Winnipeg Symphony may be silenced by U.S. ban on ivory imports

The musicians have been practising, practising practising to get to Carnegie Hall in New York City next month.

WSO is scheduled to perform at Carnegie Hall on May 8.

(Keith Levit Photography)

The musicians have been practising, practising, practising to get to Carnegie Hall next month. Now the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra has learned that there is a snag. It has to do with a regulation banning the import of ivory into the U.S.

Under this strict regulation, ivory from elephant tusks imported from Asia and Africa before 1976 is banned. At least 27 musicians in the orchestra are affected, most of them with bows with a tiny piece of ivory at the tip.

"We're exactly in the perfect storm," said Jean Francois Phaneuf, director of operations with the WSO.

"This is something that will be resolved. Obviously they're going to pass legislation and it will be easy to apply for, but right now, these things are not in place."

Phaneuf says he is working on a document describing each instrument and taking pictures of the ivory. The problem is, it's very difficult to date the instruments and to determine when the ivory was added.

"We can't. Some of the information they ask is just not possible, these are all things the musicians just don't know," said Phaneuf.

He also said the musicians would not be prepared to play on borrowed bows or instruments.

"A bow is a fairly integral part of the instrument. People take a long time to select their bows. And suddenly to go perform on one of the most important concerts of their careers on a different bow, it would be like taking someone that's doing downhill skiing and saying 'oh, you're going to go down on a different pair of skis for the Olympics.'"

The orchestra is working with CITES Canada, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, under the Department of the Environment, which monitors these bans.

Phaneuf remains confident that they will be issued certificates for each of the musicians in time for them to pack up their instruments and head south.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra is scheduled to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York on May 8. They plan to perform the Symphony No.1 by R. Murray Schafer, a work by Derek Charke featuring Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq and a percussion concerto called The Shaman, featuring Dame Evelyn Glennie by Winnipeg composer Vincent Ho.