…or Planes, Trains and Hotels….
Over at the Inside the Classics blog, conductor Sarah Hatsuko Hicks has written about her travels and what it’s like to be on the road most of the time, her activities, rehearsals, free time, food, etc. Conductors travel a lot. So Evan Quinn needs to travel to gigs in other places. I needed to think about where he’d settle as his “home base,” too. Perceval opens with him on tour, conducting at the last stop on this tour — Vienna. I’ve lived in Vienna and had always wanted to set a story there, so almost by default, Vienna became Evan’s home base.
For Evan’s travels, I have a choice of either showing him during the actual trip or skipping that travel to place him immediately at his destination. What I include depends on the purpose of the travel and how it affects Evan or moves the story forward. Any kind of actual travel, whether Evan walks from one room into another or boards a plane to fly to another city, threatens to be what I call “narrative dead time.”
But travel is a part of a conductor’s life. Even conductors with stable music directorships accept guest conducting gigs and can travel to the other side of the planet for them. Evan’s a guest conductor, not yet a music director (or chief conductor), and he must go where the work is. In that regard, conductors are unique musicians or “instrumentalists.” Their instruments are a group of people playing musical instruments and its highly unlikely a guest conductor would have his own to carry around as a violinist could have his own instrument, for example. So, conductors are dependent on invitations from orchestras to conduct — and getting invited back.
What’s it like for a conductor on the road? Is he treated like royalty because he’s a conductor? I once saw Georg Solti, music director of the Chicago Symphony at the time, waiting alone at the curb near Orchestra Hall’s stage door for his ride to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. It was a January day with a brutally cold wind chill, but he waited outdoors. No posse followed him around, no one hailed a taxi for him. We called him back inside to wait in the warm building and he protested, he didn’t want his driver to miss him. As if the driver wouldn’t know to run into the building for him….
Conductors are like any frequent travelers and few, if any, travel with a retinue. They deal with TSA security checks, long layovers, crowded flights, missed connections, jet lag (especially jet lag), lost luggage, bad or weird food, indigestion from the bad or weird food, bad weather, how to get laundry done, boring hotel rooms and being alone. Sometimes they travel with spouses or significant others (I know of one conductor whose wife was his manager), but most of the time, they travel alone.
On a flight to Albany, New York one August, I observed a conductor immersed in a music score for the entire flight. He sprinted out of the plane as soon as the doors opened at the gate. I have kept these images of this conductor in my mind ever since thinking that conductors must work on music scores not only on flights but waiting to board flights or in hotel rooms.
A guest conductor would spend most of his time at a guest conducting gig in rehearsal, meeting with musicians, doing publicity for his concerts, and conducting the concerts. Free time activities would be unique to the conductor’s interests and the amount of time he might have. I know of one conductor who loves baseball and tried to attend games in the places he conducted. Another enjoyed exploring museums, fine dining and theater. I imagine Evan going on runs in the mornings to explore the city he’s in and its sights, filling his days with work, then enjoying a really good dinner, some TV and sleep.
Travel for work, whether for an executive or musician, is not glamorous. It’s exhausting as in jet lag exhausting, constantly-on-the-road exhausting. It takes stamina. The social connections, while warm, friendly and helpful, tend to be superficial. And as interesting as a new city might be, as exciting and rewarding as the work is, it’s still a lonely life. Especially for guest conductors like Evan who spend more time on the road than they do at home. That loneliness can be painful, depressing. Dealing with the loneliness becomes a challenge. And fodder for me in writing Evan’s life and his responses to the world.
So, in the end, travel for Evan is an opportunity for character development, Evan’s life as a long-distance conductor. How does he react to his surroundings, to the people he meets and to his situations there? I have the opportunity to show his commitment to and love for music, the satisfaction of a performance well done, his joy in making music. And I have the opportunity to explore the future in travel and urban development (or not), grounded in research.