Semyon Bychkov: Have we learned nothing from Chernobyl?

Semyon Bychkov: Have we learned nothing from Chernobyl?


norman lebrecht

March 17, 2020

The distinguished conductor has sent us a cri-de-coeur:

We are traversing a very strange and unfamiliar moment in life. Suddenly most of us can’t do what we have always done. While those in the medical profession fight at great risk to save human lives, often lacking the basic tools we, as musicians, are unable to share in the most direct way the medicine of the soul: music.

Nothing can replace live performances which is a form of a human communion, of reaching and connecting the hearts and the minds of fellow humans, where no one is alone and no one feels left out. This is denied to us just now.

And yet can we compare this to the horrors of another kind of war in which one part of humanity engages to destroy the other part? Our parents’ generation experienced that type of war, survived it with the losses beyond anything we can even imagine. Many of our own generation must find a way to survive this kind of war on any given day right now. Many of them won’t.

The threat of Coronavirus is a declaration of war that Nature declared on humanity. It recognizes no borders, no social classes, no races and no colour. It strikes and kills the weakest. It sends all of us a loud and clear message that we must stop alienating the Nature and become conscious once again that we are part of it. Just as it is between us the humans, when we get what we give, so it is between us and Nature. We have been treating it appallingly for so long, using what it offers and forgetting to say thank you. This must change.

Only two decades ago as Berlin Wall came down, we were filled with hope. The enemy was no longer on the other side of the Wall. Where was then the enemy? The answer then as it is now: the enemy is within ourselves, within what we call human nature, capable of both creation and destruction. All at the same time.

Did we learn from the tragedy of Chernobyl?

Did we learn from the change of Climate?

Did we learn from contamination of the soil and oceans?

We all know the answer. Denying the reality will not change it. Refusing to recognize our individual and collective responsibility will bring many more forceful responses from Nature. She/He tells us: you, people, are a part of me. Treat me with respect and I’ll give you prosperity to which you are so attached.

As musicians, when we make music we must listen all the time to the sounds we and our colleagues make.

As humans we must listen to the sounds Nature makes, if we are to find harmony in our existence.


  • Gustavo says:

    Bravo Maestro!

    • George says:

      Why the down votes?

      • John Borstlap says:

        These are by visually-challenged people who sit in a wrong position in front of their computer.

      • Karl says:

        “Refusing to recognize our individual and collective responsibility will bring many more forceful responses from Nature. She/He tells us: you, people, are a part of me. Treat me with respect and I’ll give you prosperity to which you are so attached.”
        He obviously knows nothing about biology and evolution. He’s just pontificating.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Entirely agreed.

    It may also be worthwhile to consider that in the classical music world, all of those good words are often not heeded at all: a sublime art form treated as Nature is so often treated – as something to be exploited and to be used merely as a means of skimming it of financial resources, and of pumping-up ego vanities, and where people and music are treated with the same unthinking contempt as Nature is treated.

    If, in the course of the coming years, the classical music world happens to be threatened on a much more fundamental level than recently becvause of the economic fall-out, it can only survive if it can get rid of such entirely improper behavior and mentality.

  • Mary Zoeter says:

    What you say is so very true, Mr. Bychkov. How many times have the media and so-called leaders mentioned the words ‘climate change’ in relation to this virus, and yet scientists had been predicting that climate change would lead to new viruses.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      I am sorry but this virus has nothing to do with climate change. Ignorant garbage. It does have a lot to do with grotesquely unhygienic conditions in Chinese markets, where this virus found humans.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      One can take a longer view. This virus, like so many before it, arose via transfer from another animal species — in this case, a certain bat species, with a pangolin species as a possible intermediate host.

      Such zoonotic diseases have been with humanity since it domesticated the first animal: the dog. The initial impact of such diseases can be serious or severe because humans have no innate immunity on first exposure; over time, as humans acquire immunity, the diseases become manageable (more or less, since viruses and bacteria also evolve in response to the acquired immunity).

      Epidemics have been recorded since the beginning of writing, and cities. The practice of isolating the sick and quarantining new arrivals also dates from that time. A review in the March 12 New York Review of Books of new volumes on the first cities states:

      “The scale of disease transfer in the early cities must have been overwhelming: we share 26 diseases with poultry, 32 with rats and mice, 35 with horses, 42 with pigs, 46 with sheep and goats, 50 with cattle, and 65 with our oldest companion, the dog.”

      Examples include measles (sheep and goats) and the plague (rats, via fleas).

