Jeen FedelichYvonne Caruthers  

Interview with Jeen Fedelich: Avoiding Problems on Orchestra Tours

Jeen Fedelich & Yvonne Caruthers
April 15, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

Recently (March 2008) there was an article on Orchestra-L about the London Symphony having to play a concert of Mahler 7th in Dijon using borrowed instruments because their truck was held up due to a strike. My first thought was, "Where was Jeen Fedelich?" Jeen is legendary in the orchestra tour business; she's been handling impossible problems for nearly 30 years. She currently works for Classical Movements, a tour operator based in Alexandria, VA. I emailed her immediately, but she said she had not been traveling with London when their disaster happened. I hope you'll enjoy my interview with her about her demanding job that's so important to traveling orchestras!

- Yvonne Caruthers

Yvonne Caruthers: How long have you been smoothing the way for orchestra tours? And what is the name of your job?
Jeen Fedelich: I started twenty-seven years ago, in 1981. My title is “Tour Manager.”

YC: How did you get into doing this?
JF: A travel agency based in Chicago was looking for a tour manager. I applied and my first tour was with Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra and the travel agency were pleased with my job and my second tour was with Philadelphia.

YC: What sort of jobs had you had prior to this? Any musical training?
JF: I learned piano from the time I was 4 until my parents left Algeria when I was 12. We had to go back to France, but we didn’t have a piano, as finances were difficult.

[As an adult] I first worked in Canada as a production assistant for documentary movies. Then I moved to Puerto Rico because I hated the cold, but I couldn’t get the same job. At first I had a restaurant in San Juan but that wasn’t for me. One day the cruise director from a cruise ship asked if I could join for2 weeks to translate for their French passengers, so I did that, and they asked if I could stay on as hostess first and then I became social director. I stayed on the ship for one year. Through those contacts I met the people in Chicago. That was Fred Gepfert's company, TravTours. They needed a tour manager for orchestras. I was with them for 20 years.

YC: Can you describe what happens before an orchestra arrives in a new city? How far in advance do you get there?
JF: Usually, I try to get there the night before so I can evaluate the situation (hotel full, renovations that the hotel didn't tell us about, work on the street, anything that could be a problem for the orchestra). Then the next morning, I meet with the management of the hotel and go over the rooming list and of course the goal is to get all the keys and rooms ready for the arrival of the orchestra, not always easy.

YC: What's the hardest problem you've ever had to solve?
JF: There are quite a few, but generally it's when you have a day when the orchestra is both traveling and performing and the flight is delayed or worse--canceled!

YC: Can you give us examples?
JF: The orchestra arrived in Berlin, the hotel said, “we can’t give you 120 single rooms, you can have 60 doubles.” I told them “no, this can’t happen,” but they couldn’t budge. Something had happened, the previous guests hadn’t checked out and there were no other rooms in the city. I mean we could have stayed at something like a Motel 6 out on the highway, but that was not acceptable. We did have to double up for one night. They gave us free breakfast, etc, but I think the orchestra didn’t pay and there was some kind of lawsuit about it. I don’t know those details.

[another time] There was a train strike in France, and we were stuck. We explained to the conductor of the train that this was the Cleveland Orchestra, they have a concert that night, so we could not wait forever. We argued for a while and then somehow our car went backwards, ending upon a new track, and we arrived early enough for the orchestra to play the concert.

[different trip] We were going from Paris to London on the high speed train TGV, and one of the violinists had work-out weights in his suitcase. The security people made a big deal out of it, saying he couldn’t bring the weights in his luggage, but I knew it was also because he’s African American and I was angry [with security]. Finally I said, “You don’t want him to get on the train?” They said, “That’s right,” and I said ,“Then I’m getting off.” The train was supposed to leave soon and the authorities knew that if I got off the train they’d have to find my suitcase and remove it from the luggage car, so at the last minute they accepted the violinist and his suitcase--with his weights. We ran fast to catch the train. Of course the whole argument was in French.

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Comments (Click to Hide)

If I'm not mistaken, this only touches the tip of the iceberg. Orchestra tours can be very complicated - Jeen can easily write a book about it. I got lost in Stuttgart while on tour in Germany several years ago. I only knew two words in German ("street" and "hotel"), but that was enough to get me to the tour bus leaving to Munich, barely on time.
mexindian on April 27, 2019 at 12:50 AM

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