Traveling musicians stymied by airport securityby Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio
For the past six weeks travellers coming to and from England have been forced to keep their carry-on baggage to a minimum. An inconvenience for some has been a major problem for others, including musicians wanting to travel with their instruments. After a public outcry, those rules are set to change.
St. Paul, Minn. — Violinist Viktoria Mullova was the featured soloist performing with the Minnesota Orchestra this past weekend. But against her wishes, she did not perform on her own instrument.
When Mullova attempted to persuade London airport authorities to let her carry her Stradivarius on board the flight to Minneapolis, they refused. She was obliged to hand the violin over to her agent, who took it home. Mullova says at least the luggage checker sympathized.
"He saw the Strad and he was so moved. He said, 'But it's so tiny, what's the problem, can you take it without the case?' I said no, it's too dangerous," Mullova recalls. "It's ridiculous; the violin is so fragile, it's hollow inside, it's a piece of wood, it's a precious irreplaceable instrument that's 300 years old."
Mullova's Stradivarius is insured for approximately $3 million. It's been her constant performance companion for more than two decades. Fortunately, Mullova was able to borrow another violin in Minneapolis, with a similar sound.
"But on the other hand, it's not my instrument. It's like you receive a part of your body, like someone else's hand or arm -- it's not yours," says Mullova. "And when you're on stage you're a little bit nervous. You feel that you're not sure, you're kind of walking on thin ice."
The week before, Mullova played her own instrument to rave reviews in London at the Sir Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, affectionately known as the Proms. The annual summer music festival draws in orchestras and musicians from around the world.
But this year's festival was thrown awry when the new airport restrictions took affect in mid-August. One orchestra had to cancel. Others scrambled to make alternate arrangements.
The Minnesota Orchestra made it to the Proms unscathed by putting all its instruments together in especially designed crates, which offer both extra protection and climate control.
The upheaval was enough to inspire Proms guest conductor Mark Elder to make a plea from the platform on the last night of the festival. Elder said he knew efforts were being made.
"But I think we would all agree," said Elder, "that the time has come really 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!"
The British Transport Department has announced the rules have been changed once again, making allowances for musical instruments. But not before disrupting the travel plans of London-based American Ralph Kirshbaum.
What should have been a three hour plane ride with his cello to Verona, Italy became a 24 hour train trip through the chunnel, via Paris, across the alps into Milan where he changed trains for Verona. Kirshbaum has just returned to London after taking the reverse arduous voyage; he says what frustrated him most was knowing his trip did not make anyone safer. Instead, the limitations were about expediency.
"It wasn't a security issue," says Kirshbaum. "It was an issue of the workload for the people had to go man the machines, to enable them to carry out more thorough searches. It isn't that a cello or a cello case or another instrument case is some heightened security risk."
Kirshbaum and other musicians were inconvenienced, but he's more concerned about the broader implications. He says it is sad that a terror threat in England managed to stifle something dearly needed; cultural ambassadors sharing great music around the world.