May 2: Frankfurt

I’ve heard various strategies for overcoming jetlag after long flights: 1) Don’t drink alcohol. 2) Drink plenty of alcohol. 3) Sleep. 4) Don’t sleep. My personal preferred strategy falls into the category of mind over matter. Regardless of the length of the flight, at whatever time of day I disembark at my arrival city, I pretend it’s the “correct” time. I consciously avoid trying to figure out what time it is at home. Sometimes this strategy works. On our 2014 Asia tour, however, equilibrium proved elusive for a good week, but at least I was alert when I was supposed to be. Keeling over in the Adagietto of Mahler Fifth would not have left a favorable impression.

sleep deprived

Typical musician on the first day of an international tour.

Yesterday, when we arrived at our first stop in Frankfurt, I forced myself to stay awake until 11:30 PM, hoping that I’d get a full night’s sleep and the next day (this morning), voila! jet lag would be a distant memory.

There was nothing wrong with this plan!

What happened, though, was my cellphone rang in the middle of the night. I looked at the clock. Two-thirty! Who the hell was calling? I’ll never know. They hung up. All I know was my phone told me it was from Vermont. There goes my Bernie Sanders vote.

In concept, a concert tour is a simple thing. Shepherd the musicians along, make sure they’re on stage when they’re supposed to be, and let someone else worry about selling tickets. But in practice, it’s not that easy. The nuts and bolts of an orchestra tour are endless: everything from transporting musicians, instruments, wardrobe trunks, and music safely, securely, and on time; to making sure the baton is placed at the proper angle on Maestro’s podium.

For starters, imagine being responsible for shipping a million-dollar, three-hundred-year-old Stradivarius violin from the US to Europe and back. How do you ensure its safety from theft or damage, when even an innocent jostle against its case could throw it out of whack and require major readjustment? Imagine being the fall guy if someone screws up.

Now, multiply that responsibility by a hundred, and then add to that the musicians who are joined at the hip to those priceless instruments. And the musicians’ significant others. And the two dozen managers, and staff and their spouses. And an entourage of two dozen patrons. And let’s not forget a truckload of music. And the librarian.

Two dozen managers and staff, you ask? What do you need two dozen for? Here’s the listing from the official tour book: Managing Director, Assistant Conductor (in case Maestro falls ill), Artistic Administrator, Orchestra Manager, Director of Concert Operations, Orchestra Personnel Manager, Director of Public Relations, Director of Development, Concert Operations Administrator, Stage Manager, three Stage Personnel, Tour Physician, and Security Advisor. Additionally, we’re supported by an aggregate of representatives for travel management, three firms taking care of instrument transport and cargo brokerage, and a tour management company. Who am I leaving out? Peppino Natale, the BSO’s chauffeur? No, he’s not on this trip.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the whole menagerie in a nutshell. Whew! Put it all together and you have a magical mystery orchestra tour. And of course orchestras don’t perform in just one city. They may go to three or four. Per week. And to make international tours worthwhile, they’re usually at least two weeks, and can stretch to three or four. Our European tour is modest: Only nine concerts in twelve days in eight cities.

Like armies, orchestras travel on their stomachs, and fussy ones at that. So in addition to delivering the intrepid band to the correct continent, you need to provide lodging, and transportation for upwards of two hundred very picky people in up to a dozen cities. Stages need to be set and struck, and music and instruments need to be unpacked and repacked after every rehearsal and concert onto massive trucks and driven or flown to the next concert hall.

Why did I say picky? For the reason that, unlike a leisurely travel vacation, concert tours require orchestra musicians to be at certain places—concert halls—at very specific times and in good playing condition. Keeping an audience of two thousand waiting is something an orchestra tries to avoid at all costs. You can’t walk on stage after the downbeat of Beethoven Fifth with a lukewarm cup of coffee in one hand and say, “Maestro, sorry I’m late. I got stuck in traffic.” If the bassoon player isn’t there, you can’t start Rite of Spring. But, you may ask, what if he got sick from day-old sauerbraten and couldn’t play at all? Touring orchestras usually try to reorganize within the ranks, but are known to have deputized local musicians in dire circumstances.

And unlike sports teams that may travel far more frequently than an orchestra, the musicians tend to look more like Sparky Anderson than Mike Trout, with some well into their 70s or even 80s. And with a six-hour time difference between the Boston and Germany, when your internal clock is telling you that you should be fast asleep, it can be a Herculean task to garner enough energy to put your bowtie on, let alone play a Mahler symphony.


A Pre-Concert Catnap

Because of the vagaries of orchestra travel, conditions for specific tours can be part of the collective bargaining negotiations between the musicians and management. Basic things need to be sorted out: If a proposed tour overlaps from one concert season to the next, which year’s salary will the musicians be paid? What will the per diem be? (The IRS calculates average costs of room and board for most cities around the world, and determines tax-free per diem rates varying from city to city. These rates are typically, but not necessarily, agreed upon by the musicians and management when negotiating tour conditions.) What will the quality of the hotels be? Very importantly, how much rest time will the musicians get? How many days will be free of both travel and services (rehearsals and concerts)? What will the tour route be? (I recall a domestic tour long ago that had a reasonable number of concerts, but we zigzagged across the map so much we could have eluded the FBI. Sometimes this can’t be helped because the presenters have their own series scheduling guidelines. But that tour was sufficiently onerous that the even the management was dizzy by the end of it and agreed to language in the contract to the effect that they would make its best efforts to schedule tour concerts in as direct a line as possible.

Typically, the BSO lodges its musicians in very fine hotels. It’s hard to complain when you’re sitting on a balcony overlooking Lake Lucerne. However, from time to time there have been some doozies. Before the Berlin Wall came down we once stayed at a grimy hovel overlooking the barren, muddy acreage of No Man’s Land that paralleled The Wall. The name of the hotel was optimistically named The Bellevue. My recollection was that it had a single operating elevator that could squeeze in four people, perhaps five if you were from East Germany, and you had to change elevators to get to certain floors. Imagine a hundred musicians checking in and having to get ready for a concert!

No complaints about our accommodations here at the Frankfurt Hilton, however. Sumptuous breakfast buffets, a huge pool and health club, and most of all, a comfortable bed! We should be in pretty good shape for our first rehearsal and concert tomorrow. That is, if I don’t get any calls at two-thirty.

St. Pete

Charles Munch conducting the Boston Symphony in Moscow, Russia, in 1956.






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