      This is definitely not to minimize the dangers of climate change; but rather than (only) leading to new viruses, climate change’s major effect will be to make the viruses (and other pathogens, like malaria’s plasmodium parasite) propagate more widely as their vectors spread to areas that were formerly too cold.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Mary believes the cause to be climate change.
      Mike believes the cause: “grotesquely unhygienic conditions in Chinese markets”.

      The link between climate change and this virus is…bizarre. There have been some big plague outbreaks linked to changing climate. But the Black Death happened during a period of cooling. Similarly the Antonine Plague occurred during a cooling period.

      While hygiene can help in food markets, bacteria and viruses cross species quite often (often enough that we can’t really blame China for it). These can often cause serious problems in the new host (like with the coronavirus). Over time, if these deceases become established in the new host species, they nearly always become less virulent.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Bychkov may not always be the most ‘exciting’ conductor, but I’ve always felt that there was integrity and depth to his results. This statement proves that’s how he thinks in general. I’ve always liked him and I think he’s been a good pick for the Czech Phil. I should look into what else he’s been up to.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    We learn nothing from experience. It’s our curse as a species.
    I halfway remember a quotation from someone that went something like: “Human beings: so estimable in the individual, so detestable in the plural”. I wish I could be more exact in the quoting of it, and could remember the person who said/wrote it.
    Perhaps one of the other commenters can help me out here….

  • Hermann the German says:

    Just for historical correctness, it’s already three decades ago that the Berlin wall came down. It just shows how fast time flies.

  • Givemeabreak says:

    Give me a break, Maestro! Place the blame on China for not containing this outbreak, not for nature’s revenge on humanity. This is utter rubbish.

    • John Borstlap[ says:

      I thought that Chinese people were part of humanity. And they took very many things from other parts of humanity, and also they give something back, and sometimes something unintentionally goes wrong, which is a usual trait of humanity in general.

    • hsy says:

      I’m sure most Chinese are very sorry this virus has now had such an impact on the world. But they have already successfully suppressed it in their country, at least for now. Blaming them will not help us fight this virus in any way. Wuhan went into lockdown on Jan. 23. If anything you should be asking why so many governments around the world did nothing when they had months of prior notice to prepare.

    • Gustavo says:

      Giving a single nation the blame is utter rubbish.

  • Karl says:

    The worst pandemic in history occurred in the 14th century. They have always happened and always will. We have to realize that like death and taxes there is NO way to avoid them. And we HAVE learned -we are handling this one better than any previous pandemic.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Oddly enough, the last 100 years have been really unusual in having no pandemics. Outbreaks of serious illnesses were regular in the 19th century.

  • Alan says:

    Please stick to conducting Maestro.

  • MW says:

    Without wanting to be dismissive of Mr Bychkov’s excellent intentions, I am unsure how it makes sense to respect or ‘thank’ nature considering the virus is itself natural (and potentially deadly). Nature is not motherly, nor is it benign or even a unified, conscious or harmonious entity. To think of it in those terms seems to be a regression to Pagan superstition.

    But it also is pretty unhelpful to blame China or anyone else for this. No doubt, in future, serious lessons will have to be learned worldwide regarding food hygiene and rapid responses to outbreaks. And as with the 2008 financial crisis, there may be other fairly radical socio-economic measures required to ensure societies can cope with such shocks from now on.

    To extend the Beijing Olympic slogan, it’s ‘One world, one dream / One world, one nightmare’. In the meantime, level-headed rationality, cooperation and solidarity are required.

  • Ben G. says:

    Finally, someone who clearly states what we all should’ve been thinking deep down inside for decades: that this is Mother Nature’s way of telling us to slow down.

    Where the virus originated and who to blame is not the question here. Yes, it came from Wuhan, but could have also come from anywhere else.

    I see 3 positive points that have lately sprung up. Maybe there are more?

    1. Is the media talking about mass shootings at the moment?
    Ha! Nobody in the streets to shoot!

    2. Are we hearing about any terrorist attacks? No, but ISIS and Daech have told their infected followers to do their job and spread the disease to “infidels”.

    3. Pollution levels will drastically decrease after this crisis dies out. Lesser planes in the air, coupled with a lack of traffic jams around the globe means that the CO² emissions are lower than ever.

    In my opinion, this is the message that Bychkov is trying to convey to us.

    So far, it resonates better than the usual blah-blahs of any world leader.

  • Fiddlist says:

    Stinky cheese. Musicians should really stick to talking about music.

  • Mirel Iancovici says:

    The Wall came down three decades ago.

  • Robert says:

    I feel that human have not learn from climate change on earth because human still repeat the same mistake that harm the earth

  • Hw says:

    Need to learn from mistakes