Sixteen months of meticulous logistical planning culminates June 8 at the Koln Philharmonie in Germany when Maestro Kurt Masur eases the New York Philharmonic into the opening measures of Sofia Gubaidulina's "Two Paths: Music for Two Violas and Orchestra" at the opening performance of the orchestra's Year 2000 European tour.
While at first blush the tour project may seem to constitute a fairly straightforward planning project, it presents a daunting challenge on the logistical front. "We are scheduled to present 17 concerts in 12 cities over the course of 28 days," says Anna Weber, director of operations for arguably the finest symphony in the U.S.
In addition to orchestrating the safe and timely arrival at each performance of 117 musicians plus a support staff, Weber also must ensure the movement of more than 12 tons of cargo consisting of concert apparel, sheet music and a vast array of instruments with a cash value of several million dollars but a priceless emotional value to the respective artists.
To move the people, Weber depends on TravTours, a Palm Springs, Calif.-based travel agency skilled in the movement of performing arts groups. On the cargo side of the equation, she relies on Donald Laghezza and his staff at Nippon Express, who have moved her orchestra's cargo since 1989.
General Planning Process
Here's how the tour planning usually goes. Most orchestras are underwritten by corporate sponsors, and since 1980 Citibank has sponsored the New York Philharmonic over the course of 15 tours in more than 90 cities within 45 countries. Working together, the parties target a region or continent as a prospective touring site, often two or three years in advance.
Tours also involve a presenter or group of presenters -basically promoters willing to pay a fee for the orchestra to tour a certain region. A presenter is selected as a likely partner based on an evaluation of such factors as reputation, tentative itinerary, experience with the orchestra and sponsor, and financials. After the select presenter enters the loop, the orchestra's music director and management team work collaboratively with Citibank to choose which cities to visit based on what is mutually advantageous to the Philharmonic and the bank. The investment firm Salomon Smith Barney also will sponsor the upcoming European tour.
"Once the cities are chosen, we start plugging in an itinerary and start formulating budgets based on the itinerary," says Weber, a nine-year veteran of the New York Philharmonic. She works with an artist's agent in the target county, and the agent secures the dates at the target venues and actually negotiates the contract with the presenters.
That includes not only the orchestra's fee but the Philharmonic's tour conditions as well.
The itinerary and schedule must take into consideration the orchestra's trade agreement as negotiated by the American Federation of Musicians, Local 802, which limits the number of days the orchestra can be on tour as well as other tour conditions.
For example, when planners get down to actually scheduling day-to-day details, such as when the orchestra departs a hotel and arrives at an airport, the travel time between departure from the hotel to the arrival at the airport in the next city cannot exceed four and a half hours. The orchestra must have three hours in the hotel before the first bus can depart for the concert hall that evening, and usually the conductor schedules a rehearsal before the concert at each new venue. There has to be a day off within a seven-day period, they cannot have more than five concert days in a row, and there are limitations on the extent of bus travel allowed.
While these factors necessitate a great deal of logistics juggling, they are critical to the success of a tour, says Weber. "These are reasonable restrictions that evolved out of years of traveling in very difficult circumstances," she explains. "The whole goal of management's job is to ensure a successful tour, and it's only successful if the music is successful."
Even with these contractual rules, the management team tries to use common sense as well in the planning process. "It's hard enough as it is to be on the road for four weeks. We try to make the orchestra's movement as easy as possible so they don't have to do anything but focus on the music," she adds.
Once the itinerary is set, Weber distributes to the orchestra members an extensive form that outlines the tour itself and gives them a variety of options. "We ask them if they would like to bring a guest, whether they want tickets and currency packets or traveler's checks at each venue."
Musicians can travel independently, and Weber must track those independent travelers as well. "While we only are responsible for the tour party, we still have to know who is doing what so we don't end up holding a charter for a musician who is traveling independently," she says. "They are, after all, free to do what they want to do."
The tour group travels by charter and stays at hotels acceptable to a first-class world orchestra, such as the Hyatt Regency in Cologne and the Kapinsky in Berlin. An advance team meets the arriving orchestra at the hotel and hands out keys and room assignments. Baggage handlers travel with the tour group and take care of the personal luggage.
"Everyone gets a very special high when the music is spectacular on tour, and we have to do our best planning to make that happen," says Weber.
But nothing good will happen if the cargo fails to arrive on time.
Ground crews often strike sour note
12 Tons of Freight
"The cargo move is an enormous undertaking," Weber explains. "We travel with 25,000 pounds of freight. In addition to the instruments, we have for our concert clothing 40 wardrobe trunks that are 72 inches high and approximately four feet by four feet as well as two similarly sized library trunks full of music, a press trunk, and a gift trunk."
Musicians can opt to carry violins and smaller instruments on board instead of committing them to the cargo operation. "If they choose to carry their instruments, they must carry them the entire time because cargo is a coordination by itself," says Weber.
The major tour regions for U.S. orchestras are East Asia and Europe, and each region poses its own logistics challenges. Generally European tours involve air freight only on the trans-Atlantic legs; almost all other routes are suitable for trucking, a far more cost-effective mode. Air transport presents a far more complex challenge for the Asian tours.
