Exclusive: Europe festivals slam door on UK ensembles

Exclusive: Europe festivals slam door on UK ensembles


norman lebrecht

December 08, 2019

The head of a major European festival has written to British musicians, warning that they are unlikely to be invited again in the future.

The exact words:

A lot of museums in EU will not give any loans [to Britain] at the moment because everything is unclear. And a lot of colleagues stop inviting British orchestras and theatres. 

The state of the union, end of 2019.

UPDATE: A leading UK music entrepreneur comments: ‘Unfortunately this corroborates what I’d heard [from promoters] when working abroad’.


  • Pianofortissimo says:

    It’s called ‘psychological war’…

    • Akutagawa says:

      It’s called common sense in the absence of legal certainty.

      • SVM says:

        And the UK is in no position to take the moral high-ground on this. The bureaucracy of inviting non-EU citizens to perform in the UK is prohibitively expensive for all but the most prestigious promoters, venues, and festivals (i.e.: the UKBA maintains a list of festivals deemed prestigious enough not to necessitate quite so much bureaucracy when it comes to obtaining a visa permitting one to perform there).

      • Novagerio says:

        Common sense?? Well then, how the hell did they just manage before the Maastricht of 1994 ??? – Or perhaps you were not even born then?

        • Akutagawa says:

          They managed on the basis of the agreements that were in place at the time.
          The decision of the UK government to leave the Single Market and the customs union means that once the transition period is over, unless agreement is reached between the EU and the UK government, there is no legal basis for any trade in services between the two entities.
          As I wrote in my reply below, I have no doubt these issues will be dealt with eventually, but until they are, it is only prudent for European businesses to avoid contracting services from UK suppliers.
          I’m 50 and work in international finance, so unfortunately I do know what I’m talking about.

    • HugoPreuss says:

      Right. There is an international conspiracy of EU cultural organizers to thwart Brexit by making life hard for British artists, who will then in turn use their own immense power to reverse the policies of the UK government. And now we’ll have to kill you bc you found out about it. Beware of wild eyed continentals carrying violin bows in your vicinity! The tip of the bow will be poisoned!

    • FrauGeigerin says:

      It is called “you did not honor your pacts, and I do not trust you with my valuable paintings now that it seems Brexit is definitely happening”.
      When it comes to music I am sad, because there is so much music talent in the UK that the world will not enjoy as much anymore.

  • Calvin says:

    Welcome to the backwater

  • Mark Pemberton says:

    But does this festival book American or Chinese artists and ensembles? If so, then there is no reason not book them from the UK.

    • Akutagawa says:

      They can do so again once the trade relationship between the EU and the UK has been restored to a firm legal footing via the signing of a free trade agreement between the two. As things currently stand though, assuming the withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK is ratified in the next parliament, there will be a short transition period followed by a cliff edge. Festival planners have timetables stretching years in advance, and this makes it impossible for them to book UK orchestras for 2021 onwards as they have no idea on what basis trade will take place between the EU and the UK. Does this answer your question?

    • Emil says:

      In my understanding, sure, such tours happen. They’re also expensive, complex, and rare. Not exactly the perpetually on tour British ensembles, who spend a huge chunk of every season on the continent.
      British musicians will still perform in Europe. But less frequently, and at more cost. And most likely only when actual procedures are put in place – uncertainty here is much more harmful than the actual break (in itself a huge problem).

  • Are there EU entities that will benefit from the UK’s exclusion?

  • Jbarbirolli says:

    We can all wait breathlessly for new festivals to crop up with artists who support Brexit.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Hopefully this state of uncertainty is about to end provided Tories are elected with a clear majority. Although I believe it would have been better if UK stayed in the EU, an orderly exit from EU is the best outcome under the circumstances.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I believe the people will end up with a hung parliament and more uncertainty. This is the trend worldwide in western democracies. Even the Germans had to wait for a long time to see if Merkel was to remain Chancellor. Societies are more divided than ever and their politics reflect this fact.

      What is desperately needed is visionary, strong leadership.

    • V. Lind says:

      You think that is what is going to happen? He may have his talents, but one word I do not associate with the current Prime Minister is “orderly.”

    • J says:

      Except it is the Tories who created and have presided over this entire sorry mess from the very start.

    • Emil says:

      To call the Tories’ managing of Brexit “an orderly exit” has got to be a joke.

