This is nothing new in orchestral auditions. Orchestras across the professional gamut (from the Chicago Symphony to the Rockport Community Orchestra) frequently elect not to fill positions during the course of an audition.
There are rational arguments to be made on both the player side and the committee side when this sort of thing occurs. I have been on audition panels in the past, and when there isn’t a player that a committee feels confident in offering a position, there isn’t really much that can be done about it. Committees make decisions collectively (with widely varying degrees of Music Director influence), and even if these decisions seem ludicrous to auditionees, if one could be a fly on the wall on the other side of the screen one could at least somewhat understand the decision to not fill a position.
On the other hand, not filling an orchestral position after having dozens (sometimes well over 100) of musicians fly out on their own dime to take an audition demonstrates a level of arrogance, disregard, and disrespect toward one’s fellow musician. I personally know the playing of several players who took this audition (some with major orchestra experience), and not at least offering a trial position to one of these player (or one of the many other well-qualified players) is simply unacceptable in my book.
This kind of search for employment (flying out at your own expense to a position with 100 other colleagues to take a brief audition for a position that is subsequently not filled) is something that would be considered completely unacceptable in the majority of career fields, and it demonstrates three things to me:
- Going into music is a decision of passion rather than practicality.
- Most studies show that around 5% of musicians land full-time employment, but with orchestras (like Seattle) that choose to not even give anyone a chance, the chance of employment is dropping even further.
- We musicians need to think long and hard about the realities of this business before sacrificing thousands of dollars on an opportunity with a 0% chance of return (like this Seattle experience).
Again, I have been on the committee side, and I understand how these decisions are reached, but this demonstrates to me the insanity of the contemporary orchestral performance business.
I am launching a new multi-part series tomorrow about this very subject, and I hope you all check it out! I hope that it will be both thought-provoking and entertaining, so let me know what you think.
In the meantime, I have written extensively about the kind of experiences those bassist who went to Seattle just went through. Checking out my article Musical Entrepreneurship will give you an idea of the kind of cost that the collective group of double bassists just faced at this audition, and my story Auditioning is a Rotten Pastime (featured in the Winter 2007 Double Bassist Magazine) gives you an idea of just how tough this kind of situation can be on a musician.