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Orchestra on the move: DHL Global Event Logistics organizes logistics for the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra

DHL Global Event Logistics is DHL Freight’s specialist logistics provider. They ensure that unusual cargo – in this case items such as cellos, double basses, timpani and conductor's platforms – all reach their musician owners in time to take to the stage. The team recently organized the Oslo Philharmonic’s Asia tour, which was not an easy task.

The Oslo Philharmonic embarked on a 13-day concert tour of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan in late 2023. Everything ran on a tight schedule with concerts taking place every two days and the musicians and their instruments travelling on to the next venue in between. “Time was tight and the invitation to tender arrived rather late. Binding freight flights could only be booked three weeks before transport. This presented a particular challenge,” explained Andreas Mattick, Managing Director of Global Event Logistics GmbH, DHL Freight, and concert logistics expert. Three other competitors experienced in concert logistics turned the contract down on account of the limited preparation time. Working with DHL Global Forwarding’s Oslo office and DHL colleagues in Dubai, where the instruments had to have a layover, Mattick and his team managed to put all the necessary logistics in place despite the complex requirements.

Large support crew and valuable cargo

It takes a large crew behind the scenes to get an orchestra tour on the road: the concert booking agency that locks in the contract with the concert venues, the tour promoters who take care of the venue arrangements and the marketing, travel agencies specializing in group travel and, last but not least, the logistics provider. The musicians, the orchestra manager and other support crew often number up to 135 people. They board the plane while their valuable instruments are handed over to the logistics partner of choice.

The combined value of the Oslo Philharmonic’s musical cargo was substantially higher than the usual $3-8 million (approx. €2.8 to €7.3 million). Among the items in the hold were several particularly valuable Stradivari – stringed instruments built by Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari between the 17th and 18th centuries. As such, the total value of the instruments in this instance rose to $25 million (approx. €23 million). “I took a deep breath when I read that,” says Mattick. “We have to take special measures to prepare our overseas partners for handling valuable cargo like this.”

The challenges of transporting stringed instruments

There were also several unique factors to take into consideration en route – including the heat in Dubai. While temperatures are monitored and regulated during transit, there was still potential for the instruments to sustain damage while sitting for hours on the tarmac in the baking heat of the United Arab Emirates. Especially when these items are best stored between +17 and +21 degrees Celsius. However, the local DHL team was able to unload the instrument cases from the aircraft directly into a temperature-controlled container.

Navigating the leg of the journey from Kumamoto, Japan to Goyang, South Korea was also a complex challenge. With no flights connecting the two cities and Mattick’s team reluctant to place the cargo in the rough-and-ready confines of a shipping container, they arranged for the instruments to be transported 120 kilometers by truck to Fukuoka for a connecting flight to Seoul. And this brought them straight to their next hurdle – cargo planes flying to Seoul tend to be on the smaller side. “Getting all the instruments together on one single flight was a virtuoso performance in its own right,” says Mattick. “You have to have a plan B. If anything goes wrong, it will stop the concert going ahead, and this is clearly not an option!”

All the instrument cases had to clear security before being loaded onto cargo pallets. An aircraft can hold six or, sometimes, seven of these pallets. The oboes, trumpets, timpani, violas and so on had a combined volume of between 50 and 80 cubic meters and a total weight of between four and five metric tons. Completing customs documentation was also a very time-consuming process, with Japan and South Korea having different regulations compared to those of Taiwan. This is precisely why Andreas Mattick relies on partners on the ground who are familiar with local practices.

Concert logistics is a question of trust

The orchestra manager was present when the valuable cargo was being unloaded, explaining to the logistics specialists on the ground precisely how they should handle the instrument cases. As soon as the instruments arrived at the next venue, the musicians would head straight to rehearsals for that evening’s concert. “These kinds of tours typically have very tight schedules that can only be pulled off through good teamwork,” says Mattick. “The orchestras trust us.”

Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei... hundreds of kilometers and 13 concerts later and all of the Oslo Philharmonic’s violas, kettle drums and double basses had arrived safely back home in the Norwegian capital, all in one piece. But it won’t be very long until the next tour takes them out on the road again.

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