Visa bill stops top orchestra's US tour
The Manchester-based Hallé had been due to visit the US next year for two concerts, including one at the Lincoln centre in New York, the country's principal classical music venue. But managers said yesterday they had cancelled the tour when they realised that the cost of arranging the visas, estimated at £45,000, would render the trip uneconomic.
Other agents said rock musicians, also fed up with the process and expense, were refusing to visit the US to work. Katie Ray, of Traffic Control Group Ltd, which secures visas and work permits mainly for rock bands, said some artists were now choosing not to tour in the US.
John Summers, the Hallé's chief executive, said each orchestra member would have been required to go to London after phoning to arrange an interview at the US embassy. "We think this would have taken two days out of [our] schedule. The US visa service ... will not use consulates outside London. This palaver of getting visas is mind-blowing."
The cancellation of the tour is a bitter blow for Mark Elder (photo above), who has raised the Hallé to new heights since he became music director in 2000. "It seems a crying shame that the chance for this wonderful British orchestra to appear on the US east coast should be in part blighted by a too fanatical approach at the embassy."
New visa procedures have been introduced to protect the US against terrorists. Most visitors with machine-readable passports can still use the visa waiver scheme, but performers intending to work in the US cannot do this. They have to arrange an appointment at the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, via a phone line charged at £1.30 a minute, and then appear for an interview and fingerprinting. The fee is $100.
"It's not a level playing field," said Russell Jones, director of the Association of British Orchestras. "Journalists and sports people do not have to go through these hoops." He said officials were following orders from the US department of homeland security, but it meant that "that wonderful cross-pollination of orchestras coming from and going to the US is going to decline if it's too much trouble".
From today's Guardian
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