian government’s actions.

As a Board, we have actively engaged in difficult conversations and individual reflection leading to a reconsideration of our decision. Ultimately, we have decided to reinstate competitors of Russian nationality.

In keeping with our initial intent, and out of solidarity with Ukraine, any competitor who expresses support for the invasion of Ukraine will not be welcome in the competition. Likewise, any Laureate of the 2022 Competition who demonstrates direct or indirect support for the invasion of Ukraine will be stripped of their Laureate status.

Honens believes that music has the ability to transcend nations and politics. May it be a source of comfort that unites rather than divides us.'

In recent weeks, a number of Russian artists to have been declared persona non grata by Western companies. Anna Netrebko and Valery Gergiev have been forced to step away from the concert hall after refusing to condemn the Russian regime, and pianist Boris Berezovsky has been dropped by his agent.

Around the world, musicians are facing calls to denounce Putin’s rule of Ukraine, with Vasily Petrenko and Thomas Sanderling stepping away from their roles at the head of Russian orchestras.


However, when the Cardiff Philharmonic removed Tchaikovsky from its programme, it received a strong backlash.


Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.