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November 19, 2010

BSO cellist denied entry to UK to perform free concert with chamber group

While we're all busy obsessing over aggressive pat downs (a.k.a. gropings) at American airports, consider another kind of hassle experienced by Kristin Ostling, a cellist with the Baltimore Symphony.

Ostling is on leave from the BSO this season and, among other pursuits away from her pals at Meyerhoff Hall, expected to play a free gig at the University of Leeds in England with the Carpe Diem Quartet. But last weekend, she didn't make it past UK Border Agency officials at Heathrow.

The Guardian's Tom Service reports that Ostling

was questioned for eight hours by officials at Terminal 3 ... refused entry to the country, forced to sign written statements, and sent back on a plane to Chicago. The reason? Her performance at the University of Leeds ... for which she was receiving no fee, and no expenses, either, was deemed to be 'work', and she was therefore not allowed in on her visa. The extraordinary thing is that

the three other members of the quartet were allowed through and are now in Leeds, so it seems that Ostling was unlucky only because of the size of her instrument. Violins or violas can slip under the beady eyes of our immigration officials, but cellists need to watch out.

Seems as if the university over there was supposed to first check around the UK and EU countries to see if another quartet would do the gig for free, before even asking the Americans. Bizarre. 

Here's hoping that Tom Service's blog post about the odd incident will lead to some sort of corrective action.   


Posted by Tim Smith at 11:34 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: BSO, Classical, Clef Notes


Eight hours of questioning? What could they possibly have spent eight hours asking her? (Did they torture her as well?) Is the British government competing with ours for outrageous conduct? I hope that she writes about the experience, or, perhaps she'd give you an interview, Tim.

"Bizarre" is just about the best word for this.

With idiots like these stationed at the gates, who needs to worry about barbarians?

I conduct an orchestra which is based in the USA, but which frequently tours in Asia. One of our violinists - a Canadian citizen who lives in Vancouver - was denied entry to the US when she tried to bring her instrument into this country to attend rehearsals - we ended up flying her directly from Vancouver to China, where she joined her colleagues for the tour without benefit of rehearsal. Sorry Kristin had to put up with this ridiculous BS, but our government does the same thing....

This question may reveal the fact that I am not a musician, but would it be possible for a musician to leave his or her instrument home and borrow one at the place of performance? That way he could tell customs that he was entering as a tourist. Certainly, at least as in Ms. Ostling's case, where the performance was to be given for free, one should have no ethical qualms about this.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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