In this day and age, when an orchestra can broadcast its performances worldwide (as the Berlin Philharmonic does with its Digital Concert Hall), why would a group like the LA Phil pack up and lumber around the world? That question was on our minds since we just returned from a two-week international tour.
Remember, when an orchestra travels, it’s not just the 100-odd musicians and perhaps their spouses (and even children)! It’s all their instruments as well, the music, luggage, and all kinds of other orchestral detritus. Then you’ve got the librarians, administrative staff, stage crew, and everyone else who makes the tour go ’round.
So in this episode, we talk about the whys, and then the hows. How do you get ready for tour, how do you deal with the strange meal times, how do you adjust for the different halls? We also discuss how tour performances are different from “home base” shows, and what touring does for the orchestra musically.
Don’t forget, if you haven’t yet picked up our free guide to evaluating violin sound, make sure you click here to get it!
Nathan Cole: Hello, and welcome back to Stand Partners for Life. I am Nathan Cole.
Akiko Tarumoto: I’m Akiko Tarumoto.
Nathan Cole: And good to have you back. Back in the home studio here in Pasadena. We are recovering from tour.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, that’s me being jet lagged. Sorry.
Nathan Cole: You mean the long pause?
Akiko Tarumoto: The long pause and glazed silence.
Nathan Cole: Yeah, that’s going to be the topic of this episode, all about touring. Just before we dive into it, I did want to remind all of our listeners that if you haven’t got our free guide to choosing instruments or upgrading instruments, do make sure you pick that up. That’s at standpartnersforlife.com/guide. I’m actually helping someone right now find a new instrument, and it’s taken a lot of years and a lot of searches to come up with just how to listen to new instrument sound, unfamiliar instrument sound. You had a hand in putting that together, you’ve done your own searches.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, a few. For the most part I-
Nathan Cole: We’re not dealers. We’re not buying and selling these things all the time.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, we don’t have the disposable income to be high-end instrument shopping on a regular basis.
Nathan Cole: But it was a really fun guide to put together and it’ll give you a system, our system, for listening and evaluating. Whether you’re looking for an instrument right now or not, it’s just great to have a way to organize your thoughts on that. Go ahead and pick that up. Standpartnersforlife.com/guide. It’s free and tons of fun, if I do say so myself. We’re going to talk about tour today. Just to maybe color our conversation a little bit, I wanted to read a little something that someone wrote to us on iTunes, a review, which I’d love to read. This listener shares a lot of good thoughts. All this is in a constructive vain, but they do mention, “My only comment.” Well, this comes halfway through the comments, so it’s not really their only comment.
Nathan Cole: But, I think they mean the only criticism would be, “That sometimes the problems you describe regarding your playing and work-life can be seen as a little as ‘first world problems.’ I believe that if you’ve made it to LA Phil and have this amazing job, which is rare in our profession, I would think that anyone would feel accomplished. I feel a lot of negativity coming from the outcome, almost as though all this practice brought you to a place where all the insecurities and frustrations are still the same. I’m sure that you both love what you do. Don’t want to come off as though you’re better than anyone else, but I hear a lot of complaining.” I think that’s fair enough. I think, for me, the phrase in there that sticks out is, “Almost as though all this practice brought you to a place where all the insecurities and frustrations are still the same.” In a way, I think that’s true. Those insecurities never exactly go away, what you come into the job with.
Akiko Tarumoto: Well, and not to keep onto the complaining vein, but I do think it gets worse, the insecurities. It can get worse anyway, as your orchestral life progresses.
Nathan Cole: Mm-hmm (affirmative). We have to be on our guard against that.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. I certainly hope we don’t sound like we’re trying to complain about things that are not worth complaining about, or that we’re coming off as superior. That makes me feel kind of terrible actually.
Nathan Cole: No. I mean, I feel like this comment was saying maybe the complaining is to make sure that we don’t come off as sounding better than other people.
Akiko Tarumoto: Oh, I wasn’t sure. Yeah Nathan, you have much thicker skin for this stuff. I’m sure we have covered this already, but the orchestral job thing can be really, really tough on your self-esteem. Yeah, there’s a certain sense of, you want to bring home a paycheck as a musician, and you’re happy when it’s a healthy paycheck of course. But I think you don’t think about what that’s going to be like in 20 years when you’ve been doing literally, the exact same job for decades, and you’re starting to feel like maybe you’re toiling in obscurity.
Nathan Cole: These concerns I think, they cut across all different levels of orchestra, community orchestras and any professional group as well. I’m not sure if I thought, “Oh, when I get into a big orchestra all the big problems are going to go away.”
Akiko Tarumoto: I didn’t know there were problems to be honest.
Nathan Cole: Right. Just never really thought about it. I think part-
Akiko Tarumoto: I think I imagined that I’d always feel like kind of a standout or something, and that the risk of sounding arrogant, I think I thought the way you feel the day you win your job, you just don’t imagine how distant that’s going to be.
Nathan Cole: Right, because on that day you’re the star and you’re the hero.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. Everybody knows who you are, people are trying to talk to you. 20 years later, you’re looking for some place in the building where nobody can find you, because you just can’t stand the thought of having another conversation that you don’t want to have.
Nathan Cole: Well, I mean, if this podcast can be both, maybe not a bucket of cold water in the face exactly, but a dose of reality. I think we want it to be a dose of reality, but then also, to point out all the great reasons that we do what we do too. I think as long as we keep those in balance, then we’re serving our listeners.
