Virtual Discussion Panel
:: Innocents Abroad
:: 3/26/2007 - 3/30/2007

Welcome to day 5 of our Virtual Discussion "Innocents Abroad". If you've missed the previous days, use the buttons above to catch up.

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Panelists

Robert Levine's Statement (Click to Hide)

Robert Levine  

Robert Levine

Senior Editor

The only thing I'd like to ask all of you to address for the last day is what advice you might have for a young American musician thinking about doing what you did.

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Philip Middleman's Statement (Click to Hide)

Philip Middleman  

Philip Middleman

violinist, Munich Philharmonic

My advice to a young musician considering working over here would be to keep an open mind, be flexible and work hard. For me, life here has generally worked out well. I consider myself fortunate to be here. In retrospect, I believe that I happened to be in the right place at the right time. This happened because I took advantage of the opportunites that presented themselves.

Keeping an open mind is something that I consider to be important. It is better to not be weighed down by excess baggage of preconceptions or rely too much on hearsay. Make your own judgements based on your own experience. It is also wise to accept the situation as it is here and not try to think of making any earth-shaking changes. I have known unhappy Americans here and in Italy, some of whom never accepted life the way it is here on its own terms.

As I mentioned in one of the previous postings, I think it is essential to try your best at mastering the language. I made a point of trying only to converse in German, even with colleagues whose English wasn't bad. There are many Germans who like to speak English and I know of one musician from China whose German is still rudimentary because he relies too much on English. Language is the key to integration.

As with any audition, it goes without saying that you have to be very well prepared and at the top of your game. Since the reunification, there are many candidates for each posiiton, many quite talented musicians form Eastern Europe. The competition is intense and the standards are high.

For some positions- clarinet, trumpet, double bass, -there are differences between the instruments or techniques used here which could be a problem. Musicians playing those instruments should inform themselves first as to the requirements here. In general the concert pitch is higher in Europe. Officially our "A" is 443 but I think it is even higher.

Probably it would be better to try first for the bigger orchestras in larger cities. In general, their future is more secure than orchestras in smaller towns.

I hope these observations are of some use to young musicians contemplating a move across the Atlantic.

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Comments for Philip Middleman

I have more of a question rather than a comment. Most of the advice has been for young players coming out of school. The state of American orchestras is quite tenuous now. Would you recommend employment in a German orchestra to an experienced orchestral player of an American orchestra?
cfong on April 8, 2019 at 1:08 PM
In practice it is often difficult for applicants over the age of 35 to be invited to auditions. I don't think there is any official limit but it seems that most people getting jobs here are under 35. Of course there are exceptions, especially for concertmaster or solo chairs but in general there seems to be a bias for youth.
fiddleman on April 20, 2019 at 10:30 AM


Andrew Raciti's Statement (Click to Hide)

Andrew Raciti  

Andrew Raciti

Assistant Principal Bassist, Milwaukee Symphony

I guess my advice to any young American contemplating doing what I did would be very specific, as the sheer distance to Australia makes it unique among most major orchestral jobs. There are only 2 ways to move out there:

1) do not give it any thought at all and just do it, letting things happen as they may. Reflecting on the sheer magnitude of a move to Australia may cause some to decide not to try it at all, which in many ways is a mistake. OR

2) Be prepared to live there the rest of your life there, and furthermore, to lose contact with much of what made up your life in America. The trip out there from most parts of the US is anywhere from 14 to 32 hours, including the brutal 14 hour flight over the Pacific (sitting up the whole time, unless you have $7000 for business class). This is not just a 7-8 hour flight like going to Europe. Extreme jet lag cuts into multiple days on both ends of the trip. With the price of oil nowadays, a coach ticket of $2900 is a very reasonable price.

This means trips home become less and less frequent, especially if you start a family out there. The off-season falls during their summer, which also happens to be Christmas time, which means tickets are even more expensive.

Be mentally and emotionally prepared to miss many important events in the lives of friends and families, including having to make excruciating decisions like being forced to decide which funerals you can make it back for, or whose wedding you will have to skip. Be prepared to be able to count on both hands the number of times in their life your children will see their grandparents. Also, the huge time difference (15-17 hours) makes it somewhat difficult to keep in touch by phone. Taking auditions from Australia takes a huge effort as well because of these factors. You are also hours away the nearest major orchestra.

Fortunately for those who live there, in many ways it is as close to paradise as can be found on earth. However, for all the talk on how the world is shrinking because of technology, on the practical level the other side of the world still feels like a very substantial distance.

Perhaps this is too negative a tone on which to end this discussion. I hope these thoughts are not interpreted as being negative toward life in Oz. In my experience they were just some of the practical realities I encountered. For many people, they were a much smaller concern than they were for me.

