Just in: Airline wrecks Koussevitsky’s bass

Just in: Airline wrecks Koussevitsky’s bass


norman lebrecht

November 07, 2015

More airport violence.

Colin Corner, principal double-bass of the Atlanta Symphony, flew Southwest Airlines to his former orchestra at Rochester to play the Koussevitsky concert.

He took with him the famous Amati, formerly owned by Gary Karr and Serge Koussevitsky himself.

He decided to fly the bass cargo, in order to avoid possible mishandling by TSA agents. It was packed in a strong case. This is what greeted Colin on arrival at Rochester.


koussevistsky bass

The instrument had been subjected to some kind of blunt force and the neck was pulled out of the body.

Rochester acting principal bass, Michael Griffin, an expert luthier, is trying to fix it in time for Sunday’s concert.

But the airline has some explaining to do.

Is it now impossible to fly a good instrument anywhere?

koussevitsky bass2

This instrument is so historic it has a wikipedia entry all its own.

UPDATE: Colin Corner tells us from Rochester that the bass has been successfully repaired and sounds ‘as good as ever’. Phew!



  • Lizzie says:

    Truly shocking and heartbreaking. Sheer vandalism.

  • Jevgeniy says:

    Truly shocking that you’d put an instrument of this importance in Cargo.

    • Augusto says:

      Recently I’ve heard all sorts of horror stories about traveling on a plane with a double bass, it’s more and more a lose-lose situation.

    • Susan Bradley says:

      Where else is he supposed to put a double bass apart from the hold? It won’t fit into an overhead locker, or even a seat.

      • Ross Lahlum says:

        Buy another seat on the plane for your bass. It’s as simple as that. Koussevitzky’s Amati should get a seat in First Class.

        • Jeff says:

          Sorry, the callousness and sheer willful ignorance of comments like this are ridiculous. It is not possible to put a bass on the cabin of any commercial airline on earth. This isn’t the 1970s anymore. Furthermore many major bass dealers and luthiers exclusively use Southwest Cargo, specifically to move basses around the US. The only reasonable alternative to cargo was to drive the 1000km. Living as a traveling bass player in the modern world is difficult economic environment enough without snark from armchair Internet ‘experts’ such as yourself.

        • Max Grimm says:

          While there are many first class and even some business class layouts that would be able to fit a double bass in a seat (without the larger hardshell cases), there is virtually no airline that will allow it. In fact, most state explicitly that a double bass must go into the hold or must be sent as cargo.
          However, I do remember reading about a harpist (of an American orchestra I believe), who had an extra seat for her concert-harp which was wrapped in blankets.

          • NYMike says:

            As someone once married to a harpist, I can’t imagine a concert grand fitting into ANY airline seat.

          • Max Grimm says:

            I searched and was able to find a picture (the harpist I was referring to is Lavinia Meijer and why I believed her to be a member of an American orchestra, I do not know):
            You will probably be better able to judge approximate size and type of the instrument depicted, as my knowledge of harps is quite limited.

      • Juan Jimenez says:

        It is incredibly stupid to leave something that important to the whims of airline baggage handlers. You send it ahead of you by courier. I have no pity for this musician.

        • Scott Fields says:

          He did send it ahead by “courier.” That’s what shipping by cargo is. It wasn’t left to the mercy of the TSA and passenger airline staff.

    • Scott Fields says:

      Flying cargo means that he sent it through a commercial shipper rather than as checked luggage with an airline. What he was hoping to avoid was the damage TSA agents can cause when they remove instruments to inspect them or when they improperly secure instruments in cases after inspection.

      But some shippers aren’t so good with instruments either. Many builders and dealers now refuse to ship UPS, for example.

  • CA says:

    What the…???

  • Nick says:

    Gary Karr travelled the world for decades with his precious bass. As far as I am aware he never had a major problem. I once saw the case in which it often travelled and it was very sturdy. Why is it, I wonder, that there are nowadays so many incidents of instruments being damaged/destroyed during transport by air?

  • Þórir Jóhannsson says:

    Fitting my bass in my flight case which is a good sturdy Kolstein case requiers me to know how to go about it. At first I had to be educated. I guess airport employees, when carrying out their duties of inspection they find them selves in trouble when putting an instrument back in the case and therefore the instruments dangle loose. Not that I feel the need to defend them, just wondering where the problem really is and not just jump to the satisfying conclusion that they´re all nitwits.

    Is it perhaps about time for flight case manufacurers to design a straight forward, fool proof ways to fit a bass in a case? Something you understand right away just by looking at it. Although a good bass, I´m not sure I would buy a seat for my Pöllmann “Rossi”.
    It is an absolut minimum requirement to be at ease wether you choose to ship and instrument as luggage, in cargo or which ever way you see fit.

  • John Sullivan says:

    As a violinist with the Rochester Philharmonic, I just got home from performing the concert with Colin Corner, and am happy to report that both Colin and the bass sounded superb! The audience literally leapt to their feet at the end of the Koussevitzky concerto. Colin then performed a movt. from the Bach b-minor suite to another round of enthusiastic applause. I should add that Maestro Ward Stare gave the audience a heads-up on the story, and gave recognition to Luthier Mike Griffin for his expert repair on the instrument. At the end of the concerto, Maestro Stare graciously held the bass so that Colin could cross the stage over to Mike and publicly shake his hand in gratitude for saving the bass for the performance. Let’s hope Colin’s return trip to Atlanta is without mishap.

  • Baron Z says:

    I have had my harp damaged by truckers who are regularly shipping harps. The local handlers are often to blame.
    We may well do better by setting up contracts with Amtrak to handle instruments once more.
    I shipped my harp, but I sent the trunk by freight and took the harp into the coach with me and padded it with blankets and my luggage. It may have been dumb, but after I arrived in New York, while the trunk was in Amtrak baggage, it was broken into by an Amtrak employee and several things stolen. Good think I had not kept my harp in it.
    Trunks are not always as well designed as one would think. This one probably lacked sufficient padding at the top if the neck could be impacted.
    Musicians cramming in engagements too closely to allow safe travel have to bear some of the blame. Do you really expect airline people to care about your precious instrument??? Drive or take the train. Or bus.