  • engineers_unite says:

    “absence of legal certainty”.
    I call total bollox on this rubbish.

    If they can invite the Kirov orchestra all over Europe, no questions asked, and literally 100s of others, this crap is just more media hype.

    We have enough of it from the Bollox Broadcasting Company.
    We don’t need more of it on here.

    • Nils Angmar says:

      Orchestras, theatre/ballet companies etc. are booked a long time in advance and the Kirov along with the „100s of others” can be invited, „no questions asked“, because travel/work/visa regulations are established and there are currently no indications that things will undergo significant changes in the foreseeable future. And that’s the sticking point with GB.
      No matter what ones opinion on Brexit is, it is an undeniable fact that there is currently very little clarity on how work permits/visas etc will be handled between GB and EU countries after Brexit.
      Would you risk potentially dealing with cancellations, financial losses, program and personnel changes by working with companies from countries with which future bureaucratic relations are presently at best obscure, if not totally unintelligible?

    • Akutagawa says:


      They don’t just invite the Kirov orchestra all over Europe, no questions asked, any more than they invite American orchestras, or even the Oslo Philharmonic from Norway, which is part of the EEA but not the EU. All of these invitations are regulated by complicated and legally enforceable contracts. Up to now, the UK has been part of the EU single market, so the legal and contractual status of a UK orchestra on tour in Germany has been exactly the same as that of a German orchestra in Germany, but now that the UK government has decided to pursue a form of Brexit that involves leaving the EU single market and the jurisdiction of the ECJ, the status of UK orchestras on tour will need to be agreed in the same way as it has been for Russian, US, or indeed Norwegian orchestras. I have no doubt that it will be in due course, but as long as no final deal has been agreed and a legal vacuum exists, it seems entirely prudent for European cultural institutions not to run the risk of doing business with UK orchestras.

      The same is incidentally true for European businesses in general. I’ve spent the past 20 years advising companies looking to invest in the UK, and the past 3 years helping them to pull out.

      Do you think international trade, which is what a UK orchestra tour to Germany basically is, somehow happens by magic?

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    This kind of blackmail won’t fly. And these kinds of threats are the very reason, inter alia, that the Brits have revolted.

    • Malcolm james says:

      I just hope that it is the artists who are being denied the opportunities that their parents’ generation got who will revolt.

    • Robert King says:

      Dear Sue: I work with EU managers, promoters and festivals every day, and have done for 35 years.

      There’s a fine explanation by Akutagawa above. There is no blackmail that I or my colleagues have seen or sensed. Quite the opposite. There remains huge support and indeed sympathy from European promoters, venues and festivals for British musicians.

      It is simply the uncertainty of – by the UK leaving the EU – whether there will be additional issues with work permits, visas, taxes, social charges, carnets, CITES and more besides. Any of these issues potentially will cost more money and resources to a European festival or presenter who might be thinking of employing a UK orchestra. Just as with UK arts organisations, EU festivals and venues are mostly already increasingly stretched financially and logistically. When booking an “act” they need certainty: financially, contractually and logistically. Without that, they are going to hesitate in booking a British ensemble. And that’s what they are doing.

      We should remind ourselves that UK orchestras touring into Europe bring vastly more money back into the UK economy than UK hands out to European orchestras coming into the UK. Exporting live British music is a significant gain to the UK economy. So any hiccough, any loss of bookings, any loss of confidence is going to knock-on through the UK music industry and into the wider economy (UK culture is estimated to employ around a quarter of a million people).

      To give you one small area of uncertainty: social charges. Let’s take France as an example. As you know, social charges are separate to income tax, a little like the UK’s NI contributions (but in practice usually quite different). Currently, as members of the EU, UK musicians gain exemption from paying these charges (which can be high in France) when working in France (or anywhere else in the EU for that matter) by virtue of presenting a document called an A-1. This A-1 certifies that the musician already pays social charges in the UK: the EU has agreed that members from other EU countries should not be double charged social charges when working in another EU country. When the UK leaves the EU, that A-1 system will stop for UK musicians: so we will have to pay social charges.

      “Tough”, you may say. “Pay them”. But then these are going either to have to be paid by the promoter (ergo, Brits become more expensive, thus uncompetitive, thus we don’t get the date), or the musicians will have to pay these out of their fees (so they lose money).

