US denies visa because ‘there are too many string quartets in the US already’

US denies visa because ‘there are too many string quartets in the US already’


norman lebrecht

January 24, 2020

We are told that the Vertavo Quartet from Norway were refused a US visa for a tour which shoud have started this week.

The reason they were given by a US official in Oslo was that ‘there are too many string quartets in the US already’.

UPDATE: The administrator of the Vertavo Quartet has been in touch to confirm that they were, indeed, refused visas for the US tour. She does not know the reason for the refusal and cannot confirm that part of our information.


  • pageturner says:

    Uh-oh….. Not good. How many is too many? Just as all Americans have the right to bear arms, surely all musicians should have the right to perform. And it’s not as if the Vertavos are novices in this game.

    • LewesBird says:

      Surely you meant “all *American* musicians should have the right to perform…”; after all, the reciprocal of what you claimed isn’t valid — the Vertavos quartet doesn’t have the right to bear arms.

      • Ed in Texas says:

        What do you mean they have no right to bear arms? They play with bare arms, at least some of the time. Check them out on Google Images, if you doubt me.

    • Bruce says:

      “How many is too many?”


  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    Yet Trump declared: “Why can’t we have more immigrants from Norway instead of from sh….countries!” I suppose he didn’t mean Norwegian string quartets. One of his henchman said: “If we’re not careful, we’ll have a taco truck on every street corner.” Now they seem to be saying: “If we’re not careful, we’ll have a string quartet on every street corner!”

    • Resistor says:

      I was thinking the same thing: it makes no sense that they were denied. The shitstain said immigrants are acceptable if they’re white, like Melania’s family.

      • Amos says:

        Yes, the selective stain of “chain migration” should apply to string quartets. If any of Melania’s Slovenian ancestors played a string instrument they are welcome in America with open arms but no professional players lacking a link to her or herr Miller. The quartet should take their request to the ultimate arbiter comrade putin.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Feel the hate.

    • Jofongo says:

      Maybe with this logic, string quartets from S@#t countries would be allowed? I’m sure we can find a great Haitian quartet to take Vertavo’s place

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I like to think the Oslo official had a direct phone line to Trump, but I don’t think so. Seems like bureaucracy gone mad!! Never seen THAT before Trump became President, that’s for sure. Or the job creation, gang-busters economy, increasing employment and surging stock market. Nobody wants THOSE, especially when you have have ideology instead.

      • Amos says:

        The job creation numbers today are the same as under President Obama and they were achieved without the racism, xenophobia and separation of children from their parents. The stock market rise is thanks to the trillion-dollar tax giveaway to himself and corporate America which used the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ to buy back stock. Then again one of your heroes purportedly made the trains run on time so it wasn’t all bad. Wish as you will the 30’s are thankfully dead!

      • NYMike says:

        You love Trump so much so move here!

    • Daniel Segalman says:

      I really would appreciate more taco trucks here in Michigan.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Killjoys! I can think few things nicer than a taco truck AND a Norwegian string quartet on every street corner.

      • Dr. Shirley Rombough says:

        I couldn’t agree more. Who has the right to say how many string quartets or taco trucks is too many? Especially when both were designed to give pleasure? What authoritarian designed this creepy policy anyway?

    • Nick says:

      Greenberg: the Norwegian quartet are NOT immigrants!! Your comment shows only bias and is pointless!

      • Ruben Greenberg says:

        It’s harder for immigrants to enter the country, but also harder for students, interns, artists…

        • Amos says:

          Thanks to trump’s immigration policy the fastest growing high tech city in North America is now Toronto! The loss of foreign students, paying full tuition, is also causing financial hardship at numerous colleges and universities. Once again the stable genius has found a way to squander what he inherited.

    • Ruben Greenberg says:

      I’m sure Trump doesn’t even know how many people there are in a string quartet!

    • Kieran says:

      Not to mention, they were clearly not even attempting to immigrate, but simply tour, a quite temporary employment arrangement. It’s not as if American musicians don’t tour other countries, or that their employment opportunities are limited to concerts inside the US. This just betrays a fundamental ignorance of what the market for musical performances has traditionally been all over the world.