Akiko Tarumoto: I’m sorry. I have a feeling that your point in bringing up the question didn’t work. I think we only kept complaining more.
Nathan Cole: No, well, I think as we just talk about tour, that’s a chance for us to hear our colleagues complain a lot, because when you travel together with a hundred people, you hear complaints about everything from airport lines to airport food, to hotel food to everything else. As we get into this topic, I want to make sure we accentuate the great things about tour too, which I think we’re already prepared to do.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah.
Nathan Cole: Of course, we can edit all of that out if that’s just not going anywhere.
Akiko Tarumoto: No, I still feel terrible about saying all these negative things. Wonder if we should restart and say some nice things about our job.
Nathan Cole: That’s easy enough to do. I think tour’s a great chance to get to know your colleagues and maybe some different colleagues than you’re used to hanging to with, because you’re thrown together with other people in an airport line, then you might be just sitting with your section on stage.
Akiko Tarumoto: These days we don’t get to hang out after a concert anymore. We’re really just exiting the building, racing home to relieve the babysitter, so maybe we can just get to bed. It’s a very different existence than on tour.
Nathan Cole: That’s already a nice thing, to build some new friendships. Let’s briefly go over what an orchestra tour is like with the LA Phil, how long it is. Most of ours are, if it’s a domestic tour it might be just one week or maybe a week and a half. If it’s an international tour, and we tend to do one international tour every season, and those are what, somewhere around two weeks, maybe stretching to three.
Akiko Tarumoto: No.
Nathan Cole: No? Two?
Akiko Tarumoto: Much closer to two. Yeah. Rarely ever longer than two.
Nathan Cole: But a far cry from when my grandpa was in the Philadelphia Orchestra doing the eight week tour by train of Europe. I mean, we may as well just give away our kids if we did something like that.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. I guess there were basically, no orchestra couples that would sort of-
Nathan Cole: Well no, I mean, there were basically no women. They didn’t really have the same sex couples then either, in the orchestra at least.
Akiko Tarumoto: I was going to say, they had them,-
Nathan Cole: They had them.
Akiko Tarumoto: … just maybe not openly.
Nathan Cole: Not openly and not in the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was a hundred guys traveling together in hot cramped train compartments.
Akiko Tarumoto: Was it a hotel room once a week?
Nathan Cole: Yes. One hotel room a week, and the rest of the time they slept on the train and took whatever kind of showers you can take in a sleeping car sink on the train. Maybe it’s a good thing it was all men. Those tours, I’m not sure.
Akiko Tarumoto: I’m sure there are many ways that it was easier just to have all men. But yeah.
Nathan Cole: But yeah, the wives were all back home taking care of the kids. Yeah, that just wouldn’t really work-
Akiko Tarumoto: Not for us.
Nathan Cole: … with us, much longer than two weeks. Even two weeks can seem like a long time away from the kids.
Akiko Tarumoto: We’re really lucky. Here’s a positive, we’re really lucky that we have things negotiated into our contract that cover pretty much every aspect of the tour, so that the hotels have to be a certain minimal level. Of course, the schedule is carefully scrutinized by the committee, so that there’s nothing that’s irregular, in terms of conforming with the contract. Free days, time off.
Nathan Cole: In this two week tour for example, where were the places we went? We flew out of L.A., went to Boston. Two concerts there. One concert in D.C. Two concerts in New York, and then European portion of the tour. Two concerts in London, plus an extra New Music Concert, and then two concerts in Paris. What’s that? A total of nine, ten concerts in two weeks?
Akiko Tarumoto: No, it was only …
Nathan Cole: Well, five venues. The only place where we played one concert was D.C. That should be nine.
Akiko Tarumoto: Is that right?
Nathan Cole: Or did we only play one concert in Boston?
Akiko Tarumoto: One concert in Boston, that’s right.
Nathan Cole: This is bad that I already can’t remember this and we just got back. Eight concerts plus one new music concert.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yes.
Nathan Cole: In a two week tour.
Akiko Tarumoto: That’s right.
Nathan Cole: Yeah. We never play in two different cities on the same day. But we will play what we call, we’ll do travel and play days, where you wake up in one hotel, get packed up on the bus to the train station or airport, get to the new city and maybe do a soundcheck, maybe not, and then a concert that night. Those are the busiest. Those are the most hectic days.
Akiko Tarumoto: I think that if you’re going to feel really well rested throughout the concerts, you have to definitely prioritize that and just treat it like it’s a work trip. You get to the hotel, you rest. You lie down, you maybe order room service for dinner, you get the bus to the venue. Then you play the concert, and then you pretty much go straight to bed, maybe you’ll get a drink or something after, but you’re really focused on conserving your energy for work. It can be tough, because most people try to do some kind of half and half thing, where they’ll sightsee, try restaurants, because it’s so tempting, these amazing cities that we go to. Great food and just great things to see.
Akiko Tarumoto: It can go both ways. Some people get a real balance, where they just get to see a couple things. But it can be easy to be like, “I’m going to do this, this, this and this.” Then by 6:00 PM I’ll be ready to take the bus to the hotel, or I’ll take the subway to the hall. I mean, that way I won’t have to deal with the bus and be back by the hotel by any certain time. Those are the times when you start feeling pretty rundown about halfway through, because you’ve been just running yourself a little bit ragged.
