The Russian pianist Polina Osetinskaya, photographed in Chicago. “I never had the idea that I could keep silent,” she said about the war in Ukraine.Credit...Lyndon French for The New York Times
But unlike many artists, activists and intellectuals, Osetinskaya, 47, decided to remain in Russia, where she lives with her three children, even as the Kremlin cracked down on free expression and made clear that any contradiction of the government’s statements on the invasion could be treated as a crime. She has faced consequences for her views — some concerts at state-run halls have been canceled, while others have been interrupted by the authorities.
Osetinskaya, who was born in Moscow, says her international career has also suffered because of her Russian identity. She lost some overseas engagements after the invasion, she says, because presenters were nervous about featuring Russian citizens. As a result, she says that she often feels caught in the middle: seen suspiciously both inside and outside her country.
Osetinskaya will perform a program of Bach, Handel, Purcell and Rameau at the 92nd Street Y in New York on Saturday, part of a five-city tour organized by the Cherry Orchard Festival, which promotes global cultural exchange. The program explores Baroque masterpieces featured in movies like “The Godfather” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”
In between concerts and rehearsals this week, she discussed her opposition to the war, the role of music in healing and her decision to remain in Moscow. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
You’ve made the difficult decision to stay in Russia even as you criticize the war. Why have you continued to speak out?
I want people to know that there are a lot of people like this in Russia. And they’ve been put in prison for their views, or for their likes on Facebook. And they’ve lost their jobs, they’ve lost their freedom just for openly expressing their opinions. I want people to know that there are a lot of good Russians, if I may say so.
“I was born in 1975 and remember the repression that was in the Soviet Union. And I have a feeling like I’m back in this time.”Credit...Lyndon French for The New York Times
Are you concerned about your own safety?
Right now, I’m playing private concerts in Moscow because big halls are closed for me. I truly hope that I won’t be put in jail for my views and opinions. Every time I talk openly about my feelings, I’m being watched. All I need now is to be able to work, to feed my children, and not to be afraid that I might be a political prisoner.
In March, the authorities in Moscow interrupted a concert in which you and several other artists were playing works by Shostakovich and Mieczysław Weinberg.
How did that experience make you feel?
Did you have any hesitations about speaking out when the war first started?
What do you hope audiences will take away from your tour in the United States this week?
Do you think your words and music can have an impact?
It’s dangerous to say this right now, but I have to say that I love Russia. I can separate Russia — my country, my homeland, the beautiful people who live there — from the government and from the people who are making decisions. I can tell one from the other, but it seems to me that nobody else can.
Life is not just black and white like my keyboard. It has a lot of colors and it has a lot of shades. We should remember people’s feelings and souls.