Denmark orders foreign musicians to Borgen off (or go to jail)

Denmark orders foreign musicians to Borgen off (or go to jail)


norman lebrecht

August 11, 2016

Here’s a tale of woe from the Australian oboist Rachel Bullen, who plays in the Esbjerg Enemble and augments her income with other musical activities. Apparently, that’s not on in the state of Denmark. Here’s Rachel’s story:


rachel bullen oboe

So about 6 months ago, I was fined 50,000DKK (10,000AUD/7,000€) for playing concerts with groups other than Esbjerg Ensemble and teaching oboe.

Nowhere in the information I received about my permit to work in Denmark does it state that I am not allowed to do that. Nor on the New to Denmark website. Nor even in the Danish law. If you try to ask STAR about it, they probably won’t answer. If you get a response, it is a non-answer.

I contested the fine, and my court hearing was yesterday.

The prosecutor was unprepared and didn’t really have an argument.

My lawyer was great and it really looked like I was going to win.

Then the judge announced he’d be back with a verdict in 20mins – this was a surprise, we thought we would have to wait a week. 90 mins later he came back with a guilty verdict. He said I was at best grossly negligent (for not finding information that is not there). He did however reduce the fine. I am now looking at 15,000DKK, plus around 10,000 legal costs on top of the 8,000DKK I have already paid. Or I can go to prison for 12 days (and start writing the Danish answer to Orange is the New Black).

Or I can appeal to the high court, which my lawyer would like me to do.

For anyone wanting all the gory details and/or to see me looking like a stressed-out mess, my case was filmed by DR2 and there will be an episode of Forsvarsadvokat (Counsel for the Defence) about me on TV in January.

So Denmark. I have received your message loud and clear. You do not want me or my music. Never fear: I will soon go back to where I came from.



  • May says:

    That’s a hefty fine. In Germany, the law is quite clear about work taken outside of the position that enables a foreigner to get a work/residency permit, so I would imagine Denmark would be similar. So while a non-EU orchestra musician can easily get the necessary papers once they’ve won the audition, it doesn’t automatically allow them to do free-lance or teaching work.

    Were I in Ms. Bullen’s shoes, I’d accept the verdict and appeal the amount of the fine, possibly asking if community service (e.g. teaching) might be considered in lieu of the already reduced fine.

    What disturbs me about this post is that it resembles the case of the non-EU violinist who didn’t get her papers approved in time for her London concert. In both of these posts, the authors are furious about a system that they don’t seem to fully understand. In both cases, it makes no sense to blame the system. Stomach the punch and move on. The Danish government never said they don’t want Ms Bullen, they simply want her to adhere to the rules. Was the Esbjerg Ensemble required to terminate her contract? I’m sure they don’t want to lose her.

    • Consuelo says:

      According to Ms Bullen, there were no applicable “rules” to adhere to in this case.

    • Kal says:

      I accept you would like to respond in defensive of the Danish state (where all things are great and fair) aren’t we all too accustomed to hear this? However the problem clearly is that the information of complete rules does simply not exist! At least not to those who come and work and pay tax into the country. Maybe Danish officials have their own handbook which they keep locked up with key but the information simply isn’t transferred to foreign public even when one asks for it!
      Nyidanmark has to be one of the most incomprehensible websites known to mankind. Every time you call or email for clarification you get a different answer, from another incompetent administration person who is barely competent enough to staple a piece of paper.

    • Brett Cox says:

      I am a singer guitar player and I play in the United States. Full-time. I have many people from Germany and Denmark who come here to vacation. They always tell me that I should come to Denmark and work in the pubs as a musician and I would do well. Because most of their voices are higher and British. Whereas I have a lower robust voice. Would I be able to work as a musician for some black money and some white money? And would I need a work permit?.

  • Mike says:

    I lived and worked as an expat orchestral musician in Denmark for 6 years. I knew that taking work outside my orchestra was a legal gray area, but when I would ask my Danish colleagues about it, they would just laugh. I took the work of course, and nothing ever happened. This happens all the time, I’m not sure why they have penalised this lady for it. What a joke!

