Simon Rattle interview: Brexit will kill orchestra tours

Simon Rattle interview: Brexit will kill orchestra tours


norman lebrecht

January 31, 2020

The conductor has been talking to France 24:

‘The practical difficulties will be immense because there never was any planning for Brexit,’ he said. ‘Whenever we ask (government officials) what the situation will be with taking instruments from country to country, the answer is, ‘Sorry? we have no idea.’

‘We have three or four contingency plans for every tour now… Last Friday we played in Frankfurt, and we were in Paris on Saturday. If all the instruments have to be inspected… there is no way they would have got from one country to another.

He added that customs checks and form-filling ‘takes 15 hours on average, which means our touring life is completely different.’

Read on here.


On the other hand, some of us think orchestras should help save the planet and stop excessve touring. Orchestras, conductors and soloists need to see the bigger picture and reconfigure their activity.


  • I can understand that he’s upset by the Brexit. But I don’t believe that it will prevent the LSO or the London Philarmonic to go in France or Germany. Those orchestras are attractives.

  • PHF says:

    As he said, just a matter of planning. No big deal, maybe the transition from country to country will take an extra day, but that’s it. More paperwork? Yes. More time and less concerts? Yes. The country chose, so they have it. Stop whining, too late for that and move on.

    • JohnLaBouchardiere says:

      Good luck with that.

    • Simon Funnell says:

      Sorry but that totally misses the point. The margin on yours is tiny. Every day an orchestra plays without a concert means no income for that day. An extra day in a tour schedule might wipe out any “profit” from doing the tour. One day is all it takes to make a tour untenable.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Welcome to my (former) world in private business; government put every single obstacle imaginable in our way yet we managed – by sheer force of will – to survive. Not without huge amounts of hard work and determination.

        • Gordon says:

          Indeed! It was made hard and challenging for you; so if everyone else doesn’t suffer massive scheduling and financial inconveniences voted for by people who won’t be affected by such things, that’s just not good enough!

    • Denise Hoffenbrewer says:

      Spot on!

      Simon and these orchestras are simply dealing with the additional security necessitated by 9/11 and ongoing radical Muslim extremists attacks. That’s all.

      Every country has always had to uphold their own standards. Orchestras are of course glad of this as they are less likely to be exposed to undesirables who would threaten or harm them.

      Orchestras should also be eliminating their ‘carbon footprints’ as their air travel constantly contributes to global warming/climate change, etc.

      Jolly good!

    • Tamino says:

      Yes, move on. Rejoin the EU.
      The old people of England wanted out. No other demographics wanted in its majority to leave.
      Why do old people decide for next generations?
      That Referendum… A British idiocy of historic dimensions.
      Scotland will secede and rejoin the EU. Northern Ireland will join Ireland.

      • John Kelly says:

        “A British idiocy of historic dimensions”………..Amen

      • Allen says:

        In that case, perhaps young people should show how concerned they are by bothering to vote occasionally.

        In 2015 and 2017 for example, turnout among the youngest voters was between 40% and 50%. Unimpressive.

        • Tamino says:

          Totally agree. That’s the other side of the same medal. But mostly irrational ‘Make Britain great again’ nostalgia of the old and underprivileged English drove the referendum. The old were turned on (and voted), the young were turned off. Never was the saying “Nationalism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” more true than in that referendum.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Yes, that’s the trouble with democracy; the people we dislike get to vote. Why do we have to tolerate such oiks and deplorables? Why can’t they be as virtuous and enlightened as we are? Surely the next thing is an IQ test before voting and being the right racial ‘stock’.

        (Mmm; now, where have I heard that before?) There’s always eugenics, if the democratic result doesn’t suit you. We’re seeing withdrawal of ‘loser consent’ so this may be the next big thing.

        • Tamino says:

          Watch your words. If the wider public was to vote directly on particular cultural issues, you would not have any concert halls to go to, no opera houses, no publicly funded orchestras…

          • Sue Sonata Form says:

            But they don’t and never have, so your words are merely rhetoric. And I’m speculating that many of those who voted for Brexit are also music-lovers, despite their ridicule from the “oikophobes”.

          • Tamino says:

            The wider public might not have often voted directly on such issues as how to support the arts, correct. But some stupid politician thought it is a good idea to ask the public about a most complex issue of international collaboration and trade, custom and monetary unions. Now that is an issue the wider public is really competent about. “We want no stinking krauts or frog eaters to tell us what to do.”
            Pure political genius.

            There is not a single tangible advantage for the British population in Brexit. Or can you name one?

          • Tamino says:

            I knew you couldn’t name even a single tangible advantage of Brexit for the people. Tragic…

          • Brian viner says:

            I have met so many people that have never been inside a concert hall
            Or theatre. Their entertainment is eating out.

