LOST LUGGAGE AND WINTER SNOWSTORMS Trials of a Traveling Musician
A few years ago, I wrote an essay describing the consequences of a blizzard that had ravaged the Northeast coast of the United States. Despite bad weather, artists simply cannot be late to their performances. Rescheduling a concert is very difficult, and so the show must always go on.
In the two years since my last essay, I have been reminded of this several times. It is amusing to think how the beautiful soft powder that is the purest, whitest snow can cripple millions of people. I contemplate my own experiences now from the window in my study, which looks out over the peaceful Hudson River under clear blue skies, the sun shining gloriously over buildings in New Jersey.
In January 2004, I was booked as the soloist for a four-concert mini-tour with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra. My misfortunes began before we had even left London for the Continent.
After my first rehearsal with the Orchestra at Henry Wood Hall, in south London, I was scheduled to go straight to Heathrow Airport to catch a flight to Zurich. It was late on a Sunday afternoon, and the sky was already dark when the rehearsal ended. The administrative offices of the Orchestra were closed for the weekend.
The orchestra members left quickly after the rehearsal, as I packed my belongings. I was the only one booked on that evening’s flight, the rest of the company planning to fly the following day. As I waited for the arranged taxi, the hall’s gatekeeper was eager to close up and go wherever he was supposed to go. I waited and made chitchat with him, partly out of guilt and embarrassment that I was holding him up, and partly to keep us both entertained.
It was getting close to my flight’s departure time and the cab still had not appeared. In desperation, I called my manager’s emergency number and left a message. Then I began to consider alternate ways to get to Heathrow. I learned, to my dismay, that the London Underground trains were not running that day, so that option was useless. Soon, my distressed agent returned my call. She was very upset as she had been reassured that everything had been taken care of, which was obviously not the case and quite irrelevant at that point. She frantically called various cab companies and finally found one that said it could get me to the airport in time for my flight, if – and this was a BIG if – there was no traffic.
The mini-cab finally arrived. I jumped in, and off we went. Meanwhile, my manager got in touch with an off-hours representative of the travel agency that had booked my flight. Of course, we encountered traffic on the motorway. My manager, on a land-line phone with the travel agency representative (who was actually sitting somewhere in Southeast Asia), and on her mobile with the cab driver in order to monitor our progress to Heathrow, was getting increasingly upset and nervous, as was I. In the end, I did make it, just in time for the flight. I felt morbidly embarrassed as I entered the aircraft, certain that everyone knew I was responsible for holding back the flight. However, at least, I was onboard the airplane, and would be able to reach my destination later that evening.
I snoozed during the short flight to Zurich, unaware that more trouble awaited me on arrival. I stood beside the luggage carousel – and waited and waited. All of my fellow passengers collected their bags and left. The airport had become very quiet, as ours was the last flight to arrive at that terminal for the day. My luggage was missing.
The airline agent was less than helpful and not remotely interested in comforting me about my lost bag. Her computer had no record of the luggage, which meant that she had no idea where it could be, nor could she trace it. Responding to the question, “When will it arrive?,” the agent shrugged her shoulders, then refused to put a ‘rush’ on the bag if and when it was found.
My luggage contains my entire life on the road, minus the violin, musical scores, and laptop, which are in my carry-on satchel, and whatever clothes I have on my body at the time. Most importantly, this particular bag contained about three quarters of my autobiography (being written for a publisher in Germany) in its first handwritten version, and a sizeable part of my Master’s thesis for New York University. My concert dress and all other clothes, shoes and basic traveling goods were of secondary importance, although greatly missed.
A car collected me at the airport to take me to Vaduz, Liechtenstein, where the Philharmonia tour would begin. We drove in complete silence. Certainly, my luggage had gone astray occasionally in the past, but I usually knew where it had gone. In this instance, there was absolutely nothing I could do except to wait for the morning and call the airline’s Lost & Found office in the hope of getting through to someone more helpful than the agent at Zurich Airport.
Morning came and went, as did the afternoon, and then the evening, with many phone calls to the Lost & Found office. Even my managers from several different countries called their respective airline offices in an effort to pressure the staff in Zurich. Still, there was no hint of my luggage’s whereabouts. As concert time approached, I was already in my dressing room and the tour manager came to ‘see’ me. After a thorough look-over, he grumbled, “You are too small for anything we keep in store in the wardrobe.” I had to perform that evening in my street clothes, and without any footwear as I had traveled in my boots, which were not comfortable enough to stand firmly for the Dvořák Concerto.
After the performance, I hopped on the train to my next destination: Lucerne, where the next concert was scheduled to take place on the following day. By then I was starting to feel sick to my stomach at the thought of possibly having lost my work on the thesis and the memoir, so neatly packed in my suitcase. Concert dress, shoes, pajamas, make-up kit, toiletries – all of these can be replaced, but not my work! What was I going to do if my bag really was lost?
The psychosomatic feeling of being unwell became a real sickness by the following day. My throat was hurting, I had a throbbing headache, and my body was feverish all over. It was starting to snow in Lucerne.
That night in the beautifully renovated Lucerne concert hall, I played the Dvořák Concerto again in my street clothes and shoeless. However, coming off the stage that evening after my performance, I was greeted by the personnel manager saying, “Your luggage has arrived.”!!! It had finally reached me, and with all the contents intact. I was so relieved. Not a page was missing from my manuscripts. My concert dress was a bit crumpled but this could be remedied with an iron before the next concert.
I left the concert hall with my luggage. The following morning, I boarded the plane to London. The luggage had to be checked in but, this time, there was no problem. We were happily reunited in the London airport.
From the airport, we (the suitcase, the satchel, the violin, and I), were whisked off by a pre-arranged car service to Bedford, where the performance was scheduled for that evening. We arrived at the venue and I immediately went to the dressing room, where I collapsed on the worn-out couch. When I next opened my eyes, my head felt inflamed, my chest congested, and my ears stuffed. I had come down with the flu. I was immobile for a while, but I had to force myself to get up. The rehearsal and concert were approaching.
There was one problem: the majority of orchestra members had not arrived nor had the conductor. Outside, there was snow – certainly not a storm by New York City standards, but it was falling to the ground and covering the streets, and, as it turned out, slicking the motorway between London and Bedford. The few members who had made it to the venue had traveled separately in their own cars or on the train. But not all of those “lucky” ones were actually so fortunate as the truck with their instruments was stuck on the motorway!
With concert time rapidly approaching, those of us in the concert hall had to come up with an alternate plan for the concert. We had barely enough musicians and instruments to make up a scaled-down string ensemble, and no music. The concert could not be postponed or cancelled, so we had to think of something.
We made up a program with what we had available. There was Bach’s Violin Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins (the music was found in the local library), followed by Bach’s Chaconne, show pieces on the cello with piano accompaniment, and Elgar’s Serenade for Strings. I participated in the two Bach works. The music for the Elgar was faxed from London.
Five minutes to curtain and the conductor called the personnel manager’s cell phone. He was very distressed, and still about an hour away. He was told, “Sir, don’t you worry, you won’t make it here by concert time.” The audience warmly received the music, and I was happy to be performing, finally, in my concert dress.
After the concert, I was in the car again, this time to London. I felt awful, and we still had one more performance to go. I made it through the last concert with the help of antibiotics.
The Philharmonia tour was certainly unforgettable, with the combination of the unusually intense travel-related problems, flu, and inclement weather. It was a lot of drama for a short tour!