There are times I wish I was one of those people, because leaving behind a life over there with such permanence is almost as wrenching. There is no half way or jetsetting when the distance is that great, and feeling both empty and full is a common condition when your life exists on two different hemispheres.

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Kari Ravnan's Statement (Click to Hide)

Kari Ravnan  

Kari Ravnan

Cellist, Oslo Philharmonic

Like Philip, after 23 years in Europe, I'm pretty well integrated, so I'm trying to remember how it felt to be "fresh off the boat". I think how you tackle being American in a foreign orchestra has alot to do with what kind of person you are to begin with. I have always wanted to discover new places and to travel. I went to a music boarding school (National Academy of the Arts) when I was 13 and was hardly homesick at all. It was such an adventure. For me, the whole point of coming to Europe was to experience something different than what I was used to and to try to assimilate. The first few years were terribly exciting (I first lived in Geneva, then London, then Bergen, then Salzburg, then Oslo) but when the novelty wore off I had a bit of an identity crisis. Was I trying to become Norwegian, did I want to be? It was then that I re-embraced my "inner American" and realized that I didn't want to give it up- that was who I was.

Being an American in my orchestra is no problem at all. Musicians are, in general, an international bunch so I don't think anyone thinks about it. The only time it comes up is with politics. As the representative American, I have felt that I have a responsibility to try to nuance the picture of what has been happening with the U.S. in the past few years.

Learning the language of the country is incredibly important, you can't really understand the culture before you can speak the language. Everyone speaks English so it can be hard to get them to speak Norwegian to you to begin with. I started speaking to my section in Norwegian after about 6 months (it was our only common language because we had 2 Poles that didn't speak English) and I could speak reasonably well after a year. It is a frustrating time but before you know it you are dreaming in that language. In my first job, we had a Norwegian conductor. It is surprising how little a conductor really says: learning numbers and a few key words was all I needed to understand! In the Philharmonic, 90% of the conductors are foreign so they use English.

In my orchestra, the Americans don't really stick together, except for the occasional grumble about Norwegian life and our annual Thanksgiving dinner. I would say all the foreigners are very well integrated in the social fabric and are just as likely to be on the various committees as the Norwegians. I think the only time foreigners have a tough time is if they are single when they first come. First of all, it takes time to make friends with Norwegians- they all grew up and played in youth orchestra together so their friendships were established a long time ago. Secondly, Norway is a very family oriented country and there just aren't many single people to hang out with. But then again, the single foreigners don't tend to stay single terribly long...

Keeping in touch with home these days is no problem, with email and the cheap telephone rates. The time difference can be a problem, but at least my Mom has someone to call in the middle of the night when she has problems sleeping! My parents are getting up in years so I go back twice a year now.

Just a little story about conductors and language difficulties. One week we had Nello Santi, an Italian conductor who speaks almost nothing but italian. He tries his best to use the words he can in other languages (prego, wir spielen from bar vingt deux) but it isn't always clear which language he is using. To appreciate the story you need to know that Italians like to use solfege when they talk about pitch and that in germanic languages 'B' is 'H' and 'Bb 'is 'B'. So Nello Santi tells a clarinetist:"The note is 'si'". The clarinetist plays a 'C'. Santi:"No, no, 'B'!" The clarinetist plays a 'Bb'. Santi:"No, no, 'H'!' The clarinetist plays a 'B'. Nello Santi: "Si, si!!" And the clarinetist goes back to a 'C'....

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Brian Shillito's Statement (Click to Hide)

Brian Shillito  

Brian Shillito

Sub-principal violist, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

If any young American musicians are thinking of going to work in an orchestra in a foreign country for a few years, my advice would be to go for it! Go with an open mind, be flexible and prepared to adapt a little to your host culture, and you'll have a wonderful experience.

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General Comments on This Discussion (Click to Hide)

I would be interested to know whether the panelists would recommend their current situations to potential new recruits? Have their situations changed since they joined their respective orchestras and do they see them as stable long term situations as regards funding, audience development, renumeration and artistic satisfaction. Are there any specific things North American musicians should be aware of in considering jobs abroad such as lack of acceptance or hostility directed towards foreign musicians. Are language skills a definate issue in non English speaking countries? I have heard that German orchestras are not likely to accept candidates past a certain age because of their government pension fund requirements. Can any of the panelists compare their general working conditions to those which are the norm in North America? I would also be interested in hearing about any biases or differences in playing styles,orchestra politics, internal governance etc. This is a very interesting topic and I would love to see it be covered in more detail.I did enjoy all the personal details which every panelist provided.
scorditura on March 27, 2019 at 2:53 AM

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