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Behind the Scenes: on time and even tempered

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Gewandhaus on the Road

DHL Brandworld takes a peek into the logistics behind a Gewandhaus Orchestra tour.

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Delivering priceless musical instruments is no easy task but DHL’s role as Official Logistics Partner to the Gewandhaus Orchestra is always in tune. Take a look behind the scenes.

The side of the truck backing into the loading dock at Bonn’s famous Beethoven concert hall advertises a German tourist attraction. Any passerby would have no idea that a payload worth several million euros is behind the tranquil countryside scene on the truck’s side curtains.

The 40-ton DHL vehicle is packed with the instruments of the Leipzig’s renowned Gewandhaus Orchestra. The side curtains are constantly changed to keep potential thieves at bay. “Anyone who knows that we handle the Gewandhaus’ logistics and knows the orchestra’s tour schedule can do the math,” explains DHL’s Gregor Klammer, the man responsible for coordinating the Gewandhaus shipments.

“Finding our truck would be easy. That’s too much of a risk.” Ensuring the security of the instruments is just one unique consideration for the DHL team.

Like clockwork
Earlier, the truck had slipped into Bonn after an uneventful trip from Leipzig, one without even a single traffic jam. Even with congestion, the instruments would have arrived on schedule: Klammer takes a close look at both traffic patterns and weather while planning the route. “There was a storm in Leipzig yesterday, which delayed loading. It was a good thing we’d built in a buffer.”

Building in wiggle room is part of the fine-tuning that goes into planning a tour like this – planning that begins as early as three years out. “There are usually a couple of cities or events that we want to be at, like the Lucerne Festival in the fall, so we start planning the rest of the tour around those dates,” explains Gewandhaus Orchestra Manager Marco Eckertz. That’s when DHL comes on board: Gewandhaus management and DHL get together to determine what is realistic in a given time frame.

“Sometimes we can decide on which day of a two-day festival we want to play, and that’s where the logistical aspects come into play,” says Eckertz.

In good hands

With just four and a half hours before curtain call, the two DHL drivers greet the Gewandhaus Orchestra’s three orchestra attendants. They all know each other. They’ve been working together for years. “Unloading the truck is tricky,” says Lothar Petrausch, the lead attendant. “It doesn’t take much for a crate to fall over, so it’s very important to have good hands who know what it is they are transporting.”

DHL’s drivers are in the know. Both have driven Gewandhaus Orchestra truckloads several dozen times. Gewandhaus Director Professor Andreas Schulz appreciates the care these drivers show.

“DHL is completely professional,” he says. “The teams are familiar with our requirements and know what needs to be done, and they do it perfectly each and every time. That's exactly the kind of service we had been looking for.”

It’s not just the timing of the transport that is tricky. Timpani drums have thin calf skin heads and the wood in the stringed instruments is very sensitive to fluctuations in temperature. The temperature inside the truck during transport needs to be a constant 18 to 20 degrees Celsius.

Upon arrival at the concert hall, the instruments then need to be unloaded in a set order, leaving enough time for them to become re-acclimated. “The skins have to get acclimated to the environment in the concert hall,” Tom Greenleaves, the orchestra’s lone timpanist explains as, two hours before rehearsal, he removes the wooden covers from his instruments’ calfskin drumheads and begins to tune the instruments“. They’ve arrived safe and sound,” he says with relief.

“It would be terrible if one of them was damaged. You develop a really close relationship with your instrument – these four right here are like my babies.”
Greenleaves feels his “babies” are in good hands with DHL and says he never thinks twice when handing over his drums for transport.

A well-oiled machine
The concert is a huge success. Beethoven’s third piano concerto, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s Symphony No. 5 – the sound is riveting and Beethovenhalle audience is visibly mesmerized. The performance receives rave reviews. DHL’s drivers don’t hear a single note, but that’s ok. They are resting up for the 12-hour trip to Geneva, Switzerland, the next stop on this tour. While the Orchestra plays its final encore, the DHL truck backs up to the loading dock again.

As the audience empties into the foyer, Petrausch collects the sheet music on the stage. The musicians quickly change out of their concert garb and place their instruments back into the shipping crates. As the musicians step out for the evening, the DHL drivers work with the orchestra attendants to double check that the contrabasses are placed securely in their crates and that the crates are properly closed and locked. The cellos and timpani are next. “OK. Now the violins and trumpets,” one of them calls.

It’s just after 11 pm. They work seamlessly together until the truck is fully packed and ready to depart. After a little chit-chat, the drivers say their farewells and drive off into the cool night. Tomorrow in Switzerland, they’ll do it all over again!