  • Will Duffay says:

    It does raise a valid point, though: the US and Europe have lots of orchestras and chamber groups, as well as huge numbers of excellent singers across the whole range of music. Apart from a small number of stars and specialists, is there much need for all this touring?

    • Amos says:

      Yes, we should limit cultural exchanges of any kind unless a “star” is involved! Once again the trump effect at work infecting common human decency.

      • Julien Benichou says:

        What Amos said!

      • Kolb Slaw says:

        Well, yes. Our musicians are as good or better than any others, and deserve full employment. We do not benefit in any particular way from foreign ensembles. In fact, we need to focus on our own musicians, and demand more from them in terms of style.

        • Tamino says:

          There is no such thing as ‘your’ musicians. That’s a crazy mental construct. Nationalism has taken over your mind like a brain disease. Music is far above national borders. It’s part of the human condition.
          Sure you can close the borders, but that’s the opposite of a ‘land of the free’ because that goes both ways.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        There’s nothing more ‘decent’ than providing your countrymen and women with jobs. It’s the economy, stupid. Who cares what the personality of the job-creator is – unless he recruits people into soul-destroying conformity through institutionalized, international group-think, eco-evangelism and Old Testament fire and brimstone. All that’s missing here is the uniforms.

        • Amos says:

          Brilliant that thinking worked well for your ilk in Germany, Austria, Italy and Japan during your golden-age. Turn off the lights, get your uniform out of mothballs and march around the room to the sounds of Meistersinger.

    • Thies Roorda says:

      Probably yes: it is clear that your country is desperate for some fresh cultural input, given the foul miasma that reaches our territories ever since you elected Trump for president.

    • Jack says:

      Said like a true MBA

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Maybe you are right, but there is Another aspect: the repertoire. If the Vertavo Quartet would play works by Norwegians or Scandinavian composers then the American public is being denoed something that American quartets are not doing.

      Needless to say what I Think of that “US official”.

    • Tamino says:

      That‘s like saying: „there are too many people on this planet already, is there still a need for having sex?“

    • Daniel Segalman says:

      There is apparently sufficient demand. Otherwise Norwegian performers would have no reason to come.

    • Chris says:

      Yeah, let’s have only one string quartet per country. They can play the same sheet music over and over.

    • Nick says:

      WIll, variety of artistic offers never hurts the public, but it can be a problem for an over saturated classical music market. USA has indeed an incredible number of first rate quartets, which means that hey have to perform to make a living. Still, there should be a place to all professionals who seek expansion of their concert geography. Europe also refuses a number of American artists but with other means, less visible.

  • PHF says:

    It’s part of his policy on Making America [Quartets] Great Again!

  • Calvin says:


    • David K. Nelson says:

      My hunch as well. The likelihood of a US official in a position to deny or delay visas even knowing what a string quartet is, is rather remote. The likelihood of that same official knowing how many string quartets are already here, and whether that supply exceeds demands or not – extremely remote.

      I know of a music festival here in Wisconsin that had to scramble for a substitute one year when their concertmaster couldn’t get his visa on time. The head of the festival admitted that they needed to do a better of job of grasping how early in the process they needed to ride herd on their European artists about this matter of visas. But I am confident that the problem wasn’t some functionary in the government worried about an over-supply of European concertmasters.

  • David Rowe says:

    Woah…this is an alarming headline which, if true, would have an extremely chilling effect in the music business. Norman, I hope you will follow this lead diligently and urgently to either verify, or further explain, what happened here. While it’s easy to take political pot-shots towards the Trump administration’s immigration policies, let’s not unnecessarily raise tensions and concerns unless the facts truly dictate. If some party on the USA side of things actually denied the visa for the alleged reason (either USCIS rejecting the petition, or – as it sounds from the scant details provided – some officer at the US Embassy in Oslo declining to issue a visa despite the petition having been approved), then all of us involved in touring musicians can legitimately panic!
    However, I suspect the story is not quite that simple, and request – on behalf of every musician, agent, presenter, and ticket-buyer – that you please investigate and publish a follow-up promptly with as much detail as possible. At a minimum, this is the sort of story which should not rest on unsubstantiated rumor – starting with the disclosure of precisely who the source is? Hopefully it is someone directly connected with the quartet or the tour organization, but whoever it is they should immediately provide solid documentation that the visa was actually rejected, and if so on what grounds.
    I look forward to Slipped Disc’s further reporting!

