At Last Night of the Proms, Conductor Pleads from Podium Against Airplane Carry-On Restrictions

Classic Arts News   At Last Night of the Proms, Conductor Pleads from Podium Against Airplane Carry-On Restrictions
 
"I think we would all agree that the time has come to put an end to this unfairness. Otherwise it seems to me that next year we should all look forward to Concerto for Laptop and Orchestra."

That's what conductor Mark Elder said from the podium on Saturday night (September 9) to a crowd of 6,000 at London's Royal Albert Hall and an audience of several million on BBC television and radio, enjoying the Last Night of the Proms.

Elder, the principal conductor of the Hall_ Orchestra in Manchester, was guest-conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra for the final program of the BBC Prom Concerts. His televised plea echoed those of dozens of musicians who have been complaining, cajoling and begging the UK government to revisit the severe restrictions placed on air passengers' carry-on baggage last month following the discovery in London of an alleged plot to blow up airliners over the Atlantic.

Ever since the August security alert, the UK government has strictly limited each passenger to one piece of hand luggage no larger than a laptop computer case. Passengers flying into the UK aren't subject to the restrictions, though they must comply with them when they leave the country.

Even in the best of times, professional musicians generally insist on keeping their (very expensive) instruments with them as carry-on luggage; cellists and bassists routinely pay for an extra passenger seat in order to keep their instruments by their sides.

The New York-based Orchestra of St. Luke's cancelled its appearances at the Edinburgh Festival and the BBC Proms rather than risk damage to its instruments in a commercial airliner's cargo hold. The musicians of Moscow's Bolshoi Theater, who are contractually obligated to keep their instruments (loaned to them from a state collection) in their presence at all times, were briefly stranded in London following a run at the Royal Opera House. (They ultimately took the Eurostar train to Paris and flew home from there.) The orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, which was in the capital at roughly the same time, reportedly got a last-minute exemption to the rules, though they were departing on a specially chartered plane.

A group of prominent musicians led by conductor Colin Davis and cellists Julian Lloyd Webber and Ralph Kirshbaum published a letter in The Times of London on September 8 arguing that the restrictions threaten Great Britain's status as a musical center: "It is now effectively impossible for musicians to travel by air, since there is no way that priceless 18th-century violins or cellos, for example, can ever travel without unacceptable risk in the hold of an aircraft."

Keith Ames, a spokesperson for the UK Musicians' Union, was quoted by The Times and The Scotsman as saying that the new rules are having a "devastating impact" on its members and that "Nobody expects a slackening in security but the fact that musical instruments — that are made of wood and can be scanned — have to go into the hold means that musicians will just not fly."

According to several London newspapers, UK Secretary of State for Transport Douglas Alexander told the satellite television network Sky News that the emergency regulations are being discussed with the airlines and the British Airports Authority.

Many well-known soloists are taking extraordinary detours in their travels in order to keep their instruments safely by their sides — and making sure the press and the government know about the inconvenience.

The Guardian reported that Kirshbaum spent more than 24 hours traveling to northern Italy by train on a journey that would normally take three to four hours. Another cellist, Steven Isserlis, told the paper and The Independent that, to go from an engagement in Cologne one night next month to one in Connecticut the next, he might have to fly from Germany to Montreal and then travel to New York by rail. "There's no threat from terrorists," he remarked, "Everyone notices a cello and the last thing a terrorist wants to be is conspicuous."

The father of the rising young Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti told The Scotsman that the family had driven her Guarneri violin from London to Belfast last weekend — and that they would have to cancel her upcoming concerts in Asia and the US if the restrictions weren't eased.

Lloyd Webber, whose own cello is a Stradivari made in 1690, said to The Independent, "It's a disastrous situation really. The trouble is it's treated as slightly jokey, but it isn't a joke, it's people's livelihoods. I don't think it has anything to do with security. Even after 9/11 nobody thought of this."


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