Thursday, November 23, 2006

Russian - Disarmed but Dangerous

Since September this year, when the terror ensuing from the alleged plot to blow up transatlantic aeroplanes allowed the government to impose severe restrictions on hand baggage, many, many musicians, such as Victoria Mullova, Ralph Kirshbaum, and Stephen Isserlis, have been refused permission to board aircraft with their instruments.

Even before this date, the difficulties of transporting any instrument bigger than a piccolo were considerable. Cellists have always been obliged to pay for an extra seat for their curvaceous companions and violinists could reasonably expect to become embroiled in lengthy negotiations at check in. I remember seeing a student violinist arrested (quite where, I can't remember) long before September 2001, for answering airport security’s inane question concerning the contents of his rather obviously violin-shaped case a little too facetiously - by claiming it concealed “A Tommy Gun.”

Last year, a member of Ryan Air’s ground crew insisted that my girlfriend checked in the spare strings she keeps in her violin case. Being a non-confrontational Swede, she reluctantly obliged but on returning to the boarding gate she met with an even more absurd demand; that she remove the strings from the instrument itself. Thankfully she was able to explain the idiocy of this request and was eventually permitted to board the plane. [She subsequently tried to garrotte a friend with her E string when she reached her destination but found it too short to get a good enough grip]!

Personally, I favour the introduction of a method similar to that, which, for a short time, governed the transportation of certain liquids, which had to be imbibed in the presence of security personal. Which reminds me - I once incurred the wrath of an enormous stentorian customs officer at Frankfurt Airport: A fearful female official who insisted that I verify the authenticity of my camera by taking a photo in her presence. When I raised the camera and snapped a quick one, she turned puce with rage, screaming at the top of her voice, “NOT OF ME!”

However, as of 6th November, new security measures came into effect for all passengers departing UK airports.” What's more - according to the department for Transport - you no longer have to carry your $3m Strad in a clear plastic bag: “Musical instruments are, as an exception, allowed as a second item of cabin baggage”.

On a less happy note - this change of policy arrives too late for Valery Ponomarev, a 63 year-old former member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers who had his arm broken by French Police at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris this September while trying to board a plane armed to the teeth with a Conn Constellation trumpet. According to a spokesman for the airport police, the diminutive [5’5”, 140 lbs] musician “hurt himself by rebelling.” He was finally taken to hospital after being held for 6 hours - without medical treatment and without being allowed to make a phone call. Arthur Gilroy of My Left Wing, describes events less prosaically,

Valery... pitched a bitch at the gate when some pissed-off functionary at a loading gate decided to pull rank on him. They called security and four "giant asshole cops" took him someplace where there were no witnesses, tried to forcibly take his trumpet away and when he wouldn't let go of it with his right hand, pulled his left arm behind his back and broke it.”

You can read the full article here or (if you can be bothered to sign in) here and hear tiny clips of the man’s music here and here

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