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The Government’s Brexit deal was criticised for failing to negotiate visa-free travel and Europe-wide permits for musicians and crew.
A recent agreement with 19 countries with talks going on with another 13 has not calmed critics. The conductor, who is music director of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), said freelancers and musicians just starting out on their careers were having “a desperate time”.
Asked if he would advise a young musician to turn professional, he said: “Of course you want to say to everybody we need you, we need the art more than anything but what are the chances at the moment? It is very, very grim.”
Sir Simon said many people make the “difficult” start in their musical life by touring, including to Europe, and “it was those things that are made so much more difficult now”.
He said the LSO was protected from the worst effects of Brexit by its size and status as one of the world’s leading orchestras but had diverted staff from other jobs to deal with the increased bureaucracy. He said: “The whole visa thing is a colossal amount of work and often it costs so much there is no point in going to the place.”
The conductor was speaking at an event organised by the charity Help Musicians which has been supporting musicians for more than a century.
Since the global pandemic, it has given out £18 million to help around 19,000 musicians hit by the effects of lockdown and social distancing which have played havoc with live performances.
Sir Simon, whose family are based in Germany, has applied for a German passport and said any musician with only a UK passport was at a disadvantage. He said: “People who are normally hired by organisations abroad are being told, ‘I’m sorry, we just don’t have the capacity to bring somebody from the United Kingdom, it is too complicated and too expensive’.”
Sir Simon said he had no doubt the problems could be fixed in the long term but added: “What I worry about is how much music will have been lost, how many brilliant young musicians will not be able to do what they do, how many artistic lives will be ruined?”
The Government said: “We have spoken to every EU member and 19 have confirmed musicians do not require visas or work permits for short-term tours.”