  • Consuelo says:

    Maybe she played standing on her head?

  • Brian B says:

    As regards that judge, Roland Freisler would be proud.

    • HugoPreuss says:

      Do you honestly want to compare a judge in Denmark, a country with rule of law, procedural safeguards and everything to Roland Freisler, the infamous hanging “judge” obedient to Hitler? Has it occurred to you that even though Ms Bullen has been unable to find the appropriate laws, they might still exist? If she does not like EU and Danish law, she is free to go back to Australia. Or does she want to claim that laws do not apply to musicians? Or to Australians? BTW, the United States would be another country which has pretty strict laws about what a foreigner can do for work and what not.

      Denmark is a country with laws. To compare it to Nazi Germany is grossly insulting and without any merit.

      • Bozo says:

        Denmark makes up its own laws as they go along. The admin themselves don’t even know from one week to the other because of the lack of organisation. Perhaps a little less coffee breaks and a little more work. No one is saying it but everyone is thinking it.

  • Carlos Majlis says:

    Maybe the judge will end just like Freisler, and see how the ceiling is falling down over his head.

  • Peter says:

    The lame couch potato convenience crowd of our times must compare everything they don’t like to Hitler, Nazis and such. It’s the end of reason. People just open their mouths and out comes garbage, and – and that’s the problem – they feel fully entitled to spill their garbage opinions these days, they were taught that every opinion counts, right.
    No ladies and gentlemen, not every opinion counts. Only reasonable, educated and thoughtful opinions count. The rest is just nonsense. But we are a free society, you can talk as much nonsense as you like.

  • George T says:

    The system in Denmark is close to perfektion. The fact that everybody has to pay tax of their income is crystal clear. We don’t need miryads of laws especially made for Australians or Russians or whatever.Before you make a decision to get extra work, you should get the necessary information no matter of being a musician or a truck driver.
    If this law it’s not written and it’s without precedent, it doesn’t mean that you can score the money box and nothing applyes to you. So dear Rachel now it’s learning time for you.Pay your dues and be happy. We all do !
    By the way …I am myself a foreigner leaving and working in Danmark and it’s by far one of the best and finest lands I ever leaved in.

  • P says:

    I am a prosecutor in the United States. Apparently Denmark is so bored with itself because it lacks the will to tackle serious issues that it devotes law enforcement resources to prosecuting oboe players. I wish our jurisdiction had “problems” like this—although my job would be really boring, albeit morally dubious.

    What a joke and a farce. And let’s call this for what it is: a delusional belief that Denmark is a pure country not to be tainted with the presence of immigrants. The myth of white supremacy has a nice, snug hold on Denmark’s throat as it does on many western nations. As the myth falls apart, I expect the hysterical backlash to be fierce. Or perhaps we are already witnessing it right now as this ridiculous country tosses foreigners in jail for daring to play too much music.

  • LEWESBIRD says:

    My suspicion (only a suspicion — I’m not a lawyer) is that, notwithstanding the absence of explicit laws of regulations (I’m happy to take her word on it in that respect), this woman has a work permit that says somewhere that it is contingent upon employment with a specific, named, sponsoring entity — the Esbjerg Ensemble or whatever. If the name of that entity doesn’t appear on the visa itself, it certainly does in the accompanying materials that came with it. If the strict and exclusive correlation between the visa and the sponsoring employing entity isn’t manifestly specified, its moral dimension will be clear to anyone with half a brain.

    This is how work permits work the world over (pace American “Denmark is racist” Prosecutor who commented above — even in that land of milk and honey as it related to employment-based immigration, the United States). Once they’re granted, they’re granted pursuant to continued and *exclusive* employment with the entity that caused them to be granted.

    No work permit anywhere ever means that once you’ve got it you can work for anyone other than those who enabled you to get the work permit.

    Get it now?