The Cleveland Orchestra is known around the world for its rich sound, but some of the most important members of the organization don't play an instrument and are never seen or heard by the audience: They're with Operations, the team responsible for all of the behind-the-scenes planning for the orchestra. This crew is particularly important when the orchestra goes on tour, and the Cleveland Orchestra tours more than most, with a yearly residency in South Florida and regular travels to the major cities of New York and California, and, internationally, to Vienna and Lucerne, to name just a few stops. Next week, this world-class orchestra will make its way to Austin for the first time since 1976 to play the closing gala concert at the Long Center for the 2014 Menuhin Competition taking place in town this week.
Julie Kim, director of operations of the Cleveland Orchestra, knows intimately what goes into taking a symphony orchestra on the road. She and her staff work to make sure the travels run smoothly and that all of production matters are considered, planned, and executed in perfect harmony. Obviously, organizing a tour for about 100 people involves lots of considerations of transportation, hotel bookings, meals, etc. That's all part of Kim's job, and it involves a lot of logistics.
But that's only the easy half. There's a second whole itinerary for the cargo: the assortment of precious cellos, basses, harps, gongs, and even all of the tuxedos that need to be transported for the performances. One of the biggest challenges that Kim's team faces is managing the cargo's itinerary and insuring that it is in sync with the orchestra's bustling tour schedule. "The goal," Kim says, "is always to make sure the cargo and people get there before the concert!"
That's not always so easy. For domestic tours, the orchestra sends two 50-foot buses of cargo. (Yes, you read that right: two 50-foot buses!) The cargo leaves days before the musicians, making the voyage to the concert hall. One of the buses is humidity- and temperature-controlled to suit the sensitive instruments that need the extra TLC. To further ensure the safety of the instruments, three or four full-time stagehands come along for the trip and assist with any roadblocks. Kim says that once, while working for another orchestra, a concert was delayed for two hours while the orchestra musicians waited at the hall for their instruments. The cargo bus was delayed by ice on the roads. (We Austinites now have a sense of what that actually means. Kind of.) Luckily, she hasn't had to deal with any similar crises since then.
If this sounds complicated, it's a breeze compared to international touring. That adds in customs checks, for which all of the carefully packed instrument cases need to be opened for inspection – a stressful proposition. On cargo planes, the instruments travel with an eclectic range of passenger-mates, including exports of electronics and food. Sometimes an instrument gets bumped so that perishables can make the soonest flight – live Maine lobsters have priority boarding over glockenspiels. Even though operations builds in extra time to allow for these hiccups, it makes the careful choreography more complicated.
With all of the gymnastics to make tight deadlines, working in operations is fast-paced and stressful, but there's some built-in relief. For Kim, the treat is hearing the orchestra play. And traveling. She's already excited about trying our barbecue.
So when you hear the Cleveland Orchestra play – and you should – don't forget to clap for the people you don't see, too. As Kim says, "If we do our job well, nobody knows we exist. We try to stay invisible as much as we can." If you enjoyed the concert, the production team's tacet concerto was perfectly in tune.
The Cleveland Orchestra plays the gala closing concert of the 2014 Menuhin Competition on Sunday, March 2, 7pm, in Dell Hall at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside. For more information, call 512/474-5664 or visit www.thelongcenter.org.
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