The American Orchestra: Getting St. Louis Symphony from A to CH
In just a few short weeks, the St. Louis Symphony performs at Carnegie Hall. The trip to New York City is one that the orchestra has made numerous times, having first performed here in 1950 when the esteemed Vladimir Golschmann—with his matinee idol good looks—led the St. Louis Symphony at its first Carnegie Hall performance. With Music Director David Robertson—and the symphony's financial house in order after some worrisome times—Carnegie Hall has become a regular affair once again.
Maggie Bailey is the director of operations for the symphony and, as with many of the people who work there, she wears many hats. When it comes to logistics and planning, Maggie is one of the best sources for information. And, amazingly, she contains most of the information in her head—dates, times, schedules, flight numbers, even where to find a chocolate chip cookie when on the run in Manhattan. She can tell you what you need to know when you need to know it. She can even do this while maintaining her extensive St. Louis Cardinals souvenir collection—the Cardinals being her other passion.
St. Louis Symphony Director of Operations Maggie Bailey and her St. Louis Cardinals bobbleheads.
Maggie seemed relatively at ease about St. Louis' upcoming return to Carnegie Hall when we recently spoke. "At this moment, we're finalizing air travel and hotel accommodations," she told me. "The artistic department is checking in with guest artists about their needs," which, in this case, means soprano Karita Mattila, who will perform Kaija Saariaho's Quatre Instants with the orchestra. "Right now is the quiet before the storm. In a couple weeks, the storm hits."
Underlining the long-term planning that this requires, Maggie explained that the last big operational effort toward the tour happened last October, "When the musicians returned all their travel forms—what instruments are going to be trunked, who is flying with the orchestra as a group and who is flying separately. In February, we send stage plots to the Hall, checking in with them in case we have any special needs. And then there are all of the last-minute changes in travel arrangements." In March, Maggie will travel to New York ahead of the orchestra, staff, and stage hands. "I go ahead of the orchestra to make sure everything is where it's supposed to be at the hotel. I make sure everyone's keys will be available when they arrive. And I try to check in at Carnegie Hall at some point."
But stuff happens. The most fantastic skin-of-our-teeth episode came in 2009. The orchestra had played a concert in Ann Arbor the evening before it was to perform HK Gruber's Frankenstein!!—with the composer as chansonnier—in Zankel Hall. The next morning, the orchestra was delayed by storms at the airport in Detroit. Gruber's flight was cancelled in Chicago. David Robertson, who was already in New York, began rehearsing the chansonnier part. Resident Conductor Ward Stare was awakened from his nap on the plane and asked, "Can you conduct Frankenstein!! tonight?" Yes, he could. And he did. The rest has become part of the orchestra and Carnegie Hall's lore. The St. Louis Symphony arrived at La Guardia without much time to spare. Most of the musicians performed on the Zankel stage in their street clothes. They earned bravos from the audience and the critics, and the story went front page of The New York Times and a received mention on National Public Radio. It proves that averting disasters makes for high drama and great PR!
St. Louis Symphony Resident Conductor Ward Stare | Soprano Karita Mattila
Maggie played a big part in that skin-of-our-teeth experience. Since she was the only person from St. Louis on the ground in New York. She helped the Carnegie Hall crew set the stage—except Maggie went about her work in four-inch heels.
Maggie's favorite part of this story involves Symphony External Affairs VP Adam Crane, who was on a plane in Detroit, with the second orchestra ensemble—the one not playing Frankenstein!! that night—waiting and waiting and waiting on the runway. After a couple hours, the plane's captain actually polled the passengers, "Do you want to stay on the tarmac or turn back to the terminal?" Crane stood on his seat and shouted, "This plane is not turning back!" as if he were channeling Olivier in Henry V. Crane wasn't arrested. The plane continued to taxi until it at last was approved for takeoff. Crane missed the excitement at Zankel, but at least he and the rest of the orchestra slept in New York that night.
With such horror stories in mind, I asked Maggie, "So when can you relax?" "I relax when everyone is on the plane or in the same city," she said.
Do you have any Carnegie Hall rituals?
"After the concert the operations crew heads to Ray's Pizza. The selection is so random. What's my favorite? It all depends what's there. I like it when they put pasta on the pizza. My other ritual is that when the concert starts, I run across the street and get a cookie or a brownie."
I ask her what words she never wants to hear on tour. '"The toilet won't flush!' Basically, as far as I'm concerned, so long as a body or a person or an instrument isn't missing, we're OK. But I also don't want to hear 'The orchestra's not here yet.'
"The words I long for are, 'Welcome to St. Louis. Local time is ...'"