‘Shame on our government for stopping Britons competing’ says top choral conductor

Simon Halsey has lambasted the UK government for wrecking music careers in a new, post-Brexit report

Simon Halsey is Choral Director of the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and Artistic Director of the Orfeó Català Choirs in Barcelona and the Berliner Philharmoniker Youth Choral Programme. His comments are among many case studies in a report commissioned by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) and the Musicians Union (MU), entitled ‘Professionally Paralysed’, containing testimonies from musicians on the immediate impact of Brexit.

Halsey describes the Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) negotiated by the UK and EU governments as ‘The senseless narrowing of opportunity for everyone.’

Robert King of the King’s Consort orchestra and choir breaks down the figures, showing the new visas, carnets and musical instrument deposits amount to an additional £31,500 to tour four countries, and explains that taking the orchestra to the EU on tour is now unviable unless the King’s Consort employs EU musicians and rehearses on the continent.

‘So our wonderful UK performers, some of whom have performed with us for 25 years, would lose their work,’ he says. ‘And not just them – the ripples spread: our London rehearsal venue would lose its daily fee. The local takeaways and restaurants we would frequent while we rehearse in London would lose their income. We wouldn’t need to buy flights from British airlines, so they and the specialist travel agents that orchestras must use when making complicated bookings for cellos and timpani would lose all their income.’

Violinist Catherine Manson, who founded the London Haydn Quartet and is leader of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, sums it up, ‘Essentially, I am professionally paralysed by Brexit and have no idea how I can continue my career. I need some resolution to this problem.’

These are but a few of the testimonies supplied to the MU and ISM since the beginning of the year and form the core of the report, which, despite welcoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s promise to take action, is clearly designed to keep up the pressure.

‘Real people being robbed of their livelihoods’

As Horace Trubridge, General Secretary of the MU, said, ‘The mounting problems that musicians face in trying to perform in EU member states is vividly conveyed in these candid testimonials. This situation shouldn’t be about political posturing. This should be about real people being robbed of their livelihoods at a time when they have suffered huge financial loss due to the pandemic. These are UK taxpayers who create the culture that the UK is famous for and they deserve better from this government. The PM must deliver on his promise to sort this catastrophe out so that musicians can resume their careers.’

ISM Chief Executive Deborah Annetts agrees, ‘These heart-breaking stories put a human face on the many musicians that are prevented from touring in Europe by a mountain of red tape and huge new costs. With the music sector now looking beyond coronavirus, we urgently need the Prime Minister to deliver on his recent promise to sort this mess out. The cultural barriers created by the pandemic must not be replaced by new obstacles at our borders, so the Government must negotiate a bespoke visa waiver agreement with the EU and bilateral deals on work permits with key EU Member States.’

In the report they call for the Government to make good of the Prime Minister’s promise and go back to the negotiating table to agree a bespoke visa waiver agreement, separate from the TCA. So far, the government has refused, but the ISM and MU are willing to continue working with Whitehall to make it happen.

Read the report here: https://www.ism.org/images/files/Professionally-paralysed-report.pdf

Header photo: Simon Halsey © Matthias Heyde