LONDON (AFP) – A group of top classical musicians has warned of the threat to artistic life from a hand baggage ban introduced after British police foiled an alleged bomb plot against transatlantic airliners.
The issue even struck a false note at the world-renowned Last Night of the Proms concert on Saturday, with one conductor joking that next year audiences may have to put up with “Concerto for Laptop and Orchestra”.
“I think it’s greatly to be regretted,” said Mark Elder, a guest conductor for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, at the Royal Albert Hall. “The time has come really to put an end to this unfairness.”
Many performers refuse to let their instruments, often centuries old and extremely valuable, out of their sight when they travel on planes in case they are damaged in the hold.
But now they are falling foul of strict rules introduced in August amid fears that apparently innocuous materials could be used to build and detonate bombs on flights to and from the United States.
It is not only high art which is suffering — a spokesman for Scotland’s oldest bagpipe teaching college said tourism could be hit as the regulations deter pipers from the United States and Canada from coming to competitions.
In a letter to The Times newspaper on Friday, seven artists including the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis, and cellists Julian Lloyd Webber and Ralph Kirshbaum, warned that terrorists must not be allowed to threaten Britain’s place in the artistic world.
“This enviable position is now under serious threat from draconian new rules that forbid any article exceeding the specified dimensions for hand luggage to be carried on planes,” the letter said.
“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.”
Kirshbaum, an American, later told the BBC: “When you have an instrument, as I do, that was made in 1729, worth over three million pounds (5.6 million dollars, 4.4 million euros), you have a responsibility obviously for that but it’s also our voice.
“And without that voice, we can’t create our artistic world for those who we perform for.”
Passengers travelling from Britain are only allowed to carry on a laptop-sized bag. However, Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander said Sunday that the restrictions may soon be eased.
He has been working with British airports and airlines on the possibility of relaxing hand baggage size rules and the restrictions on taking certain liquids on board, he told Sky News television.
Further meetings are expected this week to determine whether any changes can be made.
The Musicians’ Union is planning to lobby parliament over the airline security measures, calling for a dispensation on all flights to let musicians carry instruments into the cabin.
Spokesman Keith Ames said Sunday: “It is a risk putting instruments in the hold because they could get damaged — no insurance company will cover it.
“Nobody expects a slackening in security but the fact that musical instruments… have to go into the hold means that musicians will just not fly.”
Some of the best known companies and events in the arts world, including the BBC Proms, an annual two-month season of classical concerts in London, have been affected.
The Orchestra of St Luke’s, from New York, pulled out of a concert shortly after the alleged plot was discovered, while soloists including Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov ditched the plane for the train to get there.
Russia’s Bolshoi Theatre, which was performing in London when the restrictions came in, pledged to use the London-Paris Eurostar service because they refused to check in their instruments on an airplane.
And Willie Park, a piper at the College of Piping in Glasgow, said he knew of Russian and Japanese pipers who had posted their instruments home rather than putting them in an aeroplane hold.
“We’ve got pipers coming from all over the world to compete in championships and this puts people off,” he said.
“Bagpipes are sensitive to temperature variation in the hold because if the wood shrinks it can split, apart from the rough handling they might get.”
Stringent baggage restrictions have come in across the European Union and in the United States, Australia, Canada, Ghana, Kenya and Switzerland in the wake of the alleged plot.
Seventeen people have been charged with terrorism-related offences and 11 with conspiring to murder and preparing acts of terrorism following police raids in Britain on August 10.
by Katherine Haddon