Airport nightmare: Russians seize concertmaster’s violin

Airport nightmare: Russians seize concertmaster’s violin


norman lebrecht

October 11, 2015

Josef Spacek, concert master of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, had his precious 1855 Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume instrument confiscated by Russian customs officers at Koltsovo airport near Yekaterinburg, as he tried to leave the country on Thursday after giving a festival performance.

The Customs men accused Josef of trying to smuggle out the instrument without paying duties.

As of this moment, we do not know if the violin has been returned to its owner. Tass, which reports the story, has put an inflated value on the instrument. The festival has refused to comment. We are waiting to hear more from Josef and the Czech Phil.

josef spacek

Remember: You take precious objects to Russia at your own risk.


  • Eddie Mars says:

    All antiques – including musical instruments – must obtain a Customs Certificate on arrival in Russia. The certificate shows that the instrument was legally brought into the country by its carrier – and thus provides for hassle-free departure on leaving Russia.

    I’m sure Mr Spacek obeyed the rules on arrival – the process takes just 30 minutes, even at congested times. With his stamped Customs Certificate, he will have no difficulty in recovering his instrument and leaving for home.

    The procedures are intended to stop the trafficking of stolen instruments (and antiques, artworks, etc) across the Russian border, and must surely be welcomed by all owners of valuable instruments. Russian orchestras tour internationally all the time, and make provision in their schedules for completing the obligtory paperwork.

  • Sergey says:

    It’s the Russian customs’ rule that anything of value brought into Russia temporarily must be declared to provide for an easy and speedy export later on. There have been cases when foreign guests were importing violins worth, say, $500 and exporting manyfold more expensive instruments in lieu of the cheap ones. We may discuss the wisdom of this rule but it’s the rule.
    If it has been a whole orchestra coming for concerts in Russia, there’s been a lot of preparatory work preceding the visit and I cannot imagine Russian presenters not knowing of the rule and not taking care of it (otherwise there’d be problems with more than one orchestra member). As the customs officer said today, they detain the violin until they are given proof of ownership for (or of the right to use) the violin, so it seems to me that the concertmaster had probably used the green channel when entering Russia thus not declaring the violin, and now the customs wants to make sure that it’s the same instrument.

  • max says:

    Really stupid idea to travel in wild terrorist country with a concerts. Such a behaviour should be punished – and actually it is.

  • L.F. says:

    I know a violinist who has travelled many times to Russia, also twice this year. If one announces the instrument at entry and has the necessary documents ready the handling of violins at the Moscow Airport is always fast and very professional which is more than can be said of some airports in free Switzerland.

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    It’s only an outrage when it happens in the US.