Nathan Cole: Burning the tour candle at both ends. As we get older too, I think we have to be more cognizant of that as well, just so that we don’t have endless energy.
Akiko Tarumoto: For a while there, I feel as if we were getting good at going places and saying, “I don’t need to spend all day outside.” I did a couple tours like that, and then, I think once we had kids and we started touring together without the kids, it got really tough again, because we’re alone-
Nathan Cole: This is our only chance.
Akiko Tarumoto: This is kind of like a vacation, work hybrid thing. You start trying to do it all again. I’m completely exhausted. We got back days ago and I’m still recovering.
Nathan Cole: I know. Sometimes on these tours, especially if the city is so much fun, you’re going around, you’re like, “Oh man, if only the concert wasn’t getting in the way of this awesome day here in D.C.,” or whatever.
Akiko Tarumoto: It’s pretty easy to start viewing work as an encumbrance to your fun time on your vacation, which when you stop and think about it, you’re like, “I’m here to work.”
Nathan Cole: This wouldn’t exist without the concert side. Sometimes we feel like the people in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. They finally get out on the boat after they haven’t been out of the asylum for years and want to make most of the day.
Akiko Tarumoto: Are we complaining again?
Nathan Cole: Do you remember your first tours? I think we were of similar age. We both started working in our early 20s. I don’t know if I really count the tours that I did in my first job, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, because those were a little bit on the less glitzy side, at least the two years that I was there. I remember my last motel as a member of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra was a Super 8, somewhere in the Midwest. But, as soon as I joined the Chicago Symphony, it was like I couldn’t believe it was real. I opened my tour book and was like, “Oh, what is today bringing?” I didn’t even look ahead.
Akiko Tarumoto: What’s a tour book? I mean, you probably never had one in Saint Paul.
Nathan Cole: Maybe not. But yeah, starting in Chicago and certainly your first job here in L.A., you’d get this book at the start of the tour. But yeah, I’d open it up and, “Oh. Today it says free day. Oh wow. Breakfast is in the lobby restaurant from 6:00-11:00, and then what should I do?” Obviously, you weren’t around, and maybe I’d practiced a little, and then I’d just go out, and walk and walk. Then I’d feel guilty, like, “Here I am in …” Whatever city … “Berlin. These are the big sights. I’ve never been to Berlin, so I’ve got to see all these things.” Yeah, I’d be exhausted by the concert.
Akiko Tarumoto: I can’t remember what my first … My first international tour, yeah, we went to London a few times, Edinborough.
Nathan Cole: Had you done much or any traveling outside the U.S. at that point?
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, very little. I mean, there’s that summer where I was in Italy for a few weeks, for five weeks.
Nathan Cole: That was for the Spoleto Festival?
Akiko Tarumoto: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Then my dad had taken me to Portugal once when I was 14. I think that was it. That was really the extent of my international travel. Yeah, it was a real thrill to go as part of an orchestra. It still, I get really excited to plan for tour.
Nathan Cole: Well yeah, like you said, more and more where you feel like, “God, this is our limited time without the kids, so we’ve got to pack it to the gills with …”
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, there’s that. But I just love the feeling. I even love stupid things, like telling people you’re going to be out of town for two weeks. You’re just like, “I am so important.” It’s fun.
Nathan Cole: Do you change your outgoing message on your-
Akiko Tarumoto: I don’t. I miss doing that. I miss getting on the plane, and the last thing I did being, “I will be out of town. Be unavailable until … You can reach me at in my email address.” Don’t do that anymore.
Nathan Cole: Haven’t done that in a while. Well, before we talk about what actually happens on the tour, what are some of the things we’ve got to take care of before tour, I guess as individuals and an orchestra? Every tour has weeks leading up to it called tour prep weeks, where we play the repertoire, we play the programs that we’re going to take on tour. Again, this was very different in my grandfather’s day, because they would play with their music director virtually year round. They didn’t see very many guest conductors. With the music director, they’d play a hundred pieces during the year, and then on tour they’d take 50 of those pieces or something. They didn’t do specific tour prep weeks necessarily.
Nathan Cole: But with us, we take two very specific programs, or maybe three, then we workshop those here in Disney Hall the couple weeks before. We want to have the same personnel for those weeks as we do on the tour. For example, when we need to hire substitute players, they’ve got to be available for a whole month at a stretch. Then as the two of us, yeah, we work out childcare. This time we got my parents to come out and helps with the kids while we were gone.
Akiko Tarumoto: With kids it is. It’s complicated with both of us going, because at the moment, we still leave them at home. Eventually, soon, we’re going to be taking one kid at a time or eventually all three. That’ll be even more complicated.
Nathan Cole: But there are kids on tour. There are spouses on tour. There are provisions for that. If we wanted to take kids or caregivers, we’d obviously just have to pay their way, but they could be part of the group flights, they could be part of the group hotels and all that. That’s something that people do. I know we’ve always been worried that not only because it would just completely change our tour experience, but we worry about how it would affect our colleagues. We’ve both been part of those plane rides and bus rides, and train rides, where someone’s kid is either melting down, because they’re a kid. Or, maybe they’re having the time of their life and they’re singing, and shouting and dancing, but the whole orchestra’s just finished a really grueling concert and everybody’s tired and not always wanting to deal with-
Akiko Tarumoto: Again, it’s a time where you have to remind yourself it’s not vacation. It’s not vacation for your colleagues or you, and you don’t want to make them feel like they’re on someone else’s horrible vacation.
