A new law in Europe to protect employees from ear-damaging noises is stifling a surprise industry—orchestras. Conductors are taking it down a notch to comply, in one case canceling a world premiere because it exceeded the allowable decibels in rehearsal, the New York Times reports. At the Royal Opera House, musicians have to wear earplugs—akin to telling a "race-car driver they have to wear a blindfold," said one oboist.
The law was designed to protect construction workers, but it applies to classical musicians as well, and studies have proven them vulnerable to hearing problems. The logistics of complying involve changing repertoires, rotating seats, and adding noise-absorbent panels. Still, one musician prefers to "shove my fingers in my ears for a few bars" if Mahler's symphonies get too loud.