I was recently reminded of my refusal to show my passport at the Aldeburgh border when I heard that a world-renown academic had declined to show his at the University of York and was a persistent thwarter of the UKBA’s insidious policy of assuming everyone is here illegally unless they can prove otherwise. It gave a new twist to the referendum immigration debate. If I were to be offered a paid engagement at the university here I’d have to produce my passport. I’m not only a foreigner in my own country but an immigrant in my own town. Thank heavens I can still go to a Chinese or Polish supermarket without a visa. It’s OK for the Poles and Chinese of course – they really are living in a foreign country – and I suppose it sort of puts us all on an equal footing if I have as little right to a passport-free job here as they do.
Unsurprisingly, the music profession knows nothing so banal as national boundaries. The Hilliard Ensemble was, unusually, an all-British group, though you probably wouldn’t have to delve very far to discover that half of us were descended from Johnny Foreigner (and we worked with a Norwegian saxophonist, a German violinist and an Austrian cellist among many other international musicians). Almost every other permutation of musicians I’ve worked with has been a rag tag assortment of nationalities. The Sound and the Fury, for instance, records in Austria, but apart from me are all Germans and are sponsored by Austrian Israelis. The Dowland Project currently has an American lutenist who lives in the UK, a British sax player who lives in Sweden and a Slovakian fiddle player of no fixed abode. For the Amores Pasados project we have a Swedish soprano, American and Argentinian lutenists, with another American lute player for our Josquin project. I’ve recently been in Canada working with one other Brit and two Canadians. I record for a German record company staffed by Europeans; I’ve never had to produce a passport for any gig in Europe.
We enjoy what we have in common and relish our differences. I used to think that a musical ensemble was a kind of microcosm of an ideal society, with everyone contributing and supporting each other – and when things are going well I’m sure that’s true. When I meet up with my German friends we don’t discuss the economy or migration – except on the one occasion when Angela Merkel’s open door policy came up, and my great German friend said that for the first time in his life he was proud to be German.
None of this will change if we leave the EU, and if the pound collapses I’ll actually be rather better off. But there are no circumstances in which I could vote to leave. Europe is a vision to which we should all subscribe – surely the grandest and most human geo-socio-political concept of the late 20th century. I’m a European and have been since I was old enough to know what the word really meant, and I’m going to say a European.