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THREATS AND RESPONSES: TRAVEL; Tighter Security Is Jeopardizing Orchestra Tours
August 15, 2006, Tuesday
By DANIEL J. WAKIN (NYT); Foreign Desk
Late Edition - Final, Section A, Page 1, Column 6, 929 words
Air travel for classical musicians has never been easy.
Those husky cellos need an extra ticket. Hey, security! Watch that priceless Stradivarius. Double-reed players? They have long given up on carrying aboard those valuable knives and shaping tools used to mold the cane that transforms their breath into lyrical sounds.
And now, with new concerns about carry-on baggage in the wake of Britain’s reported terrorist plot, it has gotten tougher.
Strict regulations imposed last week forced the New York-based Orchestra of St. Luke’s to cancel a long-awaited tour of Britain over the weekend and sent other ensembles with imminent trips, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Minnesota Orchestra, scrambling to cope with the new rules.
“I’m heartbroken,” Marianne C. Lockwood, the president and executive director of the St. Luke’s orchestra, said yesterday. “I don’t think I’ve been through 72 more anguished hours in my life.” The orchestra was to have left last Thursday for concerts at the Edinburgh International Festival and the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London, one of the major summer music festivals.
All travelers in Britain had to adapt to the ban on carry-on items, which was relaxed yesterday to allow one small carry-on. But not all travelers ply their trade with highly personal artifacts made of centuries-old wood, horsehair and precious metals that many musicians are loath to put in the hold.
Its rules are of course in flux. The United States Transportation Security Administration says on its Web site that musical instruments are generally allowed in the cabin in addition to a carry-on bag and a personal item, but it leaves size requirements and permission for the carry-on to the airlines. In addition, it promises that security personnel will handle instruments carefully.
That is of little comfort to musicians, particularly string players, who suffer constant anxiety over the threat of damage and fears that their instruments will arbitrarily not be allowed in the cabin, even though violins fit into most overhead bins.
The violin virtuoso and conductor Pinchas Zukerman said security officials had even asked him to remove the strings of his 1742 Guarneri del Gèsu. “I’ve had unbelievable discussions at certain airports,” he said by telephone while waiting at the Atlanta airport for a flight with his wife, the cellist Amanda Forsyth. “They want to stick their hands in my instruments, and they say, ‘It’s my job.’ ”
Cellists have it the worst, Ms. Forsyth said. “We buy the seat with a cello, and they treat us like second-class criminals.”
The new regulations have, for now, increased the complications.
The Bolshoi opera and ballet, which have been performing at the Royal Opera House in London, will send their orchestra’s instruments back to Moscow by ferry and truck at the end of the week if the restrictions are not relaxed, said Faith Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Bolshoi’s promoter at the house, Victor Hochhauser Presents. The Bolshoi orchestra’s chief conductor, Alexander Vedernikov, had been quoted as saying that the musicians’ contract requires them to keep their instruments with them.
“Clearly this is a very unusual situation,” Ms. Wilson said. “I’m sure there are insurance issues, but I don’t think anybody’s ever had to cope with the security restrictions that we’re up against.”
The Minnesota Orchestra is due to leave on Sunday for a European tour that also includes stops in Edinburgh and at the Proms. Like many major orchestras, it packs its instruments in specially designed and padded crates.
The biggest ones, which hold harps and double basses, are six and a half feet high and four feet wide. About 20 players in the 95-member ensemble like to take their instruments or precious bows on board, but they will stow them this time around, said a spokeswoman, Gwen Pappas. The trunks are delivered straight to concert halls, so the instruments will not be immediately available for players who want to practice at their hotels.
The Philadelphia Orchestra plays the Proms in early September. Its trunks also have space for all the members’ instruments, but it is working on backup plans for about a dozen musicians who are going on to other jobs or on vacation and not returning with the orchestra, said a spokeswoman, Katherine Blodgett.
Those concerts, coming later, give the orchestras time to prepare. And these are large, experienced touring groups that own the crates.
Not so the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, a highly regarded ensemble that nevertheless tours infrequently and saw the trip as a boost for its image. It spent two years planning the trip and many months carefully polishing the programs, which were to have been broadcast in the United States.
The trip had special significance for the orchestra’s principal conductor, Donald Runnicles, who is Scottish, and for its president, Ms. Lockwood, who was born in England.
Ms. Lockwood described three days of phone calls, fueled by takeout Chinese food, to find alternatives. The musicians had planned to carry their smaller instruments by hand.
Charter planes were too expensive: about $300,000, which would have doubled the cost of the tour. The orchestra scoured larger orchestras from Philadelphia to Boston to borrow trunks. All were in use. St. Luke’s considered flying the musicians to Paris, having them take a train to London and having the instruments trucked in, but there would not have been time to make a Tuesday rehearsal.
Then someone from Edinburgh called Saturday to offer the loan of instruments.
In the end, none of the efforts mattered. British Airways canceled the flight that day at 5 p.m.