Work permit threat to San Francisco Symphony violinist

Work permit threat to San Francisco Symphony violinist


norman lebrecht

July 25, 2014

Elina Lev has won an audition to play in the second violins of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

Before that, she was associate concertmaster of the Charlotte Symphony for four years and then of the Utah Symphony. She’s the daughter of professional musicians in St Petersburg and a former student of Vadim Gluzman.

But her burgeoning career has just his a brick wall of US immigration bureaucracy. Elina applied for US citizenship. Her application was turned down. She appealed on grounds of being ‘an alien of extraordinary ability’ but the authorities are contesting that, suggesting that membership of outstanding orchestras does not qualify as ‘extraordinary ability’.

The case is ongoing. If Elina cannot get a green card or full citizenship, the consequences could be dire.

Read on here. She may need our support in an upcoming campaign.

elina lev


  • Jeffrey Levenson says:

    What if I were to marry her? That should work!

  • maydjun says:

    Oh the injustice! Seriously, does slipped disc have to print every personal grievance that lands in the editor’s inbox? Literally 1000s of artists are denied green cards every year. There is nothing shocking or unfair about the hurdles she’s facing. I’m sure the SF Symphony will be able to help get her a work permit, however there is nothing here that means she should get fast-tracked for citizenship.

    • David Rowe says:

      I agree 100%, Maydjun….why are loyal SD readers being recruited for “an upcoming campaign” to head off “dire” consequences? Seriously?
      Look, I am sympathetic to Ms. Lev, as I deal regularly with USCIS. I wish her nothing but good fortune and a positive resolution.
      But regarding such “causes”, I would much rather have a bit more editorial filtering. A touring musician detained in a foreign jail without charges? Absolutely! But a section violinist unable to obtain a green card? Eh….not so much. Dear Norman, please don’t “cry wolf” too often or we won’t be around to mobilize when really needed!

  • Ted says:

    She should’ve just entered the country via the US/Mexico border or pretended to be a Muslim woman. Barack would’ve then just turned a blind eye.

  • anonymous says:

    I saw earlier a FB post on this thread on Norman’s page which sided with authorities on this. I don’t see it now, but I must say I agreed wholeheartedly.

    How many unemployed US trained US citizen violinists of this level are there? Quite a few. The US is always expected to welcome foreign musicians with open arms, in this case offering plum contracts to a woman who simply came here to study.

    Do other countries do that for US musicians? Not nearly as often, I’m afraid, and if they do, the positions pay far less than what Ms. Lev has been earning. SF Symphony is at the top 3 pay wise of all US orchestras, as I recall. Why shouldn’t this prize job go to a US citizen?

    There are US violinists equally well trained, and capable of doing this job at least the same level or better than Ms. Lev.These violinists remain scrapping away at part time or non music related careers while Ms. Lev’s apparently prestigious connections have given her a ticket to a job in one of the best paying orchs. in the US. And it leaves one more well-qualified US violinist with no job.

    It’s particularly ironic that she should find support on a British blog. What UK orchestra would EVER consider hiring an American, or a foreign national? Non EU musicians can barely enter UK with their instruments without being interrogated or detained, and even deported, because authorities fear they are there to work, hence robbing UK musicians of employment.

    Why should the US be expected to offer employment unequivocally to foreign musicians while its own citizen musicians struggle for employment? Enough. I agree completely with US authorities on this. UK authorities probably wouldn’t have even let her in the country with her violin. US authorities need to support the employment of US musicians. Let this top SF Symphony job go to a US citizen for once.

    • bratschegirl says:

      Insert all the well-known difficulties with the current audition system here, and I will second them, but on this particular day she won. You may wish to argue that those without either permanent status or current permission to work in the US should be ineligible to participate in auditions held by US orchestras, but in the absence of that there is no reason to suggest that she shouldn’t have auditioned, and having won there is no reason to suggest that she isn’t qualified to do the job.

      • Anonymous says:

        To Bratchegirl: Well, if US orchestras are failing to set guidelines to protect the employment of US citizen musicians I guess the US government has to. Which is exactly what they’ve done in this case.

        Ms. Lev can return home to St. Petersburg with the glorious experience and knowledge she’s gained in the US. And that violin position in the SF Symph which pays somewhere close to $200,000 a yr. can be awarded to a qualified US citizen.