      “Tough again”, you may say. But it is worse: having jumped through every hoop, we believe that to work in France after Brexit, even for a single day (we are talking a day fee to a section violinist of c.£150), every single musician from that orchestra will now need to be separately employed in France, with social charges calculated and paid for each musician. That will take some hours of work for each person: and just for a fee of £150. If we try to pass that workload onto the presenter, they will refuse the massive amount of extra admin: so the orchestra will need to emply someone, in France, with skill and qualifications, to do it. For a one- or two-nighter, on already tight margins, that is not economic. So, we probably lose the date.

      And that is just one issue we now face. Multiply that by 27 countries, and multiply it by the half dozen issues that for starters were mentioned above.

      The Musicians’ Union continues to campaign, after a presumed Brexit, for a “musicians passport”. But realistically, will goverment ears (for whom culture is not exactly high on the economic or social agenda) hear anything?

  • Bone says:

    So before the EU no artists traveled? I find that hard to believe…

    • Robert King says:

      Indeed, classical musicians have travelled for more than 400 years. But nowadays there is a whole raft of extra regulatory and fiscal compliance that swings in if you don’t have the freedom of movement that comes with being a member of an EU country. For, whatever you may think about the EU as a whole, it certainly made it significantly easier for British musicians to perform and move around Europe.

      If only it were that touring an orchestra to an EU country will in the future simply be a matter of jumping on a plane, doing the job, getting paid, and coming home. But it won’t be. Once UK musicians lose the right to work and travel (with their instruments) without hindrance in most European countries, until something better, post-Brexit, replaces what has worked so well for musicians for these last decades, UK musos (not the rich, well-paid ones with managers and secretaries behind them, but the ill-paid, jobbing section violinists and chorus singers, the second clarinettists and fourth horns, the timpanists and ensemble singers) look as if they are going to be significantly disadvantaged.

    • Akutagawa says:

      At the risk of repeating myself (sorry for clogging up this thread, I won’t do it again), before the EEC/EC/EU artists travelled on the basis of the arrangements that were in place at the time. In the case of the UK, these arrangements were superseded first by the UK’s accession to the EU, and more significantly by the creation of the Single Market. The important thing to note is that when the UK leaves the EU, its trading relationship with the EU will not revert to the rules that pertained prior to 1973, as these rules no longer exist. Unless a new agreement is struck between the UK and the EU, the relationship will fall back on WTO rules, which do not cover services. In other words, the legal basis of the trade relationship in services will revert to nothing. That does not necessarily mean that UK orchestras will never be invited to perform in the EU. However it does mean that any such decision will be entirely at the discretion of the EU and can be withdrawn at any time, with no legal recourse for the UK side. Incidentally, the same goes for flights between the UK and the EU too.

      It’s the very opposite of taking back control.

      • Saxon Brpken says:

        Yep…Brexit is losing control and becoming an EU colony. We will end up having rules imposed on us by the EU without any input into what those rules are.

  • Michel says:

    Of course ! Brexit doesn’t just work on one side but on the two sides ! Far from becoming the new Empire 2.0, Great-Britain will be reduced to a little island on the fringe of the european fédération. How much time the british are prepared to endure this situation is unclear. But I would say that in ten years time they will ask to be readmited in the UE one more time !

    • Christopher Storey says:

      Michel : In 10 years time the European Union will be a distant memory. The pack of cards is about to topple… Spain, Italy, Portugal , Greece ….

  • Tinkerbelle says:

    Don’t worry, this is just the usual scaremongering. As soon as Brexit is over all will be forgotten, forgiven and it will be business as usual.

  • Alexander Hall says:

    Emotion trumps reason these days, so you have no chance of reaching people with reasoned arguments which address the cost-benefit aspects of leaving the EU. Nor do most voters seem to care that the nation’s affairs are being directed by a serial liar (and I will draw a veil over his other disreputable chracteristics): they simply don’t want to know, they wish to be rid of the mess they themselves created in the first place. And please don’t give me all those high-sounding words about democracy and trust. We now live in a post-truth era.

    • christopher storey says:

      Alexander Hall : I do hope that you ( and indeed NL ) are prepared for the writs which may follow your defamatory posting

    • Brettermeier says:

      “We now live in a post-truth era.”

      That’s fake news. 😀

      I wouldn’t call it post-truth. The truth is still there. It just doesn’t matter anymore.

      And this is why I hate people.

      This message was sent from the dark side of the moon. It’s nice here. Horrendous electricity bill, though.