Planes, buses, trains. Tension, fatigue, gastrointestinal ailments. Quite aside from the music and the glory, these are also elements of the National Symphony Orchestra's European tour.
Dr. Jerry Martin, tour physician, carries two aluminum cases with him, containing a cylinder of oxygen and an EKG machine. "So far I haven't used the EKG," he said, "and I couldn't use the oxygen anyway--because they made me decompress it when we started."
The instruments, too, require special care, and on this trip they are carried in heated trucks. When, early on, one unheated truck was used, percussion player Kenny Harbison complained, "My cymbals were so cold you couldn't touch your hands to them." Orchestra manager Henry Fogel went into action, and the incident has not been repeated.
Joel King, the stage manager in charge of the crew that wrestles the instruments in and out of 16 different halls, did not share the musicians' high opinion of Vienna's famous music hall. "We had a problem with it," he said, citing the way the instruments had to be carried up two flights of stairs to the stage level.
Flight arrangements for this kind of tour are worked out to the last detail. Luggage must be in the hotel lobby several hours before flight time, and each person is given a seat number for each trip. (Orchestra members are asked beforehand, confidentially, if there is anyone they would rather not sit next to.)
But the best laid plans can still be thwarted by the weather. Fog at Amsterdam several days ago held back the planes due at Eindhoven Airport for an hour and a half. Fogel went out to the airport and called in periodic reports. On another plane, people holding seats 2-B or 6-B found that plane had no B's. Another plane lacked row 13 even though the seating plan sent to the orchestra showed one.
In the hall at Hannover the musicians said there was not enough light on the stage (the New York Philharmonic Orchestra had the same problem there two years ago). Fogel went out on stage with his light meter and proved them right. The house lights stayed up. In Mannheim, harpist Dotian Carter complained the weather was so dry the calluses on her fingers were peeling off.
As the tour progresses, the musicians share the troubles all travelers encounter. For one, the new coats, cameras, phonograph records and gifts for friends back home take up too much room. Violinist Virginia Harpham announced that she would need a new suitcase because hers was bulging. Double bass player Dick Webster was using straps after the catch on his bag broke.
Up to now, however, things have gone relatively smoothly. But for the next installment you might want to watch news reports out of London's Heathrow Airport where a strike of British Airways ground crews could make things rough for the National Symphony Orchestra, due to land there at 11:30 tomorrow morning.
Fogel, with agents working in London and New York, has two contingency plans: Have the orchestra leave Paris immediately after the concert tonight for the train-boat night crossing of the English Channel, or have them go by special bus and hydrofoil.