Pass the baton: Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony cross paths

Posted: August 29, 2011

ZURICH, Switzerland - The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra are bound to have ships-that-pass-in-the-night moments on their tours of European festivals, and the first was at the Zurich Airport on Sunday morning: The Chicagoans were emerging from the arrivals section of the airport while the Philadelphians were two levels up, going through security and passport control.

The Chicagoans were in transit to Lucerne from Salzburg, Austria, and the Philadelphians were shipping out from Lucerne to Dublin, Ireland, using the same buses and Air Berlin chartered airplane. Anticipating the near-miss, the Philadelphians wrote notes to their Chicago friends - "Best wishes," "Have a nice tour" - while on the bus between Lucerne and Zurich, and the messages were presented to a lost contingent of Chicagoans emerging from baggage claim by Katherine Blodgett, the Philadelphia Orchestra's vice president for public relations.

"I left a note for you guys on the third row of the plane," said Chicago Symphony cellist Ken Olsen. "I have all these friends in the orchestra, and I hoped I would run into them - Efe Baltacigil, Yumi Kendall, Jon Chu."

Meanwhile, the Chicagoans scanned the crowd for their colleagues; Chicago music director Riccardo Muti had been with them but was nowhere to be seen. "He's probably where he's supposed to be," said bassist Dan Armstrong. "We're not."

Then they saw a bus marked "POA" (Philadelphia Orchestra Association) - their inherited transport - and all was well.

Half an hour later, when the Philadelphians boarded their flight, sure enough, posted notes from the Chicagoans were everywhere (including one in Hebrew for principal trombonist Nitzan Haroz, who is from Israel). The only hint of rivalry between the orchestras came with the news that both are playing suites from the Prokofiev ballet Romeo and Juliet. "Why has it worked out this way?" Armstrong lamented.

There will be another almost-encounter in Dresden, Germany, where the ensembles will come within 24 hours of each other: The Philadelphians are to leave Saturday morning, and the Chicagoans are to arrive at the same hotel in the afternoon.

Additionally, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's schedule dovetails with Philadelphia's in Paris on Sept. 10: Pittsburgh is to leave Paris' Gare du Nord train station around noon, with the Philadelphians due to arrive from London on the Eurostar at 1:47 p.m. The orchestras plan to use the same buses to and from the same hotel.

Contact staff writer David Patrick Stearns at

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