Sophia Rahman and Catherine Martin on the plight of musicians

The UK government must act now to put arrangements in place to enable musicians and other performing artists and their support teams to travel within the EU without crippling costs and excessive paperwork. Pianist Sophia Rahman, with violinist Catherine Martin, explains what this means in practical terms.

‘A glance through my own accounts for the year ending April 2020 shows that well over two-thirds of my income was either earned within the EU (Austria, Estonia, etc.) or within the UK but with one or more collaborators from the EU. As well as producing foreign earnings, UK musicians touring abroad are a showcase for our country’s rich cultural heritage. When foreign musicians come to the UK to collaborate with us, they are not ‘taking work away’ from British musicians but generating an exchange of ideas which stimulates both sides and offers a chance for unique work to be created. Artistic standards are driven up by such interaction as each party benefits from the opportunity to learn from and inspire the other. The government apparently refused to agree a visa-waiver scheme offered by the EU as it was regarded as opening the door to free movement. Touring is emphatically NOT an immigration issue, as we all wish to return to our home bases after creative interaction; it is an issue of healing and well-being and has huge cultural and economic value.

Because of Covid travel restrictions I have given only two live performances within the EU since March 2020. I am extremely concerned that when these restrictions are eventually lifted the practical difficulties (red tape and associated costs) of touring post-Brexit will spell the permanent loss of a significant part of my income. The performing arts are now struggling with the absence of workable post-Brexit arrangements. When, as directed by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, I go on and ask a Brexit-related work question I get a Covid answer. Despite considerable media attention, there is still no sign of any government initiative to solve the potentially much longer-lasting problems that the absence of a visa waiver agreement creates for artists and their touring support network.

As things stand the (non)deal for artists would render my formerly viable performing career unsustainable. The same goes for many other musicians. As the violinist Catherine Martin explains:

“I’ve been doing some maths with regard to what I earned, and where, in the year March 2019 to March 2020. I spent just over a third of my time (37%) rehearsing in the EU for concerts abroad. This includes my teaching abroad and reflects the work that I did for groups based in the EU. I spent just over a third of my time (35%) rehearsing in the UK for concerts in the UK. This includes my teaching in the UK. I spent the rest of the time (28%) doing concerts in the EU but rehearsing in the UK. So, this is the time I spend with UK groups who perform abroad. If I were to lose my work in the EU I’d probably lose half of my income. I am established and successful. I shudder to think how anyone is going to be able to earn a decent income who is just starting out.”

The situation is even more disastrous when you consider the double-whammy that has already hit performers. Work at home has been so limited during the past year due to Covid restrictions, with still no prospect of a return to anything like normal service in the foreseeable future. Moreover, the streaming which the public has relied upon to comfort and ease them through successive lockdowns is not adequately remunerated. To put this last point into perspective, violinist Tasmin Little speaking recently on BBC Radio 5 stated that a year ago from her (then) 700,000 listeners she had garnered a total of £12.34 over a six-month period.

Performing artists and their support crews have been incredibly hard hit by the Covid restrictions. Many of us have not benefited at all from the cultural recovery fund, and many have been excluded from government assistance, though those who have benefited are grateful. Now we urgently need the government to return to the negotiating table and forge a solution to the pressing problem of being denied work in the EU through a Brexit deal that utterly failed to acknowledge the needs of our industry. We have to be able to travel in order to simply do our jobs, to start on a level playing field with our fellow players within the EU and with our co-workers from all fields at home.

Whichever way readers may have voted in the Referendum they certainly would not have intended Britain’s creative industry, the second fastest growing sector of the economy pre-lockdown, to wither in this way. Nobody likes to see businesses go to the wall but imagine if the delicate ecosystem of the arts world, which provided so much solace to people during the extreme times of the pandemic, were to collapse through political mismanagement. If you value access to the performing arts, if you value creativity and the vast support network that sustains it and helps to make life worth living, then support us in the fight for a solution.’

Sophia Rahman

Sophia Rahman made the first UK recording of Florence Price’s piano concerto with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, broadcast on BBC Radio 3. She has recorded Shostakovich’s piano concerto Op. 35 with the Scottish Ensemble for Linn Records and over thirty chamber music discs for a host of international labels including (German) CPO, (Swiss) Guild, Resonus, Dutton/Epoch, Naxos, ASV and Champs Hill. Sophia teaches on the String Masters programme run by the Irish Chamber Orchestra at the University of Limerick’s Irish World Academy of Music and Dance and has also coached at the University of Malta, junior chamber music at the Sibelius Academy, Finland and Lilla Akademien, Sweden, and on a course she designed at the Arvo Pärt Centre, Estonia, especially for young Estonian chamber musicians. She is Artistic Director of the annual Whittington International Chamber Music Festival which brings together distinguished artists from across the globe to play chamber music together in rural Shropshire. After early schooling in the Chichester area, she attended the Yehudi Menuhin School where both student and staff membership was truly international. This created a unique environment for the highest artistic standards to flourish, which developed into a career founded on international exchange of ideas and freedom of artistic expression across borders.

Catherine Martin has been leader of the Gabrieli Consort and Players since 2005, appearing on many award-winning recordings. From 2010 to 2020, Catherine also led Die Kölner Akademie in Germany. From the inception of the Valletta Baroque Festival in 2003, Catherine has had a continual relationship with the Valletta International Baroque Ensemble, going to Malta three times a year to direct concerts with Maltese musicians and give masterclasses. She is a frequent guest leader of Barokkanerne, a baroque orchestra based in Oslo. Catherine has previously taught at the Norwegian Academy of Music, and currently teaches historical violin at the Royal College of Music.

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