Outrage and dismay that British musicians will need visas to tour Europe

Image above: David Juritz playing in concert with the Soloists of London in Lisbon

As the details of the post Brexit trade agreement with the EU have become known, after a trade deal was finally struck at the eleventh hour, on 24 December 2020, musicians have realised that they are not part of the deal. They will have to apply for visas to travel in Europe, which adds an extra layer of bureaucracy and expense to the prospect of a European tour.

The Independent’s Political editor Rob Merrick reported on 11 January that the UK had rejected an offer of visa-free tours by musicians to EU countries.

‘A “standard” proposal to exempt performers from the huge cost and bureaucracy for 90 days was turned down, The Independent has been told – because the government is insisting on denying that to EU artists visiting this country’.

The British Government blames the EU on the failure to reach agreement, but the fact remains that British musicians now face a costly barrier to touring in Europe.

Long term Chiswick resident David Juritz is a solo violinist who has worked with many of Britain’s finest orchestras and toured all over the world. He has written this guest blog for The Chiswick Calendar expressing his anger and distress at the impact this will have on music in this country and musicians, already used to a highly precarious professional existence which has only been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

Image above: David Juritz playing at a deserted factory on an afternoon off while working as guest concertmaster with the Orchestre National de Lille; Photograph Pierre-Alexandre Phuelpin

Brexit Blues

Guest blog by David Juritz

In 1904, in the middle of a European arms race, a German scholar, Oskar Schmitz published a book, Das Land ohne Musik. Motivated more by jingoism than scholarship, Schmitz’s polemic is now remembered only for its pithy title.

By then Edward Elgar had established English music firmly on the world stage but, ill-informed though Schmitz was, he was right that in Britain, music did not sit as close to the heart of society as in its European counterparts.

While Europe’s large musical institutions were usually connected to its governmental institutions, England’s music scene was far more entrepreneurial with little or no support from the ruling bodies. While Handel produced his own operas in Drury Lane, it was a freelance violinist and impresario, Johan Peter Saloman (think Raymond Gubbay), who brought Haydn to London to conduct orchestras (made up of gigging musicians).

Later the Philharmonic Society (founded by freelancers) commissioned Beethoven’s 9th and Mendelssohn’s Italian symphonies before becoming ‘Royal’ in 1912, a full century after it was founded. In the 1850s professional orchestras finally started to appear – a mere 400 years after the Danish Royal Orchestra came into being.

There are now around 52,000 professional musicians working in the UK, over 90% of whom are self-employed. They understand insecurity and job pressure. Forget about performance metrics – a few notes reveal pretty much everything you need to know about a musician. Adaptability? Musicians embraced ‘portfolio careers’ while the rest of the world was still sharpening quill pens.

That environment has generated a unique musical culture. Minimal rehearsal time has, for centuries, kept British musicians on their toes and bred the swagger that makes orchestras like the LSO so thrilling to watch. While other nations’ musicians carefully hone their performance over days of rehearsal, their cash-strapped British colleagues often only have enough time in a single rehearsal to work out where the danger spots are. The concert is their chance to get it right – and they nail it.

Flexibility is also vital. Playing Shostakovich string quartets is all well and good but it’s the episode of Call the Midwife, the Ed Sheerhan album, or John Lewis ad that pays the mortgage for many. From the outside people may see a patchwork of opera companies, pub venues and festival stages but what appears to be a well manicured garden is really more jungle; a deeply interconnected ecosystem with roots, insects and tendrils all contributing to its vibrancy.

That jungle is worth a lot of money; over £4 billion in GVA, half of which is in exports. West-End musicals are a huge draw for the hospitality sector while our musical exports are not only about keeping people entertained; they are also about selling British values, creativity and culture – what diplomats call ‘soft power’.

And, God, do we need soft power right now. You’d think that anyone building ‘Global Britain’ would be desperate to enlist the UK’s creative industries as a key element in their plans to sell Britain abroad. But apparently not.

Musicians are actually realists and, with around half of London’s musicians still excluded from Rishi Sunak’s support scheme, I know vanishingly few with any expectations of the current government.

That’s because we’ve been managing those expectations steadily downwards for the last four years. The news that we now need CITES documents and a carnet to take our instruments even from London to Belfast, let alone Berlin, was dismaying, but trawling the long list of visa and work permit requirements for 27 EU states (who would have thought they could all set their own requirements???) was depressing in the extreme – and something which will put a chill on foreign touring.

What does this mean in practice? CITES documents are free for musical instruments but a carnet for instruments costs around £360. In theory, one carnet could cover multiple instruments. However, because of frequent personnel changes and musicians moving between groups it is more likely that individuals will each need their own certificate, hence a significant extra cost to be met somewhere along the line. Visa requirements vary depending on which country is being visited. France has now said it will permit visa-free travel for performers and we can hope that other countries will follow their lead. But music tours are often set up two years in advance. What happens if, in that period, tensions rise and the rules are changed? We need agreements, not goodwill.

What is genuinely shocking is to discover that a deal was offered that would have allowed visa free travel to performers in both directions but that our government decided that they didn’t want that particular piece of cake.

By even Boris Johnson’s standards this is a spectacular own goal. British musicians are amongst the best in the world despite comparably modest government aid. What we can do without, though, is deliberate sabotage. What advantage was to be secured for UK PLC by turning down that EU offer? What trade-offs were made? The fishing industry aren’t too happy so it couldn’t have been for their benefit. I just hope it was something marvellous but, look as I will, I still cannot see one single gain – unless you cherish our new right to kill British bees with whatever pesticide we choose.

To quote from Oskar Schmitz’s almost completely forgotten book, for the English not having music ‘doesn’t just mean that they have less sensitive ears, but that their whole life is poorer.’

Regrettably it appears that, for our cloth-eared Prime Minister, turning the UK into Das Land ohne Music is now government policy.

David Juritz is one of the most versatile violinists currently working in the UK, dividing his time between solo performances, directing, chamber music, working as guest leader with many of Britain’s finest orchestra and leading his own group, the London Tango Quintet.

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See also: Covid and Brexit: “a hideous cocktail” for businesses

See also: Customs, confusion and charges: Chiswick struggles with Brexit

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