Sokolov takes a stand against stupidity

For regular readers who have been irritated and distressed at the relatively slow pace of posts this month, take heart- a proper blog post full of wonky musical nonsense is on its way.

However, while reading the paper this afternoon, I came across this gem in today’s Independent.

The Barbican has been forced to cancel a concert by the Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov because of changes to visa regulations requiring non-EU citizens to provide fingerprints.

Sokolov, 57, was due to perform a programme of Mozart sonatas and Chopin on 10 May at the London concert hall, followed by an appearance at Glasgow’s City Hall. But the pianist will no longer travel to the UK, where he has been performing regularly for the past 18 years, because he is unwilling to disrupt his schedule to apply in person for the new biometric visa.

A Russian citizen with Italian residency, Sokolov was told that, after years of someone else applying for a visa on his behalf, he would have to travel from his home in Verona to Rome to provide fingerprints…

Read the whole thing here.Now, Grigory Sokolov may not be a household name and international jet-set superstar, but I dare say, Sokolov probably can make as fair a claim as anyone in the world to being the greatest living pianist.

That ill-considered, short-sighted, beaurocratic obstructionism would prevent an artist of such standing coming to the U is simply pathetic. I almost said tragic, but it is more of  a farce than a tragedy, except that there are so few chances in life to hear an artist of this calibre- it is a tragedy for those who were lucky enough to have tickets. This is the kind of backward, insular and paranoid way of dealing with the outside world that one used to associate with working behind the Iron Curtain or in the most corrupt of banana republics, not in the world’s most culturally dynamic capital.

These visa requirements are nothing but ludicrous posturing- they won’t make anyone safer in any country. Remember, many of the worst terrorists in recent British history were UK citizens and residents, and there is no visa requirement for Europeans or Americans. The Oklahoma City bomber could come to the UK today on a tourist visa (were he not dead), but Grigory Sokolov has the tromp all over Italy being fingerprinted like a criminal.

We need security legislation that protects our lives livelihoods and liberty, and we need it in all countries. We don’t need more neo-totalitarian surveilance-society snooping and meddling, and we certainly don’t need and can’t afford to wall off our countries into isolationist backwaters of parochial ignorance.

Cultural exchange is more needed than ever, and what the world really needs is international visa-free travel for all artists and cultural ambassadors (Ireland already extends tax-free status to artists), who do so much to energize our economies and enrich our societies while being modestly rewarded financially.

Write your MP!

More from the Independent here.

I had already written this when I discovered to my delight that Jessican Duchen was already on it. Well done, Jessica, both for mentioning the story and for highlighting Sokolov’s pianism (somethign she has done many times)

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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5 comments on “Sokolov takes a stand against stupidity”

  1. ComposerBastard

    so, he cannot provide fingerprints through interpol or any other european station of repute? Or through a consulate or embassy from his native country? Something seems amiss in fact here

  2. Kenneth Woods

    Also, let me mention that American visa requirements are among the most asine and counterproductive in the world. The burden on non-profits in trying to encourage cultural exchange has become ludicrously onerous.

    KW

  3. Alexy

    Just read your article about Sokolov. I would like to let you know that I’m so happy that he has at last that recognition! If you could now imagine that about 20 years ago, when I become his listener and supporter (he is from St.petersburg and at the time was a professor of piano
    in St.Petersburg National Conservatoire ) there was only like 70-100 peoples in the St.Petersburg Chapelle concert hall ( 800 seats) and nobody of my friends in France even 10 years later, could believe me that it’s just a phenomenon, not only like pianist, but as an genius artist and philosopher of music… . His every creation is like a message to the
    world…

    It’s such a shame that his best interpretations are not on CD. I have in St.Petersburg his Beethoven soviet (1988)vinyl disc of 27 and 32 sonatas. The interpretation of 32 is just unbelievable (live recording from 1986)

    And instead of that what we have in the stores?

    Really no truth on this earth!

    Very best wishes to you!
    many thanks for Sokolov

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