It's a little after ten. I've just come offstage following the Tour Send-Off concert. I change clothes and pack my concert attire in the orchestra wardrobe trunks, with extra shoes, a spare outfit, and a supply of strings. Just in case. (Thankfully, I'm not as prone to breaking a string as Tony is.) I don't want any emergencies!
I do all this first so that I can turn my full attention to my cello, which I fasten into its sturdy, made-to-measure case. I wipe the fine-grained wood free of rosin dust and loosen the strings, a small precaution against airplane pressure.
I won't see my cello again until we are reunited at Sibelius Hall in Lahti. I slip a silent blessing inside the case, and place that case in its padded trunk. Dave McKoskey approaches with keys (one is the size of a small crow-bar) to secure the two sets of locks. It feels as if I am sending off a dear and precious friend, one for whom I am responsible. And I know this friend is in good hands with the orchestra's exceptional stage crew. Dave waits as I take one last look. Something tells me he understands. But the good-bye is still hard. "See you in Lahti," I whisper.
This is the cello I played at my Minnesota Orchestra audition all those years ago. A gift from my parents when I was accepted to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. We studied in Germany together, travelled to cello competitions in Budapest and Florence, toured South America with the Camarata di Bariloche. It kept me company when I moved to Minnesota and didn't know a soul.
It had trouble adjusting to Minnesota winters and fussed the first few years: the dryness, the cold, the extremes. It needed a higher bridge. Or, when the season changed, lower. Different strings. Its wood swelled, then shrank. Seams came unglued. Just when it began to acclimate, the orchestra went to Hong Kong. Then Australia. Puerto Rico. Japan.
We have seen a great deal of the world, together.
We will be returning to Lahti for the second time, Edinburgh and Amsterdam for the third. Copenhagen will be new to us both, and I'm curious about the acoustic in this unfamiliar hall. Will it allow a full range of dynamics? Will I find it easy to blend with the other cellos in the section? I want these European audiences to know that Minnesota delivers unparalleled performances, music that is extraordinarily moving and memorable.
I watch as Dave swings the trunk door closed, fixes the heavy latches into place, and keys the locks. I call it "my" cello, but I am aware that, despite all the time we have spent together, as well as we know each other, this instrument isn't really mine. But it's my immense good fortune to be its steward, tasked with keeping it safe now for its next 250 years of music-making.
"Safe travels," I say.