      • The View from America says:

        “Northern Ireland will join Ireland.”

        Don’t hold your breath.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Opinion polls suggest a narrow majority for joining the republic. England has, more-or-less, told Northern Ireland to “get lost” in order to secure Brexit as it has placed a customs border in the Irish Sea.

      • Ellingtonia says:

        Perhaps you would like to set up some “camps” for us oldies………..but wait, I seem to recall this being tried before when a group decided that those of a certain religious belief should be got rid of! I do not decide for the next generation, but as someone worked has worked for 53 years, paid my taxes, never used the NHS Hospital Service (other than working in it for seven years) and hardly ever been unemployed, I do think I have some say in the way this country is governed. So when you have grown up, matured a little then come back and put forward some of your other radical thinking!

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Yes, there are many people rushing into the showers or drinking the Cool Aid of anti-deplorable-ism. I expect these same ‘deplorables’ to redeem themselves later this year and turf out Donald Trump with both hands. But wait? My son had a conversation at a sporting match, in the corporate box, with the MD of a major international gas company (within the last 2 weeks) and he’s from the US: “the American economy is absolutely going gang-busters” he said.

          My son replied, “exactly the right time to be giving Trump the heave-ho”!!

      • Alan says:

        This is so dumb. Breathtakingly so.

    • Sarah says:

      Yes, exactly. Maybe play more at home than go flitting off all the time to Europe. Orchestras have been going far further afield for years anyhow with no trouble.

      • Brian viner says:

        As i wrote before i have never seen the great Philharmonia here in manchester
        It seems more important to tour the far east which has no european tradition
        Where classical music is concerned.

  • Nik says:

    “Last Friday we played in Frankfurt, and we were in Paris on Saturday. If all the instruments have to be inspected… there is no way they would have got from one country to another.”
    Not sure I understand. Germany and France are both in the Schengen zone. Why should there be an inspection between Frankfurt and Paris?

    • GCMP says:

      and surely the new customs arrangements wouldn’t take effect until December anyway. So there is time to sort it out.

    • Christopher Clift says:

      Probably because the British musicians are NOT going to be in either Schengen or EU.

      • Nik says:

        Some confusion here.
        Britain is not, and never has been, part of the Schengen zone.
        But the scenario described here by the Maestro concerns a trip from Frankfurt to Paris. Anyone making that trip can do so without border checks, regardless of nationality. This is not about to change.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Exactly. There is only one customs check, and that is between Britain and the EU. And that happening depends on what is agreed by the 31 Dec deadline.

          • Tamino says:

            No. That there are no border checks does not necessarily mean there is free flow of goods between Schengen countries for non-EU parties.

  • Gustavo says:

    “seeing the bigger picture”

    What has that got to do with BREXIT?

    • Tamino says:

      well, Brexit has all to do with NOT seeing the bigger picture. (and being proud of it)

    • Nigel says:

      Liberal whining about their current victim label “climate change”

      As if conductors and orchestras don’t collectively waste huge amounts of petrol and paper every year…ugh.

      Some people are arrogant enough to think that they can control the forces of nature in relation to planet earth without accepting the cycle of all forms of life.

      It’s a STAR folks; they ALL BURN OUT after awhile just like everybody is going to kick off.

      Just have a good time, BUY some music and go shag somebody!

  • Olassus says:

    The LSO should tour more inside the UK going to places like Londonderry, Hull, Aberystwyth, Dundee.

  • George says:

    On the bright side, they’ll be eating plenty of bangers and mash in the LSO cafeteria now that the UK is isolating itself from the rest of the world. Enjoy your time in Little Britain.

  • Player says:

    His job now is to make the best of things and be a leader – and stop catastrophising. Where will advantage come? What needs to change?Am I the right person for the task?

    • Esther Cavett says:

      ==The LSO should tour more inside the UK going to places like Londonderry, Hull, Aberystwyth, Dundee.

      That’s a good point !

    • Tamino says:

      Maybe he is mentally preparing for his personal breakaway from the depressing Motherland. He already lives in Germany.
      They had a good time together in Munich recently I heard.
      They will also build a new hall there. And sooner.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Catastrophism is the new religion of our post-Christian age. It seems people need a ‘belief’ in something and today this is it. I find it amusing and ironic!!

      • Tamino says:

        We remind you of your words about “catastrophism’, next time you freak out about refugees again. Ironic indeed.

  • Eduardo says:

    orchestra touring is BIG business…… start there and then realise if it is also useful to publics. Orchestras should serve their own people. This touring madness must stop.