Nathan Cole: Because there’s a lot of traveling … I mean, in the first part of the tour we just did, the domestic portion felt a lot busier than the European portion. We just traveled more and played more concerts in a shorter span of time. We had two nights in Boston I think, or was it three?
Akiko Tarumoto: We got to Boston Tuesday and we left on Thursday.
Nathan Cole: Yeah. Two nights in Boston and one night in D.C., and then we had two nights in New York, as opposed to when we got to Europe and we had five nights in London, four nights in Paris. The domestic part of the tour was a lot of running around. With a big group, things have to happen way in advance. If the group has a noon flight, then luggage is collected either that morning between 6:30 and 7:30, or it’s often collected the night before, so that they can either fly it or truck it separately to the next destination.
Nathan Cole: Everybody’s got to be on a bus from the hotel way early, and then you get to the airport, and everybody’s got to collect their boarding passes together and move to the gate together. We had a colleague in the Chicago Symphony who would walk with a cane or walk with some help, and then as soon as the seating was opened up on any bus or plane … We had another colleague that joked, “This guy turned into Secretariat,” he was galloping to the … Because he wanted the very front seat. He wanted to be first on the bus, first on the plane.
Akiko Tarumoto: That’s not such a fun energy to be around when you’re on tour, because you need as much serenity as you can wring from these moments, being the huge group of people that you’ve been seeing for a long time. It’s not good if somebody’s really making themselves a pest in any way.
Nathan Cole: You don’t ever want to be that person.
Akiko Tarumoto: Something we’re constantly trying to watch out for is, are we becoming the pest?
Nathan Cole: Yeah, because it’s funny, part of getting a job and keeping a job is being a good citizen. When you’re around the hall, even driving into the hall and parking, you develop polite routines, so that you don’t annoy your colleagues. But then on tour all of a sudden, your colleagues get to see you … They don’t see you getting dressed, but they see you arriving at an airport and shopping, and getting in lines, and maybe eating breakfast. They get glimpses into your life that they don’t get the rest of the year.
Akiko Tarumoto: That can be tough as a couple I think, because we don’t want some unflattering side of our married life to seep into our colleagues’ consciousness.
Nathan Cole: Yeah, because if we’re having a bad day, or a bad morning or anything, it’s in front of a hundred other people. We hope people have short tour memories. Since our tour memories are pretty long, I doubt that’s true!
Akiko Tarumoto: I think we’ve done alright. I don’t remember having an actual altercation.
Nathan Cole: We’ve done fine on tour. I think this tour was fun.
Akiko Tarumoto: This tour yeah, it was a lot of fun. I think I never had a decent night of sleep, which can be tough. I’m not a great sleeper, as you know. For people like me, there are a few of us who don’t adjust well so much to time change and just general environment change. There are few of us who spend most of the tour feeling pretty rundown.
Nathan Cole: People are trading tips about sleep medications, and sleep strategies and all that.
Akiko Tarumoto: Usually, over a couple cocktails after a concert, which is not the best strategy for getting the best night’s sleep either.
Nathan Cole: Meals on tour, again, my first tours, my challenge was … The concept of a per diem blew me away, and that happens in any line of work. There’s always some allotted amount of money, so when I was starting out, I thought, “Oh God. I’m going to save all this money.” The hotel breakfast I realized I could stretch it to cover lunch as well, because the breakfasts in these hotels, especially the European ones, are often a buffet.
Akiko Tarumoto: You would eat so much that you wouldn’t have eaten lunch?
Nathan Cole: Well, I would eat a lot at breakfast, but then also, there might be a selection of rolls, breads,-
Akiko Tarumoto: No, don’t tell me.
Nathan Cole: … cheeses.
Akiko Tarumoto: Really? Stuffing it into a little sack?
Nathan Cole: Not a sack, but maybe a napkin or something.
Akiko Tarumoto: Oh dear.
Nathan Cole: I’d made a couple little sandwiches-
Akiko Tarumoto: Wow. I don’t recognize you at all in this story.
Nathan Cole: I was 22. What are you going to do?
Akiko Tarumoto: Hey, it’s not a bad idea.
Nathan Cole: Then there would be my breakfast and lunch, and all I’d have to worry about was dinner. Then, who knows what places I found appealing to eat back then by myself. You’re just nodding your head like, “Yeah, I can imagine.”
Akiko Tarumoto: I’ve heard of Old Country Buffet.
Nathan Cole: Old Country Buffet I did visit in the Twin Cities. That wasn’t even a tour. I must’ve been the only individual eater at Old Country Buffet.
Akiko Tarumoto: That is so sad.
Nathan Cole: I know. I remember … Sorry. This is not a tour story any longer. But yeah, showing up to a concert with The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and a really friendly head stage hand was there, and, “All right. Nathan, what were you up to today?” Like, “Oh, I went to a place. Do you know this place, Old Country Buffet?” He just kind of laughed, and he’s like, “Oh yeah. The folks in town?” I was like, “Oh no, just went.” He was like, “Just by yourself?” “Yeah. Just went there and ate by myself.” He was like, “Solo trip to OCB. All right.” Yeah, that really made me kind of look in the mirror for a second.
Akiko Tarumoto: Well, my solo trips to shop by myself at Saks or whatever, probably even more-
Nathan Cole: That’s a little more chic than Old Country Buffet.
Akiko Tarumoto: Maybe a little less financially advisable, yeah.
