I have been pondering the plight of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, arrested at London Gatwick Airport. Three of its non-EU players lacked the right visas and were sent back to Holland. ‘I had to leave them in detention in order to be … in time for the concert,’ said conductor and ensemble founder Ton Koopman.
But did he? There were other options. The entire orchestra and its conductor could have refused to leave without their colleagues. The could have given a protest concert. They could have tweeted their distress, as Sarah Chang did in Moscow, and secured a swift release. Leaving three colleagues behind in order to fulfil a festival date seems to us the lamest of all available options.
Bureaucracy hates disorder. It functions on the principle that most citizens will take the line of least resistance. In those circumstances, conductors are expected to show leadership.
A refugee friend of mine, newly admitted to the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, was arrested in Austria because his papers were said to be inadequate. When Neville Marriner heard that one of his violinists had been taken off the train, he contacted the tour management and the Musikvereinsaal in Vienna and announced that not a note would be played until all of his musicians, without exception, were sitting on stage.
My friend was released within the hour and the concert went ahead.
UPDATE: A report from the orchestra’s manager.