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On being overly picky at auditions

0 Robert Levine

My brother-in-bratsche-blogging Charles Noble writes on his Daily Observations blog about an audition that happened in Portland, where he is assistant principal violist of the Oregon Symphony. He’s not happy about what happened to some of his freelance colleagues:

There was an orchestral audition that took place this weekend at the local opera company. It was an audition for nine violin positions. There were twelve applicants. Of these twelve, two were advanced out of the preliminary round to the finals. It isn’t clear if anyone was offered a position at the time this was being written. This is inexcusable.

I know many of those violinists who took this audition, and they are all superb musicians, and a good number of them are the best violinists in the city, freelance or otherwise. How is it that so few managed to meet the obviously high bar that the committee set for these auditions? I find it hard to believe that out of such a high quality field that only two were found worthy – and with NINE open positions to fill!

It also galls me because elitism-by-committee at any level of ensemble is deeply abhorrent to me. Auditions that result in no-hires, with some exceptions, occur because a committee is run by (or bullied by) one or more musicians who think that only they know what quality is, and are of the opinion that, if you aren’t inhumanly tough, you’re lowering your standards, and that’s just not acceptable within the hallowed halls of insert-orchestra-name-here. Please! Give me a break!

I’m not sure I agree with him about the usual cause of no-hire auditions; that’s not been my general experience. But he’s right that it’s way too easy for committees - or conductors - to get too picky, and for the wrong reasons. I think it has to do with auditions being only peripherally about the skills necessary to play in an orchestra; or, to be more accurate, not about all the skills required.

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