OCTOBER 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 23

OCTOBER 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 23
October 5, 2020 leonard slatkin

“It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression, ‘As pretty as an airport.’”
―Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

One of the fingernail-biting experiences in life is watching the scoreboard as the last day of the regular baseball season approaches. Will your team get to the playoffs by winning or as a result of losses by the others?

In the meantime, there is another, more dramatic game going on. Those of us who are supposed to be travelling keep a close eye on restrictions that each country is imposing on people as they enter foreign lands. I have a seven-week tour coming up near the end of the month involving five separate countries, and the situation in each of those places has an impact on the feasibility of the other dates.

As I write this I am scheduled to step onto the first airplane in three weeks. When I decided not to go to Detroit, my concern was not the aircraft but being in such an open and public place like the airport itself. How were the bags going to be handled? What if there were delays? So Cindy and I determined that it was safer to drive.

However, upon further reflection, we realized that nine hours on the road each way was too much to handle. Any reservation on our part would not be conducive to decent music-making. We stayed home, hoping that I would get the opportunity to see all my friends in the Motor City at some point in the near future.

Europe was another matter indeed. Several countries have opened up significantly, albeit with some experiencing major upticks in outbreaks. Two of those are on my schedule. The start of the itinerary is in Lyon, which presents all kinds of obstacles. It takes three airplanes to get there from St. Louis. Some of France is in lockdown mode, but Lyon has been spared for the time being.

One has to get a special travel allowance from the government in order to enter the country. But this is only for those considered essential workers and those conducting business important to the French economy. Apparently, a conductor qualifies. I have been in regular contact with the ONL’s artistic administrator, Ronald Vermeulen. We changed the program a couple times and had to make an adjustment for a run-out concert. In Lyon, they are playing with reduced orchestra and around 1,500 people in the audience. That number had diminished by almost half upon the latest uptick in cases across the country.

It is becoming clear that a domino effect could take place. If one orchestra were to cancel, everything else on my itinerary would be affected. There does come a point at which, no matter how much you want to go, things have to give. In the case of Lyon, it might depend on what happens with the next date in the Canary Islands. Spain is also seeing a distressing spike in cases, meaning that going via Madrid carries all kinds of risks. You can never know who the travelers mingling about in the airport might be. As much as you try to sidestep and stay away from others, it is impossible to be sure.

Flight schedules have been cut to a minimum. Entry requirements are subject to review on a weekly basis, with new restrictions put into effect with little notice. But the orchestras on my itinerary have not yet cancelled anything. It feels like they are letting me decide, even though getting information about what is really going on in each country is difficult.

Helsinki is my next scheduled stop, and their restrictions are pretty stringent. But the decision seems to be up to the border guards upon your arrival. They could take one look at you and your passport and turn you around. That just does not seem like a risk worth taking, and since it is in the middle of the trip, should that one fail, there is no way to complete the journey. And who knows how long it would take to get a flight home.

Berlin and Dublin follow, with the latter looking impossible and the former possible, assuming I get into Finland in the first place. Still, it seems that the best option is to wait until the end of the week and see where things are.

Now all of you get to blog watch. Will I go or will conducting have to wait until next year? These decisions are serious, and as much as I want to make music again, health and safety for everyone comes first. Meanwhile, the baseball scoreboard watch ended and miraculously, the Cardinals made it into the playoffs. COVID had kept them off the field for seventeen days, and they had to make up all the games in a very short period of time. It was a grueling schedule, yet they persevered. But at the end of the series with San Diego, the schedule caught up with the birds. They managed to win Game One, but in the end, their season was over.

And now that the president and first lady have contracted the virus, perhaps there will be more awareness of what everyone should have been doing in the first place. Baseball’s world series will end in a few weeks. The virus, on the other hand, will be around as long as people insist on defying the science. Musicians can only stand by and decide if they can convince others to follow the guidelines. The best any of us can do is to take care of ourselves.