What It Takes to Send a Classical Orchestra on Tour
Nearly every classical orchestra belongs to one particular city — and as such, it spends the vast majority of its season performing for people in that community. But now and then, an orchestra gets the extraordinary opportunity to present its classical music in another part of the world on tour.
Orchestras love touring. They do it for the thrill of sightseeing, the glamour of distant travel, the glow of international goodwill, the experience of playing in many different venues, the long-term togetherness that leads to real bonding and morale-building, and an enhanced reputation at home.
But a tour is more than a wondrous, magical experience; it’s also an enormous beast of a project requiring an enormous outlay of time, energy, and money. Tour planning is not for the faint of heart.
Many orchestras turn to companies that specialize in musical tours. One such company, Classical Movements, recently helped the Minnesota Orchestra become the first major American ensemble to travel to Cuba under the newly relaxed travel restrictions.
If you want to take your orchestra on tour, the first thing to decide is where you want to go. The world is your oyster! Say that you choose Rome; it’s always been your dream to play at the Colosseum.
After you set your dream destination, it’s time to raise money for the trip. The music world knows that no orchestra ever makes a profit on a tour. No matter how popular you may be abroad, ticket sales don’t cover your costs. So breaking even is the goal — and for that, you need a sponsor. Your best bet is to locate either a company or an individual who will gladly foot the bill in exchange for some nice publicity or credit. Depending on the size of your ensemble and the length of the trip, the bill could easily go into the hundreds of thousands of dollars — or more. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s recent tour of Asia cost more than $3 million.
Got a sponsor? Great. Now it’s time to tackle the following issues:
Personnel. Who is going? Clearly the musicians and conductor are traveling on this tour. But you should also consider the stage crew, personnel managers, translators, publicity and marketing staff, executive director, some substitute musicians in case of illness, and maybe even the loyal donors who paid for the trip.
Documents. Do you need passports and special visas? Is everyone in your group eligible to travel abroad? Do you need work permits for the host country? Are extra taxes involved? Someone at the organization must be in charge of making sure all your documents are in order.
Transportation. Getting there is half the fun — and half the expense. How do you want to travel? By plane, train, ship, car, or all of the above? After you figure it out, don’t forget to arrange tickets — for all 99 of you. Not to mention some buses to shuttle you around the city after you arrive. And some barges, trucks, and luggage handlers to transport your oversized instruments, musicians’ portable lockers, and anything else you may need for your concerts.
Accommodations. Where would you like to spend the night? Can the musicians stay two to a room — or do their contracts require single rooms? If double occupancy is allowed, who wants to room with whom? What about smokers vs. non-smokers? What hotels are big enough to accommodate all of you? Where are the reputable establishments — and what parts of town do you need to avoid?
Meals. Where should you eat? Does the orchestra take all its meals together, or does each musician receive a daily allowance — a per diem — to use as she likes? Are restaurants easily accessible in the area of your hotel? Is the food safe to eat, and the water safe to drink? Is there something for everybody? What about the kosher musicians, people with allergies, or members of PETA in the group?
Venues. Where should your orchestra perform in the city? The Colosseum isn’t always available for concerts. (In fact, until the ancient floor is rebuilt, it’s never available for concerts.) Do you want to play in an ancient church, a school auditorium, an outdoor arena, or one of the many beautiful concert halls in the city? After you choose a location and pay the rental fees, you must coordinate with the venue to arrange for heating or air conditioning, stage setup, chairs and music stands, piano and percussion rental, piano tuning, lighting, audience seating, ticket sales, ushers, handicap-accessible areas — and about a hundred other things.
Partners. Do you want to collaborate with a local musical group? Let’s say you’re performing Beethoven’s Ninth, or the Brahms Requiem, or Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. For that you need a massive chorus — and it may not be cost-effective to bring your own on tour. Or perhaps you need some extra instrumentalists to augment your own orchestra. With the right kind of research, you can find a top-notch group that will be honored to perform with you.
Promotion. Now that your concert is set, the next step is to get people to come hear it. Do you hire a local marketing firm to create posters? Do you advertise on radio, TV, the Internet, Twitter, or other social media? Do you create press releases and give interviews for the local newspaper? All of this must be decided in advance.
There’s more, of course. These are just the main things any musical group must consider before touring. And the complications multiply if the group decides to visit multiple destinations, each with its own challenges.
So if you ever find that some musicians are on tour in your city, you’d do well to attend their concert. They’ve put a lot of work into just showing up!