Each time I go on tour I am reminded of the unsung heroes of travelling orchestras. They don’t take a bow, but behind every successful tour is a slick operation that happens as if by magic. It begins days before the musicians have even boarded the plane, when thousands of pounds worth of precious instruments, music and music stands are carefully packed into reinforced trunkers, loaded onto a lorry, ferry or plane, and finally driven hundreds of miles, across borders, through the night, and intostrange cities.
The drivers of these lorries are the linchpins of an orchestral tour. As well as being HGV drivers, Stage Managers of orchestras have to negotiate unfamiliar laws which prevent lorries from driving on foreign motorways or cities on Sundays, because concerts happen on Sundays too. They check the trunkers to make sure they only contain what they are supposed to, and not stray books, clothes, shoes or even wine (yes that did happen once) which might cause them delays at borders. Sometimes they don a smart DJ to move a piano mid-concert, and they probably know how many cello desks there are in a Beethoven piano concerto and how many trumpets in Strauss’s Til Eulenspiegel.
Touring is a fantastic experience for musicians, and the excitement of playing in foreign concert halls is exhilarating. However, once we leave a concert platform most of us don’t spare a thought for what happens next, but, working when the orchestra rests, Stage Managers are always one step ahead of us in our schedule. As we hunt out a “tour bar”, their workday is recommencing on stage, starting with dismantling the magnificent orchestral set. The lorry is carefully reloaded, driven through the night and, hours before the orchestra arrives, unloaded again and a new stage set, ready for another concert in another hall, and so the cycle starts again.