Gabrielle Thompson on Touring with an Orchestra

When did you come up with the idea to tour India with the Australian World Orchestra in October 2015?

It was Alexander Briger’s idea who first had a discussion about this with Maestro Zubin Mehta and Nick Deutsch, our Principal Oboe for the Australian World Orchestra.


What were the initial preparations you had to carry out for the tour? 

First and foremost, we decided to go and visit India. We met with Mehroo Jeejeebhoy of the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation in Mumbai followed by Michael Menezes of Showtime Group in New Delhi.

We were very lucky that the Consul General in Chennai was keen to have us to come. He asked us to have a quick meeting with him. So we flew straight to Chennai on our way home and met with various business leaders who were interested to have Maestro Mehta over. After our meetings we decided to put in a proposal to them which they accepted.

We had to carry out three recces in India – February 2014, August 2014 and then again in February 2015. We had the concerts in October 2015. It was very exciting even though it was a lot of work.


How many members were involved with the logistics for this tour?

We had 8 members of the AWO in the logistics team and were handling different aspects of the tour. On the ground in India, we used plenty of local resources. In Mumbai we had the wonderful Mehli Mehta Music Foundation and Mehroo Jeejeebhoy who was able to organise all the buses for the players. She assisted our orchestra manager in getting the shipment of the freight of the instruments, especially the double basses from the airport to the National Centre for the Performing Arts. We had people inside the NCPA we had met previously that helped us in making sure the instruments were stored properly.

In Chennai, we were assisted by the Murugappa Group – they were able to help us with transport and logistics.

The Taj group of hotels were fantastic – having the same hotel chain in all three cities really helped. They all worked together as one which was great!

Nusli Wadia, who owns Go Airways was able to work with us on having flights and a plane that we could fly in so that we were able to transport the instruments easily.

So whilst we had 8 people in the AWO logistics, we were very very lucky to have such tremendous support from the locals in India who were able to assist us with all of the on ground costs there.


What were the challenges faced by you and your team leading up to the tour? 

The first one was the freight – getting all the instruments in and then working out how to transport them around India. It was not just getting them in, keeping in mind the conditions like the heat, clearing them out of the airplanes, but also because of the size and the weight of the instruments. It would normally be very expensive to bring them in. So we had to do a lot of work with the Australian High Commission who were also very supportive and our players to make sure we were able to transport the instruments as lightly as possible.

The second part of the logistical exercise that was most difficult was to do with the visas. Getting Indian visas is quite a challenging task as every visa office is different. And for us of course, we weren’t able to just take in all passports together. We had to establish contact with offices where all the players were located. This was 26 different countries!

And I suppose the third part would really have been the on ground logistics of just moving people around making sure that when they arrived in Mumbai and when they departed in Delhi, that we had people there to meet all of their flights and also to send them off.


Could you please share some tips for organisations and orchestras that are looking at touring India in the near future? 

I think they must make sure to get all the details on how to apply for their visas as soon as possible. There’s also a requirement that you can’t have a visa for longer than 6 weeks before you travel. But because they take so long to launch the process, they should really get to know all their local visa offices and make sure that its all cleared.

Another tip I have is to make sure that your orchestra manager and your logistics manager have a pre-visit to India and have had a chance to meet with the airline that will travel with all the instruments and the people and build a relationship with them. I think that a lot of it is about relationship building. Once you know who the right people are and you get to know them, it does make it much easier because things can change, that happens in every country and so it is very important to know them.


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