Victoria Symphony Orchestra’s silent hero saves the day

The Victoria Symphony left last week on its first national tour, part of the celebrations for its 75th-anniversary season. Music director Tania Miller is writing about her impressions of the orchestra’s experience as it travels andperforms.


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As you read this article, the Victoria Symphony will be back in their homes with their families and relaxing for the first moments after their intense, week-long tour to Central Canada. Presumably, they are all basking in the joy of sharing the tour’s final concert with their devoted Victoria audience. I assure you that I will be.

But wait! Some of the musicians will be rehearsing all day for the coming Victoria Choral Society concert of Mendelssohn’s Symphony #2. Others are practising for Wednesday’s opening rehearsals of POV’s spectacular upcoming opera, Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Well, some of the musicians must be relaxing. (Again, I assure you that I will be.)

As I write this, we have just finished a spectacular concert at The Orpheum in Vancouver. This old vaudeville theatre was scheduled to be demolished in the early ’70s and saved through public protest and the city’s mayor before becoming the beautiful home of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

The hall was a treasure to play in. We heard our sounds bloom and float without effort, journeying through warm woods and a resonant dome-shaped space with a gorgeous painted ceiling. I think this might have been our best concert yet on the tour, although tomorrow I still have yet to describe our final performance back home in the Royal Theatre.

The Victoria Symphony is so unified now, so focused into one living and breathing musical entity that it almost feels easy to perform brilliantly. After all these days together on tour, we know and trust each other in new ways and read each musical nuance like the unspoken understandings of an old married couple. (I wish I was there to see the musicians’ faces when they read this.)

The audience always sees the sparkling orchestra up on stage, but some of the great heroes of this tour were the silent ones behind the scenes. One of these showed his resilience and determination in the face of significant adversity as we travelled from the east back to Vancouver. This was our gallant stage manager, Eric Gallipo.

You may wonder how we got all of our instruments to the east and back. Small instruments such as violins, horns and even trombones travelled as carry-on luggage on the airplane. You’ve probably experienced the stress and chaos on the airplane when passengers are scrambling to cram their bags into the overhead bins. Well, you’ve never travelled with an orchestra, so count yourself lucky!

Some of the largest instruments, such as harp and timpani, were borrowed in each of the cities we visited. But those in between, including cellos and basses, had to be shipped via cargo plane. Eric had to organize and ship the cargo, fly to Montreal early, rent a truck and from that point drive the instruments around from city to city. As you can imagine, this required many long hours and thousands of kilometres of driving. With a 13-hour drive between Quebec City and Toronto, just to name one, you understand what kind of life Eric was leading for our orchestra.

When we were preparing to fly from Ottawa to Vancouver, disaster struck. Eric was driving the truck from Ottawa to the Montreal airport where the cargo flight was scheduled to ship our large string instruments. Hearing an alarming clunking sound from below, he looked under the truck to see a big fan belt dangling loose. Faced with a decision to carry on or miss the flight, he drove with a white-knuckled grip, braced for smoke or engine failure at any moment.

When he arrived unscathed, more bad news was awaiting him. The cargo flight that the cellos and basses were scheduled to fly on was cancelled! Air Canada, scurrying to find an alternative, could only offer smaller planes that could accommodate the cellos. The basses were left behind and destined to miss the concert.

Eric sent distress signals in every direction, and new basses were located through the Vancouver Symphony.

Defeated and tired, Eric landed in Vancouver at 1:30 a.m., bass-less, sleeping for only a few hours before driving back to the airport, twice, to pick up various instruments coming in on a variety of flights.

It seems our own basses didn’t want to miss this exciting concert though, and they arrived just in time.

Wednesday, I plan to share my last thoughts about this amazing experience and opportunity for the Victoria Symphony. Meanwhile, although I look forward to a full night’s rest, and being home with my family, I am sad that this incredible tour is over.

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