How do you REALLY get to Carnegie Hall?

Shepherd School musicians prepare for East Coast tour

It’s an old joke: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

But that’s only part of the answer, according to some of the Rice University staff handling logistics of the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming East Coast tour.

To perform at Carnegie Hall – or any other music venue that has hosted some of the world’s finest composers, conductors and musicians – practice is certainly a must. Raw talent helps, too. But for the world-class musicians of the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra – who are more than 1,000 miles away from their upcoming performances at Baltimore’s Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Feb. 15) and New York’s Carnegie Hall (Feb. 18) – the physical process of packing and embarking on their first tour outside of Texas is a monumental, albeit welcome, task.

“It’s like putting a puzzle together,” said Susanna Panzini, director of performance arrangements for the New York-based tour management company Concept Tours. The company is working with Shepherd School staff members to provide logistical planning, including hotel selection and booking, flight reservations, instrument rentals and food catering and delivery. “Every single detail is planned out and double checked,” she said.

Kaaren Fleisher, orchestra manager at the Shepherd School, has been working on many other behind-the-scenes details, including tracking dietary needs for preperformance meals, booking rehearsal space and arranging transportation and insurance for the orchestra’s instruments.

“The amount of detail that goes into a trip like this is really unbelievable,” she said.

The journey will begin the morning of Feb. 14 when 106 members of the orchestra and approximately five Shepherd School staff members will board two charter buses to Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport and then fly to Washington, D.C., where they will stay for the first leg of the tour.

Panzini said that because the group is taking a chartered flight, check-in will be simpler and less time-consuming. In addition, students can rest easy knowing there’s no risk of their instruments being sent on the wrong flight.

“Small to midsize instruments such as violins, violas and cellos will be included as carry-on items, unlike on commercial flights, where instruments sometimes require their own ticket to travel in the cabin,” she said.

Fleisher noted that the orchestra’s largest instruments, including the double basses, tubas and contrabassoon, must be transported as cargo. And since the majority of the large instruments cost tens of thousands of dollars apiece, special care must be taken to ensure their safe arrival.

“We have ordered several cargo cases that were custom-built to carry the large instruments,” Fleisher said. She noted that the “mummy-like” cases are taller than an average-sized human and weigh more than 100 pounds each. An additional case will carry the orchestra’s sheet music for the two performances.

Fleisher added that a climate-controlled truck has also been rented to transport the prized instruments between Baltimore and New York and around the two cities, and two chartered buses will transport students and staff. Additional percussion equipment, including harps, drums and other miscellaneous large instruments will be rented.

Of course, the most important part of the trip – the two performances – involves the student and faculty musicians. Larry Rachleff, the Walter Kris Hubert Professor of Orchestral Conducting, called the tour a “significant project” and said the ability of the orchestra and the soloists to put all the musical details together is “a testament to the brilliance of our students and faculty.”

As for the actual repertoire, Rachleff said [the Shepherd School] aimed to pick a program that would speak to the students. One of the musical selections, Bela Bartók’s “Concerto for Orchestra,” is a sentimental choice.

“Bartok’s ‘Concerto for Orchestra’ is a really important piece for the Shepherd School, because it was the piece we performed to inaugurate Alice Pratt Brown Hall 23 years ago. It’s very meaningful,” he said.

And Bartok’s composition isn’t the only tour selection with special significance. Both pieces of music featuring Shepherd School faculty soloists were selected specifically with the performer and venue in mind. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” which will be performed by the orchestra in Baltimore and will feature Jon Kimura Parker, professor of piano, first premiered in Baltimore in 1934 with Rachmaninoff himself performing as the soloist. The orchestra’s performance will mark the 80th anniversary of the world premiere. Christopher Rouse’s “Violin Concerto” was written especially for Cho-Liang Lin, professor of violin, who gave its world premiere at the Aspen Music Festival in 1991. Rouse, the composer-in-residence of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, will attend the orchestra’s Feb. 18 performance at Carnegie Hall.

Rachleff is also “deeply grateful” to the donors that have made the tour possible, as well as the Shepherd School and Rice University leadership, who have acknowledged the significance of this tour.

“I’m just honored to be a part of it,” he said.

The Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra will give Houston fans a sneak preview of its upcoming East Coast tour with concerts Feb. 8 and 13 in Alice Pratt Brown Hall’s Stude Concert Hall. For information, visit

Rice University’s Office of Public Affairs will be providing in-depth coverage of the Shepherd School’s 2014 tour. To keep up with the latest news, visit For more information on the tour and on purchasing concert tickets, visit

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.