Nathan Cole: But on tour, now, one of our favorite pastimes is planning out the meals. Sometimes you’ve got to be creative, because the meal times are strange. We would often have rehearsal, let’s say, what they would call an acoustic rehearsal, which is just a short, I don’t know, 6:30-7:15, and then an 8:00 concert. If the rehearsal’s at 6:30, the bus to the hall might be at 5:30. That really means dinner is about at 3:30, so that you can get back to the hotel and get on the bus. You either do that or eat dinner after the concert at 11:00. We’ve kind of done it both ways.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, we did that a few times. You just feel terrible the next day. I personally, I don’t sleep well. Eat so late. I’d never make it as a soloist for a number of reasons. But, we have friends who they’ve lived the life and they just cruise through it. They manage to travel far, and sleep and perform concertos. That’s an incredible life.
Nathan Cole: Well, and some of our friends who do that get very, very particular. They have their routine and they’ve got to eat certain things at certain times. At first, it sounds completely unglamorous, and then you realize yeah, you can’t do it glamorous night after night and still expect to-
Akiko Tarumoto: Well, unless you’re Vladimir Horowitz.
Nathan Cole: Horowitz apparently … Well, this all came from his tremendous anxiety. He had to basically be pushed onto stage every night.
Akiko Tarumoto: I forgot that.
Nathan Cole: His stomach, he claimed, was so flighty, he could only eat Dover sole. It had to be flown in to wherever he was performing. I mean, yeah, that would be nice if someone would just fly in what I wanted to eat.
Akiko Tarumoto: Great. Order stuff from thousands of miles away and have it delivered.
Nathan Cole: Well, when my comeback recital at age 80 is greeted by lines around the block, then I will have earned the right to fly in whatever I want to eat.
Akiko Tarumoto: Tour eating, fun, but erratic.
Nathan Cole: Sometimes that can be a result of language barriers too. This particular tour was either domestic, or London or Paris. Really, the only foreign language we were dealing with was French or the Boston accent. When we’ve gone on tour to slightly more distant countries, you’re kind of at the mercy of the wait staff, how much they want to explain things or if the menus have pictures.
Akiko Tarumoto: Which is not a good sign.
Nathan Cole: Maybe you don’t want to choose those places.
Akiko Tarumoto: I mean, we certainly managed to fit in some great meals on the tour. We make it a priority to try to search out some places that we’ve been dying to try or read about.
Nathan Cole: Yeah, because when you have the time, then … We never had that time here in L.A.
Akiko Tarumoto: Or, it’s L.A. The greatest hamburger in the world is in Los Angeles. Awesome. You read about it and it’s in Venice. It might as well be in Venice, Italy.
Nathan Cole: Yeah, basically.
Akiko Tarumoto: Probably going to get there at the same frequency as … Yeah, we don’t get out very often to the west side.
Nathan Cole: Although on tour, yeah, your tolerance sometimes … Sometimes because you don’t know how far away something is, you’re more likely to travel far afield.
Akiko Tarumoto: And you don’t have to drive.
Nathan Cole: I’m more and more impressed, especially living in L.A. Every city we go to has some kind of transit. We really only took a couple cabs the entire two weeks.
Akiko Tarumoto: It really got better and better. I mean, culminating in Paris with the metro, which is amazing. Even at 11:30 at night, you’re waiting maybe three or four minutes for a train. First world problems. Did you want to talk at all about the tour concerts? What that’s like? What the halls were like?
Nathan Cole: Definitely. Why tour also?
Akiko Tarumoto: We’ve been thinking about that recently.
Nathan Cole: It used to be orchestras had the tour in order to sell records, and record sales were obviously a measure of prestige. But they also brought in money. It was what you did. It would’ve unthinkable for an orchestra of any repute not to tour. Again, yeah, you had records to sell, and people couldn’t hear your playing unless they bought your record, or unless they came to see you live when you visited their area. Now obviously, everything’s different. We can hear the Berlin Phil on their digital concert hall anytime we want. Any orchestra, even the middle school orchestra’s on YouTube. We don’t need to go anywhere for people to hear us, so why do it?
Akiko Tarumoto: I actually had never thought about this until now, after all this time. I guess I did go on an international tour two years ago. But, I think before that it hasn’t been so frequent.
Nathan Cole: Well, you missed a couple, at least with pregnancies.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, there was that. When Deborah Borda was in charge of the LA Phil, she was sort of known for not really thinking towards we’re worth the money, because she felt that the whole model is outdated, as you say.
Nathan Cole: Well, let’s be clear too, that most orchestras lose money when they tour. The way it works is that when these things are planned, let’s say, we think we might want to go to Boston, there will be a concert presenter in Boston, which might be the hall itself, it’s often whoever owns the hall. They’ll say, “We want to bring you guys in. We’ll pay the LA Philharmonic Association this certain flat fee to play the concert on this night.” If the LA Phil Association agrees to that, then it’s the Boston presenter’s job to make back all that money and hopefully more, so that they make a profit. But the fee that we, the orchestra, take in, is usually not enough to cover costs, the costs of paying everybody’s salary, and getting everybody there and all the instruments and all that. American orchestras, when they tour, almost always need sponsors to cover the costs. Yeah, her point about what are we actually in the end, what are we getting out of it if we’re just trying to find sponsors to cover the costs of this?