"It's tremendously helpful when Anna brings us in early in the planning process," says Laghezza. Once the management team has decided on the cities for the tour, Weber asks what the best order would be if the only consideration were air freight. "We often can save everyone a great deal of strain by helping with the actual order of cities to be visited."
Having worked together for so many years, Nippon Express is intimately familiar with the cargo requirements of the New York Philharmonic.
"Although the actual dead weight is about 12 tons, in the air freight business you get charged by space in accordance with dimensional weight calculations," explains Laghezza. "We always ship the orchestras as exclusive pallets. We contract with the airlines for the positions, but we don't tell them how much weight we have or the dimensional weight, because we don't want them trying to figure out how much space we 'really' need and then find out later that they were wrong." All cargo, including the instruments, are palletized.
"We make sure all our network subsidiaries know right up front that we are going to need nine positions on a 747 freighter or 10 igloo positions or, if we have to use belly space, 11 positions because of the height restriction. That way, each subsidiary knows exactly what they are going to need, each airline knows exactly what they have to provide, and we book the positions in advance and nail them down so we can build the positions knowing that they will be adjacent and the freight will move together. And if there is any doubt about the airline's ability to guarantee that space, we walk away and find somebody else."
As part of its service, Nippon Express builds the loads itself or supervises the build at the airlines with its own labor, depending on any local restrictions. None of the New York Philharmonic cargo is touched with forklifts; everything moves via hand truck.
A variety of factors can affect the smooth movement of air freight, Laghezza says. For example, never go from Manila to Japan, go Japan to Manila. "There's just a natural flow of cargo from Japan to Manila and it's much easier and cheaper to move down than up," says Laghezza. Other tips: Try to avoid moving from Singapore to Manila, go Manila to Singapore. Never go to Japan from Korea. If China is on the tour list, go there first because it's fairly easy to go into China from the U.S. If travel into China from another Asian country is unavoidable, go from Japan. Always avoid planning China to Taiwan or Taiwan to China, because direct shipments are not allowed between those countries, says Laghezza.
"Then you look for other elements," he adds. "Is there scheduled lift in the chosen traffic lane? We already know that in some lanes there's no way we are going to find adequate freighter space, and belly space in passenger aircraft is too unreliable. The only option is charter, and that's an extra expense you try to avoid. The point is, when we have the opportunity to participate in the planning, we can identify some of the trouble spots and avoid high-cost solutions for the orchestra."
For the upcoming European tour, Weber also included in her planning process Beissner Transport, a European trucking firm with a subsidiary that specializes in transporting performing arts groups. By sticking with experienced partners and involving them in the planning, Weber has been able to avoid catastrophic developments on the road.
"Nothing ever really goes wrong, but we have our share of near misses," says Weber. "What's really difficult on all of us is if we have to wait on hotel rooms. But what really would be disastrous is if the instruments don't get to the concert hall on time and the crew has to make a tremendous changeover very quickly."
That's why the planning requires a very delicate balance, she adds. "We want to have a comfortable itinerary for everyone and get in as many concerts as possible, but you don't want to cut it too close."
For example, the orchestra has a very tight travel day this June from Vienna to Amsterdam, a timetable a little too tight for an over-the-road cargo move. "They will need an air charter for the Vienna to Amsterdam hop," says Laghezza. "We anticipated, and Beissner confirmed, that the schedule is a bit too tight to comfortably rely on highway carriage."
The planners generally arrange for a local stage crew - 10 or 11 loaders and additional stage hands - to meet the orchestra's road crew upon arrival at the concert hall and help with the unloading and set-up. The cargo generally moves in two 40-foot temperature-controlled trailers. Louis Patalano, stage manager for the New York Philharmonic, accompanies the orchestra on tour and personally supervises each occurrence of packing, palletization, loading, unloading and unpacking.
"Lou watches every piece come on and off the trailer at the concert hall," says Weber. "Over the years he has developed a comprehensive system for packing, which is critical when you are handling millions of dollars' worth of instruments."
After a performance is concluded, the stage hands generally get everything out of the hall and loaded into the trucks by 1 a.m., and then it's on to the next city. Conductors can be fussy about acoustics at each venue and often schedule a rehearsal before the evening concert, which means the cargo has to be unloaded and set up in the hall in the early afternoon. Once the trucks arrive at the venue, it takes about two hours to unload and another 45 minutes to an hour to set the stage.
However, sometimes complications beyond the control of the planners place extra strain on the cargo side.
"These are very busy concert halls, and sometimes the previous performers have not loaded out when our trucks arrive," says Laghezza. "Sometimes there is not enough room in the hall itself for the wardrobe trunks, so we have to make provisions to leave those wardrobe trunks in the hotels or at various locations throughout the facility."
He recalls an orchestra tour several years ago that arrived at a concert hall in Leningrad only to discover that the storage areas within the facility already were occupied by the belongings of a different performing arts group. "We had trunks and instruments spread throughout the hall in every nook and cranny that wasn't occupied," he says. "We had to draw up a location chart so the stage crew could find the instruments. Cellos one and three were in the men's lounge on the third floor, cellos two, four and five were in the first floor coatroom. It made for a wild set-up."
"Although we work with the concert hall staff regarding the exact loading times and when we can have the stage, procedures vary for each hall, and some halls just are very complicated and difficult," adds Weber. "We have to be willing to be flexible."
After all, the show must go on.
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