Details, details: Planning tour is a game of strategy BSO ASIA TOUR

October 16, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Undertaking a major foreign tour such as the one the Baltimore Symphony embarks on Saturday is not unlike launching a military invasion. Both require gathering intelligence in advance and transporting large amounts of personnel and equipment.

The BSO's trip will take more than 120 people and 22,000 pounds of equipment halfway around the world. The musicians will cross 15 time zones to play 18 concerts in 13 cities in Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

The intelligence-gathering began in February. Susan Anderson, the BSO's operations manager, spent weeks scouting the terrain, looking for potential mishaps and planning the trip down to the tiniest detail.

She inspected every concert hall where the BSO will play. She stayed in every hotel they will occupy.

tTC She ate in almost every restaurant they will patronize. And she took every bus trip, plane flight and rail trip the orchestra is scheduled to take.

All this to make sure the symphony avoids such problems as traveling for eight hours on a day it is scheduled to perform.

"Certain things are always going to be beyond your control -- but you want as little of that as possible," says Ms. Anderson, 35. "I needed to be able to tell the orchestra what to expect."

One thing the orchestra can expect are familiar scenes.

"Most of what I saw in Japan and Korea will make the musicians feel at home," Ms. Anderson says.

"They'll see McDonald's, 7-Elevens, Burger Kings, lots of Hondas, malls that say 'Shopper's Plaza,' and signs that say '10 Percent sale.' "

Ms. Anderson's first job was to find hotels able to accommodate more than 100 people and comfortable enough so musicians would be rested and ready to play their best. The hotels had to be close to the music halls as well as to good restaurants that can feed 100 people after 11 p.m., which is when musicians eat dinner on concert evenings.

"There will be six people who will travel with us as facilitators and translators," Ms. Anderson says. "They'll set up desks in every hotel so that musicians can learn where they can get a kobe steak, get a haircut and have laundry done."

Ms. Anderson also worked closely with the airlines, bus companies and trucking firms responsible for transporting the musicians, instruments and equipment.

Some musicians with priceless instruments will carry them, she says. "But most of the instruments, and all of the larger ones, will have to go in the airplanes' cargo holds and on the trucks."

And that means making special arrangements. Instruments will be carried in double-cased, foam-filled trunks designed especially for them, and will be stored in temperature-controlled areas. The trunks are equipped with special flotation devices to make sure the instruments aren't bounced about.

"The important thing about transporting instruments is that you want as few loading crews involved as possible," Ms. Anderson says.

"And you want to be able to supervise the loading so that you can be sure, for example, that string basses are stored on their backs, not on their fronts, and that harps are stored upright."

The BSO will be accompanied by Dr. Elizabeth Hilleker, an emergency room physician at the medical school of Washington University in St. Louis. She joined the BSO on its European tour in 1987 and is an old friend of many of the musicians.

Ms. Anderson has provided Dr. Hilleker with a medical history of every musician and a synopsis of medication they may need. The doctor also will know the location of every nearby hospital in each of the 13 cities the BSO will visit.

What Ms. Anderson worries most about, however, are concerns such as missing luggage. Given the group dynamics of more than 120 people, those are things that can make it seem as if the end of the world is at hand.

"The most important trait for someone who does what I do is unflappability in times of ridiculous stress," she says. "Yelling doesn't help. You just have to accept that things may go wrong and then try to deal with them as they occur."

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