Tag Archives: tour

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Plans Overseas Tour

This August, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) will travel to Europe, marking its first overseas tour in 13 years. Thus far, the orchestra’s first tour stop is the Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland. The first BSO program at the festival will feature Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F Major with French pianist Jean Yves Thibaudet, Schumann’s Symphony No. 2, and Stravinsky’s Suite from The Firebird. A second program celebrates the centennial of Leonard Bernstein—mentor to BSO Music Director Marin Alsop of Local 802 (New York City)—on his birthday, with music composed by and in honor of Bernstein. Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti will join BSO for Bernstein’s Serenade. BSO will also perform at the Proms.

This will be the first time the orchestra has traveled internationally since Alsop became music director in 2007; BSO’s most recent tour was to Oregon and California in 2012. BSO musicians are represented by Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD).

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Tours Poland

In March the musicians of Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO), members of Local 92 (Buffalo, NY), went on international tour for the first time in 30 years, and only the second time ever. The tour to Poland was a result of BPOs friendship with composer/conductor Krzysztof Penderecki and Beethoven Easter Festival founder and artistic director Elzbieta Penderecka. BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta, a member of Local 125 (Norfolk, VA), had met them while guest-conducting in Krakow. In December 2016, Penderecki led a BPO concert. Soon after, Penderecka invited BPO to perform at the 11-day Beethoven Easter Festival in Warsaw. This year’s Festival celebrated Leonard Bernstein’s centennial. The orchestra also gave sold-out performances in Wroclaw, Lublin, and Katowice.

A group of about 30 BPO patrons took part in a special tour, attending the concert in Warsaw, then visiting Krakow and Prague. A brass and wind octet strengthened ties with Buffalo sister city Rzeszow by performing there. They also gave a masterclass and performance at the Penderecki Center in Lusalwice.

The Philadelphia Orchestra to Tour Europe and Israel

This spring, May 24 through June 5, The Philadelphia Orchestra will tour Europe and Israel. The visit to Israel is part of a new partnership between the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the orchestra, designed to engage new members of the Philadelphia community. It will include a special Israeli tour and mission. The only major symphony orchestra to travel to Israel during its 70th anniversary year, the Philadelphia Orchestra, which previously visited in 1992, is only the third to ever visit the country.

“To have this remarkable opportunity to travel to Israel with the extraordinary Philadelphia Orchestra is a dream come true,” says Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, a member of Local 406 (Montreal, PQ). “It is incredibly fulfilling to represent our Philadelphia community abroad as cultural ambassadors.”

During the European leg of the tour, the Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA) musicians will tour Brussels, Belgium; Luxembourg City, Luxembourg; Paris, France; Düsseldorf, Germany;  Hamburg, Germany; and Vienna, Austria. They will then perform in the Israeli cities of Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem.

Rockin’ the City of Angels

Rockin’ the City of Angels: Celebrating the Great Rock Shows of the 1970s

Rockin’ the City of AngelsDuring the 1970s, rock bands were making expansive concept records with sweeping themes and their albums promised “theater of the mind” promoted by elaborate stage shows. This book celebrates more than 30 of these performances that used lights, projections, backdrops, props, and costumes to bring the albums to life in arenas packed with fans. Among the rock shows included are key tours by Led Zeppelin, Queen, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, Heart, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, The Who, and Yes. Their stories are told through memories, reviews, and hand-picked images, some of them never before seen.

Rockin’ the City of Angels: Celebrating the Great Rock Shows of the 1970s, in Concert, on Record, and on Film, by Douglas Harr, Diego Spade Production, Inc., diegospadeproductions.com.

Buffalo Phil Plans Tour Abroad

In March 2018, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) will embark on its first overseas tour since 1988, traveling to Poland for four concerts and several master classes by BPO brass and percussion ensembles. The centerpiece of the tour will be a performance at the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival in Warsaw.

BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta will be the first woman to conduct at that festival. She has programmed works by American composers and by Krzystof Penderecki, in celebration of his 85th birthday.

“The opportunity to tour Poland at the invitation of the Beethoven Easter Festival will be a transformative artistic benchmark in the history of our Buffalo Philharmonic,” says Falletta, a member of Local 125 (Norfolk, VA). “We are very proud to be able to represent Buffalo and Western New York at the festival.”

