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£1300 cost of Ryanair seats... for violins

PUBLISHED: 13:58 31 July 2010 | UPDATED: 10:19 01 August 2010

Chris Hill

Two of Europe's finest young musicians and their tutor were keen to keep their precious violins with them rather than risk them being carried in the baggage hold of their plane when they travelled to perform for a Norfolk charitable trust - but they had to pay £1300 extra.

Two of Europe's finest young musicians and their tutor were keen to keep their precious violins with them rather than risk them being carried in the baggage hold of their plane when they travelled to perform for a Norfolk charitable trust.

But they were stunned when they discovered that the violins were too large to be classed as hand luggage - and carrying their cherished instruments on board would cost them an extra £1,340.

Hungarian-born prodigy Agnes Langer, 18, and talented 26-year-old Russian Igor Tsinman, are preparing to play a candle-lit Bach concert in the church at Salle, near Reepham, later tonight.

But budget airline Ryanair told the musicians just three days before their flight that they needed to reserve an extra seat each for their violin cases.

When they landed at Stansted yesterday, Igor's rare Sanctus Serafin violin and the Testore instrument played by Agnes - both dating from the 18th century - were strapped into the seats in front of them.

Their tutor, Prof Anne Shih, travelled with her precious Guarnerius, made in 1711 and worth about £800,000.

Norfolk Concerts, which organises the Salle events alongside an educational programme to mentor talented youngsters, paid for the extra seats from Frankfurt-Hahn airport, which is near the violinists' German university.

The charity's executive director Douglas Gowan criticised the airline's “anti-cultural” policy, and is preparing to take legal action for breach of contract. He said the tickets were bought a month ago on the agreement that the instruments would be exempt from the airline's 50cm limit on hand luggage.

A Ryanair spokesman said the policy had not changed for two years, and it was the passengers' responsibility to check terms and conditions before flying.

Mr Gowan said: “Obviously you cannot put a fragile Stradivarius or Guarnerius in the hold due to the cold, let alone risk of damage.

“Ryanair want to get the message out that they don't want hand luggage in the cabins and they simply don't give a damn if a few musicians have a problem. It is so anti-cultural.

“We are saying that we had a contract and they have changed the rules - and our lawyers think we have a good case.

“When you buy a cello seat, you know you have to do it because the instrument is too big to go into the overhead rack. But a violin case is very slim and will go in easily, even if it is a little bit over the 50cm limit.”

Mr Gowan said the additional expense would be particularly keenly felt after the loss of an £8,000 grant from one of the charity's regular funding providers earlier this year forced the cancellation of two planned masterclasses.

“This is a hit that no small charity like ours can take, but we have had to pay in order to honour our commitments to our audience and the artists,” he said.

Prof Shih lectures at the Hochschule für Musik in Mainz, and is also an artistic director for Norfolk Concerts.

She said: “This is a big problem for musicians, and a lot of them say they just won't fly on Ryanair any more. It is detrimental to culture and music in general.”

Ryanair spokesman Stephen McNamara said: “The policy has been the same for two years and the terms and conditions clearly explain that musical instruments need to have second seat. It is the responsibility of individual passengers to research the conditions before they book their flights.

“There can be no allowances made for anyone, whether its the next superstar in cricket, tennis or music. The terms and conditions are the same for everyone.”

Tickets are available on the door at Salle Church for tonight's Bach by Candlelight concert at 7.30pm. For more information visit www.norfolkconcerts.org.

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