Bocelli Tour Uses Union Orchestra

INS Refuses Visas for Imported Backup Orchestra

Volume CI, No. 5May, 2001

Promoters of a recent Andrea Bocelli tour were forced to hire U.S. musicians after the INS rejected their visa application for an imported backup orchestra, in this case a group called the “Russian Federal Symphony Orchestra.”

The Immigration and Naturalization Service rejected the visa application at the AFM’s urging. Mark Heter, Assistant to AFM President Steve Young, wrote a letter arguing that, once again, the INS was being asked to approve work visas for a “cheap backup group to Mr. Bocelli” that was “not by any stretch of the imagination touring on its own artistic merits.”

This visa application was filed soon after the INS approved another application for the Polish orchestra that performed with the Three Irish Tenors on Ellis Island in March (see last month’s Allegro). Approval of a visa for the Polish orchestra – which was also a backup group and not a featured ensemble – ignited a firestorm of protest from musicians and their supporters in the New York metropolitan area.

Following the visa rejection for the Russian orchestra, the AFM sent a letter to all locals on the Bocelli tour route, urging them to inform local orchestra contractors that the promoters had a history of using non-AFM orchestras. The promoters – Gelb Promotions/Metropolitan Entertainment Inc.- subsequently began contacting union orchestras. They eventually reached agreement with Local 400 in Hartford, Conn., for employment of the Hartford Symphony as the touring orchestra.

Candace Lammers, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 400 and chair of the Hartford Symphony orchestra committee, told Allegro that the agreement was worked out with the help of the AFM’s Concert Department. She said the per service wage rates were improved substantially to ensure that in no city was the orchestra paid less than the local scale wages for a concert of this kind. The agreement also contains specific touring conditions, recording language and requires the posting of a bond.

The biggest problem in dealing with management, said Lammers, was their efforts to tape the show without payment. “They threatened to use a European orchestra next year, if we didn’t agree, but we held our ground.”