  • Doug says:

    In the process of obtaining an H1A visa, the case for “artistic excellence” is not made to Department of Homeland Security, it’s made by the the American Federation of Musicians that signs off on the H1A application attesting to a high artistic level. So the (hearsay) rationale offered here is highly unlikely.

    Here is one possible explanation that is–believe it or not–quite common: one of the members of the quartet was charged at one point in their life with a crime committed in the United States. Sad, but often true.

    • STJ says:

      I’m not sure this is quite accurate. First, I think it’s likely the quartet would have applied for O1B petitions – aliens of extraordinary ability. It is true that visa petitions on the basis of “alien of extraordinary ability” are required to include a consultation letter from a “peer organization” (in this case, the AFofM), which essentially issues a letter in support of the application. However, they are also required to include a large amount of supporting documentation to attest to the artist’s ability/reputation/status. This information is submitted to AFofM, but also to USCIS. I know of cases where an application has received the support of the “peer organization”, but has subsequently received a request for evidence or a denial from USCIS. So the decision itself is not made by AFofM – although their support undoubtedly adds weight to the application (in fact, I don’t think you can submit the O1 application without such documentation).

    • Kolb Slaw says:

      How do you know that AFM is involved? Why don’t they stop the hiring of foreign professors/lecturers in music then?

    • Monsoon says:

      Having prepared these visas for a performing arts organizations, that’s not quite right.

      The “artistic excellence” requirement is really about demonstrating to the government that the performers are doing something unique that is not found in the U.S. — meaning, you’re not bringing in people who will take jobs away from Americans.

      The union only provides a consultation opinion. If they object it is hardly fatal.

      I agree that the stated reason is probably not true and something else is up. But we may never know the reason. I did this during the Obama administration and had applications held up for and never received a reason.

  • MacroV says:

    Just to clarify a little: They would probably need a P visa (P-1) visa as performers. You get that by petitioning DHS, who will issue a I-797 form. When it comes to the Embassy for issuance, the consular officer is not in a position to re-adjudicate the petition, and refuse the visa application; it can only be refused if the applicants are somehow otherwise deemed ineligible (e.g. criminal record or such). It’s highly unlikely that any consular officer at Embassy Oslo would have the authority to deny the visa and much less likely still that he/she would give “too many quartets” as a refusal.

    • Ainslie says:

      No, it’s an O-1B visa.

      • MacroV says:

        An O-1 is usually for an alien of extraordinary merit, more likely a major soloist, actor, etc.. Orchestras and, I would imagine, chamber groups, would more likely be Ps. But if you have experience and know this for a fact, no argument.

    • John says:

      That is incorrect information.

    • Hi. Actually, a U.S. Consulate has the authority to refuse to issue a visa for ANY reason, regardless of whether or not a petition has been approved by USCIS. While this does not often happen, we have seen it happening with greater frequency in the case of very young, recently graduated artists.

  • Alviano says:

    At the risk of seeming too pessimistic I want to suggest that the US is heading towards closing the borders to all. That means no foreigners coming in and no Americans going out. The world no longer acts as American wishes, so America will cut itself off.

    I do not suggest that this will happen in 2020, but perhaps by the end of Trump’s second term.

    • Stuart says:

      not too pessimistic, just unfounded speculation without merit…

    • Robert Roy says:

      Sad but true.

    • Kolb Slaw says:

      Conditions are miserable for American musicians, while Europeans can get all kinds of government support. It’s completely unequal. We do have to support our own people first!

