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Orchestral Touring Abroad

Should you be engaged as a freelance musician with an orchestra, before heading for the airport or a station, there are a number of practical aspects to take into consideration.

Last updated: 05 May 2021

Whilst orchestra members are covered as employees when travelling with the group, awareness of the needs of freelance musicians led to the Union negotiating with the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) and the production of a set of guidelines entitled Orchestral Foreign Touring — Code of Practice. We also agree the schedule and rates of subsistence for each orchestral foreign tour with the orchestra management. The daily rate for subsistence (per diem or PD) covers the cost of meals and incidentals such as hot drinks or laundry. We can advise on what the agreed PD rate has been for recent tours to any territory.

‘Most orchestras planforeign tours with due diligence,’ says MU National Organiser Jo Laverty, ‘but because some of the self-governing London orchestras are able to do hit-and-run  concerts on the continent, the problem arises when they have musicians working as extras and deputies. There comes a point where players think: “Is it worth doing a day return ticket to Italy? It’s not lucrative, unless the cost of parking at Stansted is covered”.’

Demanding pace on tours

Fiona Higham, violinist and MU Steward, tours on a regular basis: ‘As a player with the London Philharmonic, whether a shareholding member or an extra, all the arrangements are handled very professionally by our touring manager. For example, flight tickets, instruments carried overland by the orchestra truck, or in the hold, decent hotels, and bus transfers to concert halls.

‘It still remains, however, a very demanding part of our schedule as financial considerations mean that we will, unless time zones prevent, always travel out early in the morning of the first concert abroad, which really takes a toll on the physical condition of the orchestra. It can also be expensive, as we frequently have to be at Heathrow at a time which makes public transport to the airport impossible.

‘Another consideration is that our touring rates are lower than our London concert rates, so while it is financially good for the company, it can feel like quite hard work for the players. But of course, touring is an essential part of our work.’

Touring abroad, for all musicians, can be very stressful. Bill Paterson, MU Steward and cellist at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra shares his experiences: ‘Let’s be under no illusions, foreign touring is hard work; long hours of travel to destinations that typically you have little chance to see, sometimes flying back home straight after the concert and generally working to a very tight schedule. It all adds up to what can be a less than satisfying experience.

‘On the plus side, when it’s good it is very good! There is a degree of camaraderie on tour that can bring a group of work-weary musicians closer together. Visiting new places and performing in the best concert halls in the world can still be rewarding — even after 34 years.’