Akiko Tarumoto: I think she was more keen on getting that money for other things that we were doing. That’s certainly a really valid way of looking at it. She’s great at what she does. But this time I was thinking about it, because it had been two years since we’d tour. I thought our last tour was really good. We played Mahler 3 and Appalachian Spring. But more notably I think, Mahler 3. Forget about Appalachian Spring. Anyway, I was thinking about it after we got back actually, and I thought, “It’s good that we did that.” We had our gripes about the concerts. This or that went wrong. The usual complaining. Just saying, “This should’ve been better,” or “That should’ve been better. This is embarrassing that this didn’t happen, that this went wrong.” But, after the fact, you have to do those concerts, because I haven’t seen that level of focus among our colleagues since last tour we did, to be totally honest. Not to make it sound like we’re unfocused on a regular basis, but I mean, we compare it to playoffs. It’s that kind of energy. Every note matters extra, in that context.
Nathan Cole: Is that because we’re in front of a new audience?
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, and some of them will only hear us that one time in their entire lives.
Nathan Cole: Our friend Vivek Kamath, who’s out there. Hello. He always makes the point that members of the New York Philharmonic, they’re well aware that audiences in New York, they basically hear every orchestra in the world come through there on tour. The New York audiences hear all the world’s orchestras at their best, at their peak focus, and they hear the New York Philharmonic on a regular basis, sometimes peak focus, and sometimes not. I know exactly what he means, because you’re right, we go on these trips and we play for new audiences.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, and you’re trying to bring hopefully, repertoire that is your best and that represents you really well. You’re trying to play at your best. In every sense, trying to put your best foot forward. It’s such a valuable experience as a group. I mean, as a unifying thing for … To be cynical about it you could say this is just a hundred different people playing this music. I know French newspapers sometimes have a thing about how American orchestras, we come from all different places, there’s no sense of terroir to what we’re doing basically. We’re like some wine that’s been just a gazillion different grapes from a gazillion different places. Yeah, there’s a certain feeling. I guess you could say that about an orchestra. What’s a unifying force for us? That’s the music director usually.
Akiko Tarumoto: The tour does add a whole extra dimension of “let’s get our brains together and make this into something memorable” that hopefully people will want to come back for, if we come back to that city. I’m always sitting there thinking in my paranoid little mind, like, “I really hope they ask us back to the city,” because there were great cities. I love Boston, D.C. I want to go back to every single one of those places. I really hope they’re not sitting there going, “You know what? I don’t think we need the LA Phil to come back, because their fourth chair violinist just flubbed that shift. I think we could probably live without the LA Phil.”
Nathan Cole: You ruined the concert.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yes, yes. So important.
Nathan Cole: Also, on tour, we play the same programs so many times that there’s a freedom that comes with that too. You know the show’s going to go on, so you might feel, along with that intense focus, is a confidence and the willingness to try new things.
Akiko Tarumoto: Sure. I think Dudamel felt that way, it seemed like.
Nathan Cole: Yeah. I mean, the tour concerts that we had in Chicago with Barenboim, sometimes verged on … That was too loose, sometimes because he really didn’t like rehearsing.
Akiko Tarumoto: That’s a bad tour story for me. My first tour with the Chicago Symphony was included … I mean, the first stop was Berlin. Also, we were going to stop in Vienna. I forget where else, probably London. Yeah, London we did. It was Mahler 9. You can imagine we’re playing Mahler 9 in Vienna. But anyways, our first stop was Berlin. We get there, and apparently you guys had played it a lot. This was before I got there, and I’d really hardly played Mahler 9 at all. I remember being pretty frantic about it, thinking, “I don’t know this as well as I should. I’m kind of used to a lot of preparation for tour when we get out there.” Even though you guys had played it a lot, it needed a little more prep than he’d given it. We get out there and it was not good. The review said it sounded like we didn’t know the music, which is not a good thing to read in a review.
Nathan Cole: That could’ve been lost in translation too.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, I’m sure the German actually meant, “Very prepared.”
Nathan Cole: It was one long word that meant total mastery.
Akiko Tarumoto: Total mastery with less than optimal knowledge of the score. Yeah, that was kind of a very stressful first experience, the CSO with the touring. Also, then we went to the Musikverein, and playing Mahler there is not great, did not feel good about it. It was, again, kind of a mess. It goes to show you, I don’t think the CSO’s in any danger of not getting asked back to those places, but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they haven’t been back to Berlin, since we destroyed Mahler 9 there.
Nathan Cole: They still talk about that Mahler 9 there.
Akiko Tarumoto: Section violinist, you can’t play Mahler 9. That’s never a good feeling. He was the other side, he just didn’t want to prepare, didn’t want to rehearse.
Nathan Cole: Barenboim this is?
Akiko Tarumoto: Barenboim. As you know, the concerts could be absolutely incredible, and they were most of the time. It had nothing to do with preparation for him. So often just magic things would happen kind of out of nowhere.
Nathan Cole: How much do the halls have to do with this, because that’s something I know that we still talk a lot about. When I first joined The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, we weren’t playing in a great deal of halls. We had our home hall, and then all the other places we tended to play were churches and sometimes they’d be high schools. Those had incredibly, wildly varying acoustics. Generally, on these tours, we’re playing only in major halls, but they still differ greatly from one to the next. It’s always a hot topic. It’s the first thing people want to talk about when we walk in a new building. What’s the sound like in the hall? Some of these we play. We’ve played many times, like Avery Fisher. Oh no, wait, David Geffen-
Akiko Tarumoto: David Geffen.
