Exclusive: Boston cancels concert over US visa refusals

Exclusive: Boston cancels concert over US visa refusals


norman lebrecht

May 26, 2017

For the first time in its history, the Boston Early Music Festival has cancelled a concert because it could not obtain visas for a German-based quartet and a Dutch recorded player.

They applied twice and were refused both times, without reason.

Here’s their statement:

The Boston Early Music Festival regretfully announces that due to Visa complications, Han Tol and Boreas Quartett Bremen will be unable to perform their scheduled concert. We remain enthusiastic about presenting these dynamic instrumentalists at a future date.


  • bye bye says:

    And why should they get visas to take away American jobs?

    Is there a “Bremen” “Early Music” Festival that invites Americans from Appalachia to play early American music?

    Tired of Europeans not pulling their weight and expecting the US to pay. (Not only at NATO!)

    • James says:

      As it happens, Curtis Symphony Orchestra gave a concert in Bremen on Monday.

      • James says:

        (and this fortnight they’re also playing in Helsinki, Berlin, Dresden, London, Salzburg, Vienna, Wrocław and Lusławice. Glad they’ve found a way to make those Europeans pay for once!)

    • Andreas B. says:

      I’m not sure it’s worth replying to this post.

      It is discouraging and saddening to see that the tone of populist politics has infected the arts.

      The early music scene is a very good example of the beneficial effect of international exchange, for artists as well as audiences. Numerous festivals (Innsbruck, Herne, Regensburg, Halle etc.) take pride in presenting artists from all over the world.

      And: Yes, there is an early music festival in Bremen. Yes, they do invite an American ensemble:

      • norman lebrecht says:

        From the cellist Alexander Baillie:
        I wish I could reasure you a visit from European musicians will not take Americans’ jobs away! Quite the opposite! we need to visit one another all the more these days: to exchange ideas and ways of thinking. How would civilization spread without travel and sharing our stuff with one another? Curtis Institute (Philadelphia) is on tour right now in Europe – and just played in Bremen!
        Bremen regularly welcomes the Boston Early Music Ensemble. The city is host to one of the biggest jazz festivals in the world “Jazzahead” and we are the home of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Chamber Orchestra.
        Please come and visit and/or play here! Getting the visa is a minor obstacle. On the form for the USA we get asked “can the work be done by an American?” the answer is Yes! of course! Thats not the point! the whole point is to reciprocate visits and keep up the connection through the culture. Please! we need this more than ever. Its about generating work, not taking it away from folks!”

        • Saxon Broken says:

          I think I see what the problem might be. Perhaps ticking “no, it can’t be done by an American” would have seen the visa given.

    • bye bye says:

      We’re talking about trade imbalance.

      The New York Philharmonic gets to play in Berlin, but what they don’t get to do, which the Berlin Philharmonic gets to do at Carnegie Hall, is to take over for 2 weeks and run the entire damn city.

      If the American consular staff in Germany had done their job and denied the Berlin Philharmonic their visas, then maybe, just maybe, an American orchestra would have been selected by Carnegie Hall to do a special 2 week program.

      I don’t mind equitable trade, I mind being relegated to playing second fiddle and being made to feel we deserve it.

      • bye bye says:

        The New York Philharmonic would be in much better financial shape today if it didn’t have to compete with state subsidized low cost laborers (of course that’s what foreign orchestras are!).

        American customs officials need to slap a tarif on foreign musicians. 35% of their income would be a good start.

        • AMetFan says:

          I just suddenly shuddered with shame.

        • Just sayin' says:

          Surprising that a presumed lover/consumer of the arts has such a shallow grasp of the music industry’s workings, and those of music itself (Berlin Philharmonic members are “low cost laborers”? Really?).
          While it’s unlikely that such a view will be altered by data, it should be mentioned that the Boston Early Music Festival toured their production of Steffani’s “Niobe” in Europe a couple years ago, with concerts at four venues in France, and one each in Germany, Spain and The Netherlands. So, fortunately for all of us, it does go both ways.

          For curiosity’s sake, when did the Berlin Phil “take over… and run” NYC for two weeks? I’m aware of their 2015 Beethoven residency (five days, I believe), but of nothing longer than that.

          • Max Grimm says:

            It is possible that blinded by irrational indignation and insular disdain “Bye Bye” confused the Berlin Phil and the Staatskapelle Berlin, which spent just shy of 2 weeks in New York earlier this year, performing a Bruckner Cycle. In any case, “Bye Bye” must have a latent, yet profound reverence for Berlin orchestras, if he thinks them capable of “run[ning] the entire damn city” of New York.

      • Wai Kit leung says:

        When I lived in Massachusetts, I made trips to New York expressly to hear the Berlin Phil and the Vienna Phil. I spent some money there, including a few nights of hotel, and I assume the local economy was better off (minutely) for that.

        I wouldn’t have made my trip for the New York Philharmonic. In fact, I never did.

        So no, the Berlin Phil didn’t take away MY entertainment dollars from the New York Phil.

      • NYMike says:

        As a NY Phil and Carnegie Hall subscriber as well as a retired professional musician and AFM activist, I find your comments to be ill-informed at best and ludicrous at worst. New York has one of the most all-encompassing concert schedules of any city anywhere with sophisticated audiences desiring major orchestra appearances from everywhere.

        A good mix of both US and foreign orchestras is presented annually at both Carnegie and Geffen (NY Phil’s home) halls. As NY’s major resident orchestra, the Phil presents a 28-30week winter season @ Geffen Hall, as well as an annual Carnegie Hall appearance. A perusal of CH’s schedule show both foreign and US orchestras throughout the concert season.

        I suggest you do some research before embarking on another “America First” rant.

