LA Phil Blog

To Trunk or Not To Trunk?

To Trunk or Not To Trunk?

This blog entry isn’t about any particularly cool city on this tour. They are all cool. It is instead about getting my viola from point A to point B. As members of the Philharmonic we have two options with regards to our instruments. We can hand carry our instruments or we can “trunk” them. If we hand-carry them it means that we have them with us at every turn. Can you imagine the overhead bin space on a trans-Atlantic flight if over 100 musicians hand carried their instruments? Besides, that's not really an option for cellists, bassists or percussion players anyway.

Orchestra's Viola case
Violist Mick Wetzel's instrument - he 'trunked it' on the first leg of this tour after agonizing over the decision.

That brings us to the other option - “trunking” one’s instrument, which involves entrusting one’s instrument to the care of the Philharmonic crew. The worst part about “trunking” for me is that I have to give up my viola for days and days. For example, on this European Tour, we gave our last performance in LA prior to leaving for tour on Saturday, January 15th. After this concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall I carefully packed my instrument in its case and carefully slid it into the instrument trunk in the Choral Hall of Disney and didn’t see it again until I reversed this process at Gulbenkian hall in Lisbon Portugal.

This is one of the reasons I have always hand-carried my viola. I hate not being able to practice and In the 25+ years I have been touring with major orchestras, I have always had a recital, an audition or a chamber music performance immediately following the tour to practice for. That wasn't the case this time, but it DID mean over 5 days without practicing. My fear to give up my viola was, maybe, not unfounded because when we arrived in Lisbon, it did take me several hours of practicing to reacquaint myself with my viola and reacquire any finesse I need to be a contributing member of the Philharmonic Viola Section.

I must admit my other fear of “trunking” my instrument had to do with its safety. I don’t own a highly valuable instrument relative to a fine 17th or 18th century Italian viola but to put it into perspective, my dream of owning a 2010 Porsche 911 Carrera4 was financially replaced by my modern Italian’s OK, I use the viola a lot more that I would use the Porsche. But I digress - I was worried about the fragility of my instrument and its ability to withstand the shipping process; wide temperature changes (we are in the middle of winter here in Europe), bumps, jarring etc. Well, I needn’t have worried.

We have the best crew possible. Paul Geller (Production Director), and Stage Technicians Chris Duarte, Cesar Melgar and Alex Quintanar have watched over and babysat our collection of instruments with the vigilance of a mother cat over her kittens. To be honest, they kind of babysit us as well. From Los Angeles to Lisbon, our instruments – "palletized" at LAX, over the Atlantic at 30,000 feet on Air Trans, arrival in Luxembourg, trucked over the Pyrenees mountain pass in 2 temperature controlled semi trucks and arrival in Lisbon, Portugal at Gulbenkian Hall – never varied more than 10 degrees of temperature (61 to 70 degrees). My viola was even still in tune from the concert on January 15! Hats off and many thanks to Paul, Chris, Cesar and Alex for taking such good care of us and our instruments.

After all, it wouldn’t be much of a show if we SANG Mahler 9.