BPO has announced that attendance increased by 11.5% in the 2016-2017 season, with more than 212,000 adults and children experiencing its concerts. With a budget of $11.6 million,  the orchestra gives 129 performances during its 38-week season. BPO musicians are members of Local 92 (Buffalo, NY).

Touring Show Update

2017 Touring Show Update

Touring Show Update

During a performance of Elvis Live in Concert, AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking Division Director George Fiddler (left) had the opportunity to meet with Greg Luscombe who assembled the symphony orchestra used in the show.

The traveling show season has begun and most of the new productions have premiered or are about to start their season. I visited Les Misérables in Hartford last month as it began a new tour. There are numerous seasoned road musicians in the orchestra, as well as musicians new to touring. This show has an orchestration for 15 touring musicians, nearly all of them on orchestral instruments. The conductor, Brian Eads of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), has done an amazing job of having everyone play at the highest ensemble level possible. The production quality was first-rate.The show’s stellar cast was accompanied flawlessly by the orchestra, creating a magical performance. The fortunate audiences have certainly received a production worthy of the Broadway experience.

This season there are many shows that have sizable touring complements, as well as large local musician employment. The new Disney blockbuster for the road this year is Aladdin, which has an orchestration of 16, with a minimum local hiring of eight musicians in every city it visits. The King and I continues this season with 13 local musicians hired in all cities.

Another new production with a large musician complement is Love Never Dies, the sequel to Phantom of the Opera. This show travels 15 musicians, with local hiring in select venues.

There are a variety of unusual productions that are not traditional in orchestration or content that will be travelling under our agreements.

As the new director of the AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking Division, I look forward to overseeing a large and varied season of traveling musicals that is sure to provide a genuine Broadway experience to audiences across the US and Canada.

Elvis Live in Concert

Elvis Live In Concert Celebrates the Career of Elvis with a Live Symphony Orchestra

August 16 was the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. To commemorate this event, Graceland/Elvis Presley Enterprises sponsored Elvis Live in Concert, a tour of Elvis performing with a live 46-member studio orchestra. The show stripped the background music from videos and films in which Elvis appeared and replaced it with live orchestrations. Requiring precision timing, the music was synchronized to recorded videos of Elvis performances projected on a large screen above the orchestra. The effect was striking and awe-inspiring. It felt like Elvis was actually performing live onstage.

British conductor and arranger Robin Smith debuted Elvis Live in Concert in the United Kingdom in the fall 2016 and it toured throughout Europe and Australia. The show proved so successful that Graceland/Elvis Presley Enterprises wanted to duplicate the event here in the US. The plan was to tour throughout August in large arena-style venues, honoring Elvis’s memory with concerts featuring a live orchestra. Many audience members had never seen the real Elvis in concert. The tour came “home” to Memphis, Tennessee, August 16 for a special show honoring Elvis’s passing.

Graceland turned to Memphis Symphony Orchestra musician Greg Luscombe of Locals 71 (Memphis, TN) and 10-208 (Chicago, IL) to assemble the highly skilled professional musicians required to make the music come to life. Most of the musicians were members of the Memphis Symphony, but some were selected because of expertise in performing Elvis’s music.

“It was especially amazing working with some of the most talented musicians from Memphis,” says Andre Acevedo of Locals 777 (Biloxi, MS) and 301 (Pekin, IL), who played sax for the show. “The rhythm section and the drums were particularly impressive. Because the music came from live Elvis performances, the drum set had to follow along with click that didn’t have a consistent tempo. James Sexton did it well and made the music feel smooth and groove. Jim Spake [of Local 71] on the solo tenor saxophone, played the opening ‘If I Can Dream’ with such a classic tenor saxophone sound. It was perfect for this genre, which makes sense as he is something of a Memphis legend. Finally, I loved the string section as a whole. The string arrangements were gorgeous and helped glorify Elvis’s voice.” 

Elvis Live in Concert

Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, Graceland/Elvis Presley Enterprises sponsored Elvis Live in Concert, a tour of Elvis performing with a live 46-member studio orchestra.

The results were remarkable. The musicians didn’t just precisely perform the written scores, they were genuinely passionate about their performances. The enthusiasm of the musicians was clearly transmitted to the loyal Elvis fans attending the joyful events.

“The show was beautiful and the audience reaction was something I will always remember,” says Acevedo. “The audience reacted as if Elvis was really there! I watched couples cry and dance together, and I watched older women scream like they were 16 years old again. Each show ended with thunderous applause, showing so much appreciation for Elvis and our ensemble backing him up.”

The AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking Division (TTBD) assisted Luscombe in achieving a union agreement that offered the musicians competitive wages and benefits, plus carefully planned travel conditions. The tour moved from Connecticut to Florida, stopping at more than a dozen venues along the way. “As contractor, my first job was to establish appropriate pay, per diem, travel, and accommodations that fit the budget of Graceland/Elvis Presley Enterprises, while doing the right thing for the musicians,” says Luscombe. “I found it extremely helpful that all of the basic items you need in a touring contract are well established by the AFM TTBD, based on years of experience and negotiations. The fact that the AFM agreement was good for the musicians as well as for Graceland (c/o Elvis Presley Enterprises) contributed to the overall good morale among the musicians and everyone that was involved with the tour.”  

Negotiating for a short-running tour isn’t always easy. Aside from proper compensation for the musicians involved, the contract must also take into account their travel concerns. The sizes and economics of the large venues where the show played meant the musicians were provided wage scales commensurate with top dollar pop acts.

Elvis Live in Concert

The Elvis Live In Concert show orchestra featured many musicians from Local 71 (Memphis, TN).

“Of course, the long bus rides and other inconveniences of touring are not always fun, but when musicians feel they have a fair deal, plus good accommodations and meals waiting for them, it can translate into highly energized performances,” adds Luscombe. “It was obvious that the audience sensed the good vibe from the musicians throughout the tour.” 

“Because the tour was on a union contract, we could count on the production adhering to a set daily schedule. That meant a lot to us since we were working on such a tightly booked tour. Receiving a reasonable salary with payments for pension, doubling, and overtime made all the difference. In a ‘right to work’ state environment it can be tough to negotiate these issues on a contract,” says woodwind player Gary Topper of Local 71 (Memphis,TN).

The overwhelming success of this tour reaffirmed the concept that working closely with an employer to realize a fair agreement for both parties leads to highly professional results that both the employer and musicians can be proud of.

Elvis Live in Concert

The sizes and economics of the large venues where Elvis Live In Concert played meant the AFM musicians were provided wage scales commensurate with top dollar pop acts.

“All in all, this tour was so much fun and I had a wonderful time playing beautiful music,” says Acevedo. “I am very glad that Greg Luscombe worked things out to make it an AFM tour. I would hope the demand for this show continues as I would really love to do it all again!”

Musicians Return

Musicians Return to the Bandstand, The Circus Is Back in Town

On October 27, the Big Apple Circus made its return to Lincoln Center, just in time to celebrate its 40th anniversary. Created by former European street performers Paul Binder and Michael Christensen, Big Apple Circus debuted in New York City’s Battery Park in 1977, relocating to Lincoln Center in 1981. Over the years, it became a New York City holiday season staple. However, unable to recover from the 2008 recession, the nonprofit, one-ring circus filed for bankruptcy in 2016.

Last February, Big Top Works purchased Big Apple Circus and set to work restoring the beloved show and returning its performers to work.

Local 802 (New York City) Business Representative Marisa Friedman is in charge of the AFM contract covering the Big Apple Circus musicians. “Our main concern was that the circus would continue to use live music and that the musicians who worked for the old circus would continue to work for this new one,” she says. “Negotiations went very well. It was clear that the circus valued live music and wanted to make a fair deal with Local 802.” In the end, the union negotiated an improved three-year agreement for the musicians.

According to Big Apple Circus Conductor Rob Slowik of Local 802 (New York City), the show’s band has eight permanent musicians. “Everybody who is on the new primary hiring list has played with the circus before, but a few of the former musicians moved out of state and are doing gigs in other parts of the country,” he says.

Musicians Return

The Big Apple Circus band (L to R) back row: Wages Argott, Jacob Levitin, Jeff Barone, Brian Killeen, Patrick Firth, and Michael Bellusci; middle row Neil Johnson and Jim Lutz; in front, Conductor Rob Slowik.

“We essentially just made modifications to the old agreement. We expanded the scope of the recognition agreement to cover more work, added health and safety protections, and also included payment for promotional use of recorded material,” explains Friedman. “The musicians will receive increases in wages and health benefits—something they have not had in several years due to the circus’s financial problems.”