    • Steven Holloway says:

      I can assure you that Appalachian musicians playing English and Scottish ballads on the five-string banjo and Appalachian dulcimer would get a fine reception in Britain, though, so narrow is the music’s scope, that I can’t speak to the Continent, although, given the welcome given there to artists of all sorts, I’m inclined to think it would go down well. I would point out that Afro-American musicians, notably in both jazz and classical, e.g., conductor Dean Dixon, Nina Simone, Sidney Bechet, made their careers in Europe when careers were either denied them in the U.S. or at least made very difficult. What I don’t think you realize is that denying visas to European musicians (you don’t advert to Asian artists, I notice) would only produce a tit-for-tat, much as Trump’s threat to impose a massive impost on Mexican imports to pay for his wall would do. American orchestras, chamber ensembles, pianists, violinists, conductors, et al., would be scurrying around competing for invitations within the confines of America. Unless your peculiar comment stems purely from Europhobia and Anglophobia, I must think that your argument applies also to the rest of the globe. It is unwise to bring up the mythical issue of Europeans not paying their way. One distinction of the U.S. is that any visiting performing artist in any field has 30% in tax withheld, the highest withholding tax of any country, and getting it back is one hell of a job, even if the artist’s home country has a tax treaty with the U.S. Few do get it back. Given that the fee will also be taxed by the artist’s home country, it is a bit of an onus, to say the least. Though it’s less than the 35% you demand, you do already have your wish in that regard. Your problem is that it doesn’t stop them pesky furreners comin’, despite the obstacles already in place. Some don’t, of course. The tax regulations make for a mighty complicated business, but you may be sure that the U.S. treasury benefits from foreign artists visiting, as does the economy around the venues in which they perform — hotels, restaurants, concert halls, providers of transport, etc, etc. Nothing is more international than music, more inducive to amity and co-operation, more all-embracing. Unless, of course, rightist populism, nationalism, and xenophobia intrude. And I suspect in your case, given the wording of your second comment — “I mind being relegated to second fiddle…” — an aggrieved self-interest. What we now have is reciprocal multilateralism, and so it should be.

    • Jules says:

      I hope this comment was made in jest. Sadly, I fear it wasn’t.

  • V.Lind says:

    Just because the citizenry of most civilised countries in the world are prepared to support worthy causes through, in part, taxpayer contribution and the tax-averse Americans are not does not make America somehow better. Quite the opposite, in fact. Health care unavailable to so many, sinking schools that you have to enter through metal detectors, higher crime than is dreamed of in most countries, a tougher time for the arts than anywhere…the list is endless as to what Americans will NOT support through taxes.

    Up to them — their country. But it’s high time they stopped telling us all how superior they are. They are not. They are not “freer” than Canada or Australia or New Zealand, however much they like to claim that they are the only really free country in the world. In those countries, and in western Europe, people are as free as any Americans, and they live without the fear of having to call a doctor or go to hospital, or the fear of gun death on a daily basis. And they can — maybe not often, but sometimes — have access to the highest arts in the world.

    The fact that someone who joins in this site and is therefore presumptively a classical music aficionado can decry visiting artists as “low-cost labor [sic]” that takes away American opportunities shows how very far this meanness of spirit has crept. America has always been triumphalist, and inward-looking, but this is xenophobia of the lowest order. And now of course it is practically official government policy.

    God help America.

  • Scotty says:

    A wall should be built around Boston to keep the Sauerkrautbacks out.

  • Dowland says:

    In reality, many British orchestras are unable/unwilling to tour in the USA, as the visa restrictions are so prohibitive! This involves, for instance a non London based orchestra making appointments at the USA Embassy, (for a face to face interview which entails all the necessary documents, fingerprints, etc…)overnight stay, incurring huge costs blah, blah, blah. Very unfortunate, as arts need to be inclusive throughout the world, and not on the whim of a tick box exercise…

  • MacroV says:

    There’s probably a more innocuous – and petty – explanation for why they didn’t get their visas. I doubt there was any thought of “protecting American jobs.” And most likely their P-1 (P-2?) petitions were rejected by DHS, not at an embassy; consular officers generally don’t get to readjudicate petitions.

    • Steven Holloway says:

      I suspect you are right about that. Once again we see that no explanation was given. After listening to the Quartett play Contrapunctus I from the Art of Fugue, I just thought, well, American music lovers have been denied a treat. I’m not sure how much musicians put through the hoops care. Faced with Britain’s idiotic policy re visas, Grigory Sokolov, for one, simply stopped playing there, as did Kristian Zimerman re the U.S. after the customs halfwits blew up his customized piano. Wilhelm Kempff played in America once and thereafter ignored it. What is currently notable is that, because of Trump’s notorious comments on other states and treatment of their leaders, many are simply turning away from the U.S. His assumption, a naive and common one, that the U.S. is and will ever be the “cynosure of all neighboring eyes”, to quote Milton on the beauty of nature, i.e., the lode-star of the world in this case, is rapidly coming undone. No one can function effectively at all if they are ostracized, and nor can any state. The idea that musicians in other countries need the U.S. is preposterous. These days many American artists move to Europe, not vice versa as was the case eighty years ago. In short, all this palaver, all these shenagigans, most of it galvanized by the White House, is simply America’s loss.

  • A Non-American says:

    From what I have read on this site, musicians from the USA are indeed special. I have not heard of musicians from other countries lobbying for taxing visiting musicians, banning the Berlin Philharmonic from visiting, or mobbing critics and lobbying for their dismissals.

    • Scotty says:

      Don’t confuse the rantings of one or two American alleged musicians with the restrictive visa policies of the US government. These insanely tough visa requirements are not the result of bellyaching by musicians but instead reflect post-911 hysteria and the paranoid delusions of the halfwits currently in charge.