Orchestral Winner-take-all auditions

It is hard for us civilians to understand exactly how hard it is to get paying work in the arts and especially in the rarefied world of professional orchestras. Industry sites like MyAuditions.com provide a glimpse of the stress to find an opening, be considered, get shortlisted to audition, and then to run over progressively more hurdles in a death match to appointment, probation, and maybe tenure assuming the orchestra doesn’t go belly up in the meantime. A few individuals excepted, those in this grinder have to do it on their own time and at their own expense.

Donna Perlmutter has revisited the topic for the LA Times