Behind the scenes: On tour with the world-famous Gewandhausorchester

One evening in London, the next night in Paris – the Gewandhausorchester’s tours are always tightly scheduled. How do over 100 musicians and their invaluable instruments perform in two different countries within 24 hours and arrive on time? Find out in this behind-the-scenes special of the orchestra’s four-week long autumn tour through Europe, Japan and Taiwan, celebrating the 90th birthday of the incredible conductor laureate Herbert Blomstedt.

It’s 1 pm on a cold but sunny autumn day in Baden-Baden. A huge, yellow DHL truck stands in the parking lot of the prestigious Festspielhaus. It is waiting to unload the invaluable goods it is carrying: the instruments and wardrobe of the Gewandhausorchester. The DHL logistics staff drove through the night from Luxemburg to the south of Germany to ensure the equipment of the musicians arrive on time for the concert.

The Leipzig-based Gewandhausorchester is one of the most traveled orchestras in the world. They spend around two months of the year on the road and perform at famous concert halls in Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australia. Often, they perform each night in a different city or even country.

“The biggest challenge on a tour is time management. The punctual arrival of the instruments at the concert venue is decisive for the success of a tour – without the instruments there is no concert,” explains Ilja Elbracht, Project Manager Arts, DHL Trade Fairs & Events. He accompanies the Gewandhausorchester on the autumn tour for which the ensemble will travel around 23,000 kilometers.

The logistics of a traveling orchestra is unique. “It’s not a normal transport, it’s about precious instruments,” says Jean-Peer Krutz who is responsible for logistics at the Gewandhausorchester. The instruments – often decades or hundreds of years old – are highly sensitive. When they get too cold or too warm they could get detuned or in worst cases damaged. That would be a disaster for the tour. Therefore, all equipment is packed in specifically designed cases and transported in a temperature-controlled truck.

The biggest challenge on a tour is time management.

Ilja Elbracht, Project Manager Arts, DHL Trade Fairs & Events

Here in Baden-Baden, staff members of DHL and the Gewandhausorchester are getting ready to unload the equipment. More than hundred cases containing the evening attire of the ensemble members, violins, clarinets and other instruments are rolled out of the truck. Some of the cases are very heavy: The biggest instruments on this tour are two harps. “We have them with us for the Brahms requiem,” explains Jean-Peer Krutz.

It’s 4 pm. The entire delivery is lined up backstage for the musicians who have arrived in the meantime. The job of the DHL logistics team is done – for now. Their shift will start again shortly before the concert ends when the truck needs to be pre-heated and prepared for loading and take-off. But now the truck drivers can sit back and relax while the musicians find their instruments and begin to warm up.

Meet the Artist

Most of the musicians are backstage but three of the ensemble members have sneaked off for a special event: the “Meet the Artist” lesson. The Gewandhausorchester, DHL and the non-profit organization Teach First Deutschland invited students from the near-by secondary school Werkrealschule Lichtental for a private music class.

The Gewandhaus trio Veronika Starke (violin), Matthias Weise (viola) and Nicolas Defranoux (cello) greet all of the students with a handshake. Once everyone is seated, it’s all about the music. The three string players start with a quiet piece by Mozart. While the teenage students are busy taking photos during the first few minutes of the performance, all of them are sitting still and are listening attentively to the second part. “Are you always this quiet at school?” asks Matthias Weise, the viola player, after the first piece. “No”, say the students in unison. “Why are you so quiet now?” “Because it’s so beautiful,” the students cheer.

After the private concert, the musicians provide a glimpse of what life as a professional musician is like. The students are curious to know since when the musicians have been playing their instruments and how many hours a day they practice. They are baffled by the answer: All three of them started learning their instruments at the age of six and they practice every day for a few hours. The musicians also explain their instruments and the difference between a violin, a viola, and a cello. Nicolas Defranoux on the cello summarizes it: “The smaller the instrument, the higher the notes it can play.”

It’s very important to create direct contact with music and musicians.

Mr. Baiatu, Teacher

At the end of the lesson, the students are allowed to play the instruments themselves.  And all of them want to try. The room gets filled with a symphony of slightly disharmonious tones. But who knows – maybe one of the future ensemble members is part of the “Meet the Artist” lesson today.

Their teacher Mr. Baiatu is thrilled by the event. “It’s amazing. It’s very important to create direct contact with music and musicians,” he says. The students don’t have regular music lessons at their school because of a lack of teachers. So this afternoon is a great opportunity for the students to engage with music, he adds.

DHL has organized such events in Houston, London, Vienna, Essen, Frankfurt and Cologne. It’s part of the company’s GoTeach program that seeks to improve educational opportunities and employability of young people. “The socio-economic background still decides about success at school and work in many countries, including Germany. We would like to contribute to change that and not leave schools, society and politics alone,” says Ralf Dürrwang, Head of Corporate Citizenship, DPDHL Group. The partnership with the Gewandhausorchester provides “a great opportunity for students to get to know musicians of a world-famous orchestra and learn about their work,” he adds.

Precision and flexibility

Backstage at the Festspielhaus, the musicians have changed into their tailcoats and dresses. It’s 8 pm now. Led by the famous 90-year-old conductor laureate Herbert Blomstedt, the musicians steps onto the stage of Germany’s biggest opera and concert house. The 110-person-strong orchestra performs historic pieces by Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Bruckner.

When the last tune is played and the curtain has fallen, the logistics team moves quickly. All instruments are packed securely and loaded onto the pre-heated truck, making sure that specific instruments such as the harps are transported in a standing position. These are the details the logistics team needs to pay attention to.

DHL has been the Official Logistics Partner of the Gewandhausorchester since 2009. “The partnership with DHL is something very important and fantastic for us because we have one partner who is responsible for all transport-related tasks,” says Marco Eckertz, Orchestra Manager of the Gewandhausorchester. “This means I don’t have to coordinate with different logistics companies for truck or airfreight transportation. DHL can transport our instruments with a truck and if worse comes to worse and there is not enough time, DHL can organize a plane for us. This provides us with much-needed security.”

The partnership with DHL is something very fantastic for us.

Marco Eckertz, Orchestra Manager of the Gewandhausorchester

Flexibility is key on a tightly scheduled international tour. The biggest challenge is the weather and depending on the season, it can be a very big challenge. Once during a US tour, a blizzard forced the Gewandhausorchester to cancel a concert at the last minute. But so far on this autumn tour, everything went according to plan.

It’s midnight in Baden-Baden now. The DHL truck with the instruments has just left for Vienna, Austria. There, the musicians and the entire crew can rest for a day before performing on four evenings in the Austrian capital and one night in Budapest, Hungary. Then, the Gewandhausorchester is off to Japan and Taiwan for the last stops of the autumn tour.   

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