There is a great audition process discussion going on at Polyphonic.org right now, and it is definitely worth checking out. Panelists include prominent figures in the orchestra business, including musicians, union representatives, conductors, and negotiators. This is essential reading for anyone wanting to learn more about the audition process in the United States. If you’re on the audition circuit, this would be very helpful reading to determine what committees are looking for and how you can tailor your preparation to have success in this process.
Here are some notable quotes from various panelists in this discussion. Clicking on the person’s name will take you to their Polyphonic.org page, where you can read further contributions. If you haven’t created an account with Polyphonic.org yet (and you’re an orchestral musician), you really ought to consider it. It is a virtual community created to discuss and share ideas on the world of orchestral performance, and having an account allows you to participate in the discussion.
These quotes are just from Day 1! Check out the entire conversation over at Polyphonic.org. It is a vast and complicatied topic, and these musicians give some valuable insight.
Notable quotes from the audition process discussion:
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
Not many orchestra musicians have experience with being hired into high-skill positions other than playing in an orchestra, so it is not surprising that we often overlook just how different our hiring processes look than those in other high-skill occupations. Surgeons are not hired after a 12-minute demonstration of their surgical skills. Airline pilots are not hired after performing one take-off into a hurricane and one landing with three engines out. Quartet violists are not hired after anonymously playing three famous viola quartet passages all by themselves. Positions like these are generally filled only after multiple interviews, examination of candidates’ previous work, resume and reference checking, and extensive personality testing.
The Cleveland Orchestra
There is an intense frustration on the part of musicians going through the audition process having to do with the fact that a knee-shaking 10 minutes of having to produce the hardest moments of orchestral repertoire has nothing to do with what they would be able to contribute as the member of a section. Truthfully, there will always be many, many more qualified section string players then there are sections jobs to place them in. If nothing else, the current audition experience makes it pretty easy to make cuts.
There’s no doubt that the standard “12 minutes behind the screen” audition is a crazy way for orchestras to select new players. But let’s not forget that current audition traditions evolved as a response —and a remedy—to previous traditions which clearly did not serve the musicians’ best interests. So it may turn out to be the worst system except for all the others! I suppose that’s one reason I’m glad to be participating in the discussion – because a careful critique of the audition process is the best (and only) way to make it better.
AFM Symphonic Services Division
As many know, for years auditions for US orchestras were arranged initially by private recommendation, followed by an audition for the Music Director. As the symphonic labor movement went forward in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and there were resulting increases in wages and working conditions, there also came internal and external pressures to open up auditions to a growing number of candidates who sought symphonic employment, due to those gains in wages and working conditions. As wages and working conditions increased even further, the number of highly qualified candidates shot up astronomically. Not surprising, the issue of “fairness” and equal opportunity was on the minds of unions, audition committees and orchestra managements, in view of equal opportunity laws passed during the 1970’s. Moreover, in 1987 ICSOM and ROPA passed a resolution which “…encourages all orchestras to hold completely open auditions, allowing all applicants who wish to play a live preliminary audition the opportunity to do so…” Given the foregoing, how else does an orchestra like the Los Angeles Philharmonic hold an audition when there are 510 applicants for a single violin vacancy, as was the case a few years ago?
Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
I also feel that the process should never be rushed. Players that make it through to the final round should not only have substantial trial periods with the orchestra, but need to have ample chances to show their personalities via a short recital and/or chamber music playing with their potential 30-year colleagues.