        • SVM says:

          A self-respecting professional orchestra recruits the (on the basis of auditions) best musicians available, irrespective of nationality. I am not familiar with US law, but if a British orchestra were to discriminate against non-citizens who have the right to work in the UK, it would be illegal.

          • Anonymous says:

            To SVM: no, no and no. Orchestras around the world do NOT work that way. I’m sorry, but your comment is naive & borders on ignorant. Only in the US do orchestras allow an open door to foreign players. Most every other country gives preference, either formally or informally, to their own citizens.

            Newsflash: the “right to work” in a UK orchestra means you’re a UK citizen or married to one, if I’m not mistaken. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but this has been common knowledge in the prof. music world forever. Furthermore, if you try to even enter the UK as a non EU citizen carrying an instrument without the proper visa/paperwork declaring that you will not be earning money with that instrument, you will be sent home. This has happened over and over again to US & Japanese citizens recently at various UK airports.
            This is how fiercely other countries protect the work rights of their citizen musicians. Bravo to US authorities for finally doing something similar.

    • Ted says:

      I tend to agree with you. When a lot of these musicians who have been sitting in big 5 orchestras for the past 3 decades first got their jobs, they did not have to compete with this massive amount of people from Asia, and Eastern Europe for their jobs. As much as I like to accept people of other cultures into the country, preference should in my opinion be given in school admissions and high paying jobs to the best candidate who is a US born citizen. Do US born citizens go over to Asia and Europe for school and jobs at the same rate as the people coming over here? Just some food for thought.

  • Nick says:

    You’re supposed have a Green Card (aka Permanent Residence) for five years before being eligible to apply for citizenship. One cannot apply with less than that.

  • Doug says:

    Here’s a suggestion for Elina. Dye your hair black. Fly to Mexico City and ride the train to the Rio Grande. Walk across the river. Say “I love Obama” in a Spanish accent and watch the privileges and perks flow unceasingly your way. They’ll even give you a first class ticket to San Francisco.

    • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

      With all due respect, sir, but your Obama bshing is offensive to President Obama, to those fleeing the violence in Honduras and other countries (no need to mention them as I am sure you know them), to all who are Hispanic, to Elina, and to each and every decent person. Your comment’s odious character falls back on you. Clearly, you have no decency left. Please go back into your cage, where you belong.

    • Ted says:

      There’s sadly a lot of truth to that. I read in today’s news, Obama now wants to start a ‘limited’ refugee program, bringing these Hondurans and other Central Americans into our country. Obama’s idea of improving America is to allow tens of thousands of illegal, uneducated, low skilled, dependent resource suckers into our country.

      He somehow thinks this will help middle class families and people in unions (who fight to give workers respectable wage)?

      I’m so sick of this poor excuse of a President. He should be impeached for his treason.

      • Jules says:

        Ted and Doug (if indeed your aren’t the same person:

        You personal political beliefs are not germane to this story. Please stop embarrassing yourselves.

  • esfir ross says:

    Ask MTT how he was able to get Alexandre Baranchik out of Holland and get job and residency in USA. Ms. Lev was overconfedent to get Green card , trust her lawyer. There ‘re legion of American good violinists.

    • Anonymous says:

      Agree. Or why is it that the Dudamel conducting fellows chosen each year by LA Phil are always overwhelming non-US citizens, predominantly Venezuelan – with barely a nod to young US conducting talent?

      Seems like the US’s classical music business is placing far more emphasis on encouraging & employing non US talent than it is nurturing its own talented US citizens.

      Opportunities for US citizen musicians should be a priority. Are you listening, Deborah Borda? And Peter Gelb, too. Look at the MET’s musician roster. The highest paying orch. jobs in the US and a disproportionate no. of positions are held by non US citizens. Meanwhile talented Juilliard grads who could do the job as well or better are waiting tables across the street.

      Really glad the US government has taken the appropriate measures in Ms. Lev’s case. May they continue to do so.

  • baron z says:

    I think you mean Vladimir Guzman. If she is not a citizen, I don’t care if she has won an audition, we have too many native musicians too good to be out of work who are nevertheless out of work. We do not have orchestra jobs for every foreigner who wants to live here. Especially when there are so many more jobs in Europe. She can leave, it’s fine with me. Chances are, she was not the best player anyway.