    • Tamino says:

      “serve their own people.”
      This disease of tribalism is hard to defeat.
      Who are the music’s own people?
      Are there borders in music?
      Barenboim’s West-Eastern Diwan has thus no justification to exist, because it has no affiliation to one people? To the contrary. It is one of the most important orchestras on this planet, because…

  • david hilton says:

    And on the other other hand, some of us don’t think orchestras should help save the planet.

  • Sara says:

    Maestro Simon just told the truth. I can not imagine even 120+ orchestra with their respective instruments being checked in…just madness and a total lack of imagination…

  • brian says:

    Pretty ironic that this day and the 83rd birthday of the composer of so much brooding, melancholic, and strangely luminous music should coincide. Newcastle March from Satygagraha; 2nd mvt. of violin concerto; Prophecies from Koyaanisqatsi; Prelude to Akhnaten; much of the Dracula score…just a few examples.

  • IC225 says:

    Weird thing is, he knows this is just posturing. The LSO has a sizeable European tour programme lined up. They’ve obviously found a solution to these insuperable problems.

    And does anyone – anyone? – think it’s good for an orchestra to be playing in Berlin one night and Paris the next, either for the audiences or the players?

    • Saxon Broken says:

      There aren’t yet any serious problems because Britain has not yet left the EU regulatory environment. The British government has given itself until the end of the year to agree something. What is agreed may, or may not, cause serious problems for the LSO when it tours.

  • Dennis says:

    Orchestras tour non-EU countries all the time, and toured Europe before Britain was in the EC/EU, apparently all without excessive difficulty.

    All this overwrought whinging by sour-grapes “remainers” needs to end. Move on Simon (I’m currently playing “My Heart Bleeds for You” on the world’s smallest fiddle).

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    In short, things will be the same as they were before the EU.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    As horrible as it is to think that May might be the last time I hear Rattle and the LSO in New York, Rattle has a job to do. He couldn’t have not seen that something like this was possible, if he is a person of conscience, and I have to believe he is, then he has a responsibility to help shepherd the musicians of his home country, the musicians who trained him brought him to the height of fame, through their most trying period to the other side. The frustrations he feels is the same frustrations that all the musicians stuck in the UK or US feel every day. Rattle, whether he likes it or not, is their leader, they need his guidance, WE all over the world need his guidance. If he doesn’t set an example and stay in England when the going gets tough, his legacy will ultimately be little different from all those touring playboys like Maazel and Dutoit who thought so much less of what they could do for musicians and music than what music could do for them.

    • phf655 says:

      Great Performers at Lincoln Center for season 2020/21 was announced a few days ago. May 2020 won’t be the last time that you hear the LSO and Rattle in New York. I am a US citizen, and agree that Brexit is a colossal, foolish mistake. But European orchestras seem to manage touring to the USA, American orchestras regularly visit Europe, and both regularly visit China and Japan. None of this should change because of Brexit.

  • Rob says:

    The perfect time then for the UK government to invite the Tehran Symphony Orchestra to the UK for a tour. Music heals all, the great elixier.

  • Monsoon says:

    I’d think presenting organizations that host international ensembles, such as the Proms, are far more worried.

  • Dave says:

    The vote on Brexit was three years ago. Some people should have been anticipating that this would happen. If you need extra days between performances then that is what you must do to deal with red tape. It’s time to stop whining and put some thought into the new way orchestras will need to deal with this situation.

  • John G. Deacon says:

    Like there was no touring whatever before 1973 ? Please stop wasting our time with these inanities. Rattle should go away and play his piccolo.

  • Luca says:

    The best way to reduce one’s carbon footprint would be to stop eating, in view of all the food transported by lorry or plane. This reduction would mean Sir Simon could spend all his time travelling around Europe with his orchestra as there’d be no English audiences any more.

  • anon says:


    US and Asian musicians and orchestras have managed without being part of the EU – ever. Rattle comes across as a whiner. Move with the times, like it or not.

  • Mark London says:

    Rattle is an utter bore ! Whining about something that was sure to happen after a vote 3 half years ago ! Of course he was one of those who thought it would be overturned ! Stick to your responsibility and try improve your interpretations of British music. Which has a lot to be desired !

  • Anonymous says:

    Is Rattle the voice of the LSO these days?

  • Nick2 says:

    I am in total agreement with those who have stated that the yeahs for Brexit were largely the older generation. And who benefits least from
    Brexit? The older generation! Those whom Brexit will really affect should have had a weighted vote.

    Democracy does not exist in Britain or the USA. One man one vote means nothing when there is an outdated constituency system and an electoral college.

    It’s time both systems are changed and brought into the 21st century, despite the inevitable rearguard actions of those who benefit from the present systems.