By Eric Dundon
On March 21, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra will embark on a four-country, five-city tour of Europe, the orchestra’s first international tour since 2017 and its first with Music Director Stéphane Denève.
Audrey Kwong, the SLSO’s Director of Orchestra Operations, is responsible for organizing much of the tour, which will stop in some of the continent’s cultural capitals, including Vienna, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Madrid. The orchestra will serve as ambassadors for St. Louis in some of the most storied concert venues in the world, showcasing the signature warm SLSO sound. Joining the SLSO on tour is Víkingur Ólafsson, the Icelandic pianist whose prolific concert activities and recordings have made him one of the most sought-after musicians of his generation.
Get your tickets for the SLSO's bon voyage concert here.
An SLSO staff member since 2018, Kwong discussed the various factors that go into producing a 10-day tour with almost 100 musicians.
St. Louisans can celebrate this orchestra milestone and wish a bon voyage to the orchestra on March 16 at Powell Hall. Get your tickets here.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
Eric Dundon: What is your role on the tour?
Audrey Kwong: I manage everything top to bottom that has to do with logistics, artistic planning, routing, and working with the agency that books us in the venues throughout Europe. I work on the contractual components with our different travel partners, and also with the presenters, or concert venues, themselves.
ED: What goes into planning to move almost 100 musicians through the tour itinerary?
AK: There's a lot. It is said touring is all about a million little details. There are a few big buckets. In terms of travel, we have to finalize what you normally think of as travel, like booking hotels, flights, buses—those obvious movements.
Don’t forget the European trucking rules, which I'm learning a lot about. Maggie Bailey, the SLSO’s Senior Director of Operations, and our crew deals with moving our equipment across the ocean. Once there, we have an entire cargo plan. We take everything with us—except a piano.
ED: What does a tour agent do?
AK: We work with two main touring partners. One is our booking agent. They're the people that know all the presenters in Europe. They help us book the concerts and are our primary conduit to the venues. We have also engaged a second partner for assistance specifically with flights, hotels, and buses.
ED: Some orchestras take multiple programs on tour. The SLSO is taking one. Why is that?
AK: We proposed multiple programs originally. Then when we began engaging with presenters, most seemed to gravitate towards our current program. We engaged pianist Víkingur Ólafsson, who is an amazing presence on stage, particularly in Europe, and the program came together quickly.
ED: How many people are traveling? What do they do on days when there isn’t a concert?
AK: We are taking 99 musicians and a librarian, plus our Music Director and Assistant Conductor, the soloist, and a handful of staff members. On non-concert days, a lot of musicians will do some traveling on their own. Some of them are arranging their own outreach activities—which represents the orchestra and the St. Louis region in other countries so well. We are in conversations with several embassies about other activities our musicians can plug into.
ED: What are you most looking forward to on the tour?
AK: We know and love how the orchestra sounds in Powell Hall. Hearing the orchestra in different venues is a rewarding experience. These places have deep history with classical music—Vienna and Amsterdam specifically come to mind—and our orchestra will sound fantastic there.
Also, something that I've noticed whenever the orchestra is on tour is there's a huge amount of camaraderie between everyone. We are on this unique adventure together. It's exciting and fun and exhausting, and it bonds the orchestra.
ED: Lastly, what is an unusual thing that you handle that most people might not even think is a consideration?
AK: We have to catalogue every single thing that's in every single cargo case, down an instrument’s materials. For example, we must note if the front of a violin is made of a certain wood and the back is made of a different other wood. There is a lot of granular detail needed to move the instruments internationally—especially because some of the instruments, particularly strings, are made of precious or rare materials.
Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Director.