    • Amos says:

      Please don’t conflate the racism and xenophobia of trump/miller with America or Americans. We are currently experiencing one of our periodic episodes of fear of the future which has been articulated by the historian Jon Meacham in his book “The Soul Of America: The Battle For Our Better Angels”. As in the past, the majority of Americans will overcome the obscenity that is trump.

    • Dave T says:

      “That means no foreigners coming in and no Americans going out.”
      Sheezh… ridiculous stuff like this give Trump-hating a bad name. Consider reconsidering.

    • Dr. Shirley Rombough says:

      If indeed he gets a second term, problematic now.

      • Amos says:

        Unfortunately not problematic enough, at least judging by the willingness of Republican Senators to suspend their ability to determine that 2 + 2 still =4.

  • Sol Siegel says:

    Perhaps the official in Oslo could be transferred to Moscow, where he (she?) might get along well with their new Culture Minister.

  • PaulD says:

    Well, this will contribute to lowering Norway’s CO2 emissions.

  • String fan says:

    Just another day in Trump’s Amerikkka.

  • Simon says:

    This is fake classical music news. They either screwed up their application or arrived late or something for their interviews. And in any case, the tens of tickets that were sold for their performances can be refunded.

  • Greg says:

    First of all, I’d like to know who this ‘US Official’ is. Does he or she actually have the authority to arbitrarily deny musicians entry into the States? There is a lot more to this story that I would like to know.

  • SDG says:

    I seem to remember that some years ago London was denied 2 concerts of Brahms symphonies with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Carlo Maria Giulini because of a policy of limiting the number of appearances by foreign orchestras.

  • Anna says:

    I was denied a visa last summer to play at a music festival where I performed the previous year. I guess enough is enough.

  • Kolb Slaw says:

    Well, it’s certainly true, we have way too many, and there is too much unemployment for American musicians. If we could work abroad as much as they work here, it might be more equitable.

  • Brian Goldstein says:

    While I do not doubt that their visa was refused for some completely inane reason, it was more likely refused on some technical basis such the wrong visa category, or a mistake on the visa application, or just a poorly trained consulate officer. Sadly, U.S. Consulates have the unfettered discretion to deny visas for almost any reason without recourse or review.

  • Mr. Knowitall says:

    The real reason is that the Trump administration blames all of Scandinavia for refusing to sell Greenland to the United States.

  • david wilson-johnson. says:

    might have something to do with DRumf wanting to buy Norway? they are a splendid quartet…..but I am sure they will prosper without US dollars…..

  • Tamino says:

    The reason is they had „The death and the Maiden“ on the program, and a smart person in Homeland Security, one of those who makes that country great (again!), found that suspicious and denied entry. Give that person a medal and a free baseball cap.

  • Bruce says:

    Highly implausible that any American official with visa-approval power (besides our own MacroV) would have any idea what a string quartet is or does, let alone how common they are in the US. And if any of them did, they would never deny a quartet’s visa application on those grounds.

  • fflambeau says:

    Probably too many women (snark).

    Plus, they look like they’re having fun and that’s bad if you are a fundamentalist.

  • It is sad to see the State Department making a decision which so suppresses cultural exchange affecting a high profile arts group such as a string quartet as fine as this one. The United States’ international policy now seems to be extremely convoluted.
    Classical music emulates peace, not war. Come on, Washington, grow up.

  • Michael Bryant says:

    Norway is on the US Visa Waiver list (90 days). Their CDs of quartets by Les Vendredis, Bartók, Brahms, Beethoven, Debussy, Grieg, Nielsen, and Schumann are available in the US.

  • Anon says:

    I have a cellist friend who was invited to play with some local American orchestra a couple years back. Her visa was denied because she was ‘not famous enough’.

  • Brian says:

    If it is indeed true, then I would suggest ALL of Europe respond in kind – seriously there isn’t a classical instrument under-represented across the entire continent.

  • EricB says:

    When the civilized world will apply the same recepie, maybe the US will come back to their senses….