Latest: New York Customs hold orchestra to ransom

Latest: New York Customs hold orchestra to ransom


norman lebrecht

June 03, 2014

We reported earlier that six players in the Budapest Festival Orchestra had their bows confiscated on arrival, on suspicion that they might contain ivory. This was an understatement. We are now informed it was seven players.

The bows were not returned and the players had to ring around friends and acquaintances to borrow bows for rehearsal and their first concert. Lincoln Center were helpful in providing bows for those who could not find them.

The orchestra flew into Newark. The instruments and bows were sent as cargo to JFK. Every single instrument and bow had a certificate (or passport) from Hungary. These were dismissed by Customs, who seized seven bows.

They are now demanding a $500 release fee.

This is, literally, highway robbery. Customs have clearly exceeded their authority, but they are a law unto themselves when musicians pass through, as demonstrated in the tragic case of Boujemaa and his flutes.

Beware of flying to New York with a musical instrument.


handsome guy shirtless


  • Johann Erinn says:

    If the U.S. were a normal country, it would have a Minister of Culture who would intervene to stop this nonsense.

    • Doug says:

      Do you really hate Loxodonta africana that much? If it wasn’t for the USA leading the charge on eliminating the black market in ivory trade the species would soon become extinct. And while we’re at it, what exactly do you have against the new President of the World, Obama? Racist, perhaps?

  • David Pickett says:

    Would that the USA had taken such care to protect the unique artifacts that were stolen or destroyed in Iraq when they invaded!

  • NYMike says:

    Heard the BFO last night with cellist Daniel Müller-Schott in a well-played all-Dvorák program. At the time, we hadn’t heard about this latest US customs scandal. The idiocy continues. A culture cabinet post was talked about when Obama first took office – obviously, many more important? matters have concerned our dysfunctional government since.

  • Portia says:

    This is a really messed up thing… but what the heck is up with that photo?

  • sarah says:

    i agree with portia – though i don’t know for the same reasons? using stock photography (hence all the watermarks) without paying for it is theft. quite ironic given that you’re talking about the consideration of what the customs dept. has done as robbery.

  • Paul D says:

    Or beware of flying into Brussels with this type of equipment:

  • Eric says:

    They didn’t hold the orchestra to ransom, I would think, based on this. Yes, there are some messed up things going on, but the orchestra still played their concerts, and the Times noted they were outstanding. Here’s the Times on the bow situation:

  • Mimi Chen says:

    People we must complain about this kind of treatment. This is unconscionable and disgusting. Go and register a complaint here:

  • Sardis says:

    It seems it is not only Germany that seems to have trouble with moronic customs staff

  • David Pickett says:

    Employing a Minister of Culture to take care of this problem would be a bit over the top! Rather than such overkill, requiring customs officers to have a modicum of common sense is all that is necessary.