Nathan Cole: … Hall in New York. Some of the halls we play in are almost brand new, like the one in Paris. Some of them are legendary and ancient, like the Boston Symphony Hall. How much does that play into how we sound and how we approach the concerts? For example, this tour started in Boston, so that was our very first hall. We’d played this stuff in L.A. a number of times, and then we got on stage in Boston. You said that hall didn’t bring back only good memories for you.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah, there’s that. Yeah, I think I took three auditions in Boston, and Tanglewood auditions. Other than that, I don’t think I ever actually made it to a PSO concert when I was an undergraduate, which is embarrassing. I’ve never heard a concert in the hall. Basically, all my experiences at the hall have been going to take auditions. When I walked in there, I was just a visceral sense of dread, and horror and failure
Nathan Cole: Well, I had my own unsuccessful audition there too.
Akiko Tarumoto: One. That was not a great feeling. It’s funny, because my friend Cathy said the same thing. She said the exact same thing about Boston. She said, “I just have these memories of failed auditions.” I said, “Yeah.”
Nathan Cole: God. That’s so funny how that stink lingers there over decades.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. I remember being in that dressing room. I think our dressing room is where I waited. At least I have these little soundproof Wenger cubes back there, which I didn’t see this time.
Nathan Cole: I used one of those to warm up.
Akiko Tarumoto: Maybe they moved them when there’s an orchestra or something. That was not good. David Geffen and Avery Fisher, as you know, same thing. I think three auditions in New York that didn’t remotely go my way. Being back stage there, I always feel like someone’s just about to come and get me, and tell me to leave.
Nathan Cole: Bouncer at the club. Of those two, I mean, Symphony Hall is a place that almost everyone loves to play in Boston. The reverb there is quite a bit more than what we hear in L.A., or almost any other American hall. It’s famous for having the so called shoebox shape, right?
Akiko Tarumoto: Right.
Nathan Cole: It’s just a long rectangle that-
Akiko Tarumoto: It’s like a long wood, where all the seats are wood.
Nathan Cole: Nowadays, we have consultants and big corporations that build halls. I love Disney Hall and it’s very complex, and so much thought and planning went into it, but we do laugh. Sometimes we go to a place like Boston or Vienna where it really is shaped like shoebox and the sound is awesome. I don’t know if it’s ideal. I mean, if we’d played there regularly, there are things that we’d have to do I’m sure, to get the best out of the hall. But generally, in those halls, with so much reverb, an orchestra’s able to make the most of the softer dynamics. You can play louder and louder, but at a certain point, it just turns into a wash of sound that lacks clarity, whereas, you can make the most of those really quite dynamics and it’s magical, it really carries to the back. I felt like the Paris Hall, even though it’s brand new and looks quite modern, that had that property too.
Akiko Tarumoto: The reverb in there was more than I remembered. I didn’t, not like a great way, like a-
Nathan Cole: It’s weird.
Akiko Tarumoto: Echoey.
Nathan Cole: There’s something a little artificial about it.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. It seemed to have a vast quality, where the sound traveled, that I didn’t love. I felt like not as intimate, or the sound was maybe more reminiscent of a giant bathroom, than a fine concert hall.
Nathan Cole: I still really liked it.
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. I think just last time I had a very emotional response. We played Mahler 3 there, and for some reason we all … I think it was late in the tour and we felt like we finally kind of got it together. It was a great concert I think, a great experience. I’m starting to think the Philharmonie’s one of my favorite halls. I think it still is. I just was surprised this time that the echo just seemed on a very large scale and I didn’t love it, or that the reverb was on a large scale. Like I said, I thought it was not as intimate as some place like Boston or Carnegie.
Nathan Cole: Well, there’s so many aspects to traveling and playing these concerts. Today, we should probably wrap up with a few final thoughts. But, one of the funny things, I think, going to each of these different halls is how the host orchestra, or how the host hall, treats the visitors. You’re here for basketball arenas for example. Some arenas were famous for having the worst possible visitors’ locker rooms. If you were the visiting team and you walked in there, right away you knew you weren’t welcome, you knew it was going to be a hard stay there.
Akiko Tarumoto: New York we’re looking at you.
Nathan Cole: When we go to the Lincoln Center, the place where the men change clothes, they have all the men in the orchestra crammed into one quarter of an orchestra lounge and we can’t … Everybody’s laughing. There’s not room to turn around to take off your jacket and try to get your street clothes back on, so we have to kind of change in shifts at the end of the concert. It’s pretty farcical. Whereas Chicago, I remember, both when we were members there, and even now, whenever orchestras go to Chicago to tour, they all say the same thing. They’re like, “The locker rooms. Whoa. Those are the most amazing locker rooms. They let us use their locker rooms.” I don’t know why that’s not the norm.
Akiko Tarumoto: That seems obvious. We never thought anything of it. There’s an orchestra coming, and of course they’re going to use our locker room. But I just remember, of course the locker room is nice in Chicago, because the weather is so bad that nobody really wears their concert clothes to the hall. I mean, you can, but sometimes we take the train, or the bus or something. Or even just walking the 15 feet from the front door to the garage entrance is salt and slush, and things we don’t even remember anything about now.
Nathan Cole: I think we had some pretty decent accommodations in Paris that way. London is strange. I think there were seven or eight different women’s dressing rooms, and seven or eight different men’s.