Among new band members is Local 802 and 256-733 (Birmingham, AL) member Wages Argott, a trumpet player who was the bandleader for the Ringling Blue show that closed earlier this year. Slowik brought him on as associate conductor. “It’s nice that I have a sub who has already conducted thousands of circuses,” says Slowik, also a trumpet player. A couple other former Ringling musicians are on the sub list for this year.

“Each year brings a new Big Apple Circus show, with a new cast and new music, but the same band,” explains Slowik. “We change the instrumentation depending on the show theme, but we always use our hiring list. Once a musician plays with us and is on the contract, they have the right to first refusal, if we use their instrument again.”

Musicians Return

The musicians of the Big Apple Circus band have returned to their bandstand with an improved three-year AFM contract negotiated by Local 802 (New York City).

The circus’s 2017 theme focuses on its 40th anniversary. “The set looks like the skyline of New York City and the music draws from all the different contemporary musical styles represented here—pop, rock, jazz, Latin, classical,” says Slowik. “It’s not music you would normally associate with a circus.”

Among performers headlining the new show are world record holder Nik Wallenda and the Fabulous Wallendas, trapeze artist Ammed Tuniziani of the Flying Tunizianis, as well as Grandma the Clown, who has returned from retirement.

When it comes to music selection for the various acts, Slowik says that the producer makes the final decision, but there is input from the director, as well as the performing act. “We try to honor the act’s needs in terms of tempo and timing, and we like to use music that is going to inspire,” he says. “While there is often some initial resistance to new music from acts who may have used the same music for 10 or 15 years, at the end of the season, they frequently want to buy the music and take it with them.”

Use of a click track helps the band keep to a steady tempo for performances, and Slowik keeps a constant eye on the show for split second adjustments. “We have a lot of vamps built into the music but often we’ll have to create new vamps on the fly,” he says. “Something can go wrong at any point, whether it’s somebody missing a trick, wanting to repeat a trick, or something that goes wrong with the rigging or a prop.”

“I try to get the dogs to count the downbeat of the bar but they don’t listen, and neither do the horses,” laughs Slowik. “One of the nice things about having a band with a lot of circus experience is that they can almost read my mind.”

Musicians new to the circus, even veteran Broadway players, require some training. “They have to come watch the show. I give them a video of me conducting and a pdf of the book. One of the things I tell them is: ‘This vamp is four bars, but the cue could come anywhere, including in the middle of the bar.’ On Broadway, if you have a two-bar or four-bar vamp, it is almost always at the end of four bars. It can take people a while to get used to that. You really have to be aware because the cue could come out of nowhere.”

On occasion, Slowik says he has even become a part of the act. He recalls a skit he did with Grandma the Clown where he was hoisted 30-feet up in the air to play his trumpet. “It was a lot of fun!” he says, adding that he looks forward to something like that happening in the future.

The new Big Apple Circus show premiered October 27 and runs through January 7. After that, it will begin an East Coast tour with stops between Atlanta and Boston. When on tour, the Big Apple Circus travels with about 50% of its core band, hiring local AFM musicians in whatever city it visits.

Second Dudamel Tour Canceled

The Venezuelan government has now cancelled two Gustavo Dudamel led tours after the Venezuelan conductor spoke out against the harsh government crackdowns this past summer.

Last month, the National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela tour to the US was also canceled. In October, just one week before the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela was to embark on an Asian tour, government officials of President Nicolás Maduro canceled it.

In a statement, Dudamel called on the orchestra players to, “remain strong and proud.” Dudamel is music director for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, members of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA).

Philadelphia Orchestra Completes Spring Tour of Asia

In early June, The Philadelphia Orchestra completed a tour of China, Mongolia, and South Korea. With Mongolia in financial crisis, the fate of that leg of the tour was uncertain for some time. In the end, 18 musicians—one-fifth of the group—made the trip to Mongolia. The orchestra’s members are represented by Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA).

Initially, the full orchestra was slated to visit Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaanbaatar, but due in part to China’s economic slowdown, Mongolia soon found itself in a dire financial situation. Still, the Mongolian government and the US State Department came up with enough money to bring in a smaller Philadelphia Orchestra contingent for a series of concerts and master classes.

The anchor of the Asian tour was a televised performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 at Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts. The orchestra is in its second five-year agreement ensuring annual concerts in that city and is also beginning two five-year agreements in Shanghai.