New rules on transporting ivory could affect Cleveland Orchestra's travel plans
Posted on cleveland.com
International travel is getting much more complicated for the Cleveland Orchestra, and could even prove impossible.
Following a recent order from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regarding the transportation of ivory, the group must now at a minimum go through a detailed permitting process before it can re-enter the country after performing overseas.
At the same time, if amendments to the regulations aren’t made soon, the orchestra’s fall trip to Europe could be in jeopardy.
“It’s a caught-in-the-crossfire sort of thing,” said general manager Jennifer Barlament. “We’re just hoping the rules don’t curtail any touring or make our musicians feel they have to make choices.”
At issue is African elephant ivory, one of the world’s most protected natural materials but a common ingredient in piano keys, violin bows and bassoon bells, particularly those of fine, older instruments.
In February, the USFWS imposed strict new limits on the material. But the policies, designed to reduce demand for ivory and thwart smugglers at the border, also came as tall hurdles for musicians.
Of particular concern to artists is a stipulation that to re-enter the country, any object containing African elephant ivory must be shown to have been neither bought nor sold since 1976.
That’s a benchmark impossible for many musicians, particularly those who purchased their instruments more recently, to observe. What’s more, many players don’t have detailed documentation, as many fine instruments are well over 100 years old.
“We’re quite sure it wasn’t their intent to target musicians,” said Heather Noonan, vice president for advocacy at the League of American Orchestras, a trade organization. “But a musician literally can’t afford to be without his instrument.
“What’s at stake is the ability of musicians to perform with a set of treasured, cultural objects that were purchased for their quality, not their ivory content.”
Craig Hoover, chief of the wildlife trade and conservation branch of the USFWS, confirmed the ivory order was never intended to keep musicians from traveling.
Nevertheless, he said, the musical world does contain loopholes that need to be closed. Ivory smugglers may not use world-class violins and bassoons as vehicles, but they are known to use musical instruments and other antique objects in general.
“New ivory is absolutely coming into this country, one way or another,” Hoover said. “There’s definitely an underlying problem we’re trying to address.”
Music and endangered species policy “have been missing each other for quite some time,” he added. “This is an opportunity to bring that industry into compliance.”
Steps are already in place or being taken to create exceptions for musicians, and more are in progress, Hoover said.
For instruments with ivory predating 1976, and whose purchase history can be documented, it’s possible to obtain a permit through the USFWS, Hoover said. A spokeswoman for the Service said the process takes 30 to 45 days and costs $75.
“What’s at stake is the ability … to perform with a set of treasured, cultural objects … purchased for their quality, not their ivory content.”
It was with these permits that both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony were able to travel abroad earlier this year, Hoover said.
Meanwhile, Hoover said, efforts are underway to create further exceptions for instruments with ivory purchased legally since 1976 – no threat to live African elephants, he said – as well as passport-like certificates for individual artists and groups such as orchestras and chamber music ensembles.
“We’re actually re-setting the language now,” Hoover said. “We’re listening to stakeholders to publish an amendment. What we’re trying to avoid is having instruments detained.”
That’s good news for all musicians with travel on the calendar. For Cleveland, though, timing remains of the essence. In September, the orchestra plans to spend nearly three weeks in Europe, performing in major venues all over the continent.
That leaves less than five months for the amendment Hoover said is likely coming “relatively soon” to materialize and for the orchestra and other groups in similar positions to apply for and receive permits.
It also remains unclear how much such permits would cost, whether orchestra members traveling individually would be covered under that permit, and how those permits would be treated by other nations.
“The passport process is in its infancy, and there are a lot of unknowns,” Noonan said. “But our greatest concern is the rapid pace of this coming into being. Our biggest concern is finding a solution quickly.”
For the time being, Noonan said, all traveling musicians would be wise to determine whether their instruments contain ivory and whether that ivory hails from African elephants. She also recommended gathering paperwork to document the history of those instruments. The American Federation of Musicians, too, is asking musicians to take part in a survey gauging the potential impact of the ivory order.
Barlament, though, isn’t anxious. Confident a solution is in the works, and knowing two major orchestras have completed tours under the new rules, she said she’s feeling “fairly comfortable” but “watchful.”
Furthermore, she said, there’s precedent to look to, as ivory isn’t the only protected material on the orchestra’s radar. Tortoise shell and at least two types of wood found in musical instruments have been restricted since 1973 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreement.
An experienced traveler, the orchestra is long accustomed to dealing with these and similar kinds of regulations, and is therefore prepared to respond in kind to whatever form the ivory order takes.
“We’re used to having a lot of scrutiny,” Barlament said. “We already have to be incredibly detailed. We’re ready for it.”