Akiko Tarumoto: That’s the lady and the tiger backstage area.
Nathan Cole: Sometimes you forget even which room you left your clothes in. You have to open four or five different little doors to-
Akiko Tarumoto: Yeah. It’s shaped circular, and then there’s these rows of doors.
Nathan Cole: Looked like a gladiatorial arena right?
Akiko Tarumoto: Kind of, yeah. Well, yeah, so which one has the tiger behind it?
Nathan Cole: New York, terrible.
Akiko Tarumoto: Proverbial tiger being your colleague that you can’t stand to be in close quarters with, that you end up awkwardly in the dressing room with.
Nathan Cole: That has happened. See, look, we’ve gone this whole episode, we haven’t even complained about colleagues. I don’t think.
Akiko Tarumoto: That’s … Bring it on.
Nathan Cole: We’ll save that. We’ll make that its an own episode and issue a warning at the beginning.
Akiko Tarumoto: Everybody’s got colleagues that they’d like to not hang out with so much. Not just us.
Nathan Cole: Well, I mean, that’s not unique to tour. Although, tour, like I say, when you’re eating breakfast with people you know you’re spending a lot of time with-
Akiko Tarumoto: Their true colors come out. No. The true color … The airplanes, that’s a test.
Nathan Cole: I think how people act in the airport and on airplanes, that’s a pretty true indication of who they are, just like when you see your colleagues drive in and out of the parking garage. People drive how they play. They can’t get away from it.
Akiko Tarumoto: They drive and play how they are. Did you want to get into at all, what it’s like to get back from the tour? Is that a whole other-
Nathan Cole: Yeah, let’s make that how we sign off I think. You already mentioned that we don’t exactly feel rested and refreshed after.
Akiko Tarumoto: There’s that. But I think from a playing standpoint, I was interested to contrast what it was like to be back this week playing, obviously, a different repertoire from what we taken on tour, to having played the same music for an entire month basically. Yeah, I’m getting older, maybe it was a tough adjustment that way too, to come back and play Dvorak. Dvorak is always hard, as we know. There are just always some surprising passages that weren’t seeing good practice time. But it was just harder than I remembered, to come back and try to get back into that mode of just quick turnover, just a few rehearsals, get to it, perform. You’re going to make some mistakes, you just let them go. We’re back at home and the scrutiny is a little bit less than on a tour concert, so you’re kind of like, “Well, just knock ’em out.” I think that was a weird feeling and I’m still not really used to it again.
Nathan Cole: That was strange. We started rehearsing on Friday, and then-
Akiko Tarumoto: The concert was Saturday.
Nathan Cole: … had our first concert Saturday. It’s like, “Hey, wait, I’m used to a couple weeks prep for this.”
Akiko Tarumoto: And really getting to know the conductor, because we’d only seen Bychkov, Semyon Bychkov, for those three rehearsals. He’s a great conductor. It felt a little bit strange, just to suddenly read him and read the music very quickly. I had a harder this time than I remember, coming back and getting back into the regular routine of playing, as opposed to the tour model.
Nathan Cole: Yeah. It was strange.
Akiko Tarumoto: But it just highlighted for me I think, it’s very important to get out there and put that pressure on the orchestra. I think that it would be great to keep doing it, and we will. The next year has three tours coming up. We’ll get an ample opportunity to figure out more what we’re about. It’ll be great.
Nathan Cole: Well, tours are touchstones. From now on, when L.A. plays Shostakovich 5, we can and will, we’ll say, “Oh, remember that ’18 tour with this piece? Remember what happened in Boston with it? Remember what happened in London?” Yeah, there’s just that much more a sense of, that the show will go on, no matter who’s conducting it.
Akiko Tarumoto: I think the shared experience, the common experience thing, it’s huge.
Nathan Cole: I’ve told you this story. Neither of us was there for this, but, Philly Orchestra went on tour. Some of my friends were in the orchestra at that time. But all the luggage got lost, including everybody’s concert clothes. Rather than canceling or postponing the concert, there was no time, so they just told everyone to play the concert wearing whatever they had on. Most people traveled in decent clothing, but some people had T-shirts with-
Akiko Tarumoto: Wait, was it Jason DePue?
Nathan Cole: Jason was wearing a T-shirt that said, “Who’s your daddy?” In big capital letters. I think they managed to stop him coming on stage with that. Someone let him borrow some kind of a covering.
Akiko Tarumoto: Or turn it inside out. Who’s your daddy?
Nathan Cole: Then everybody’s got to get on stage and you’ve got to come together as a group. As silly as it sounds, why should clothing matter? But of course it does, it’s a break in the routine. Yeah, it’s a little harder to pull off a big serious piece of music with Who’s Your Daddy? But if an orchestra can do that, then they’ll always remember, “Hey, we did the Who’s Your Daddy concert. We can get through it with this clown conductor that’s in front of us.”
Akiko Tarumoto: Confidence, it’s a big factor.
Nathan Cole: We’ll look forward to the tours next season. But I am glad to be back from this one. I have great memories, but I’m glad to be back. It’s been a nice homecoming I think. Well, thanks for doing a jet lagged episode of Stand Partners.
Akiko Tarumoto: Now I’m wide awake. Let’s do another.
Nathan Cole: Thank you, as always, for listening. We’re so glad to have you here with us. We look forward to seeing you back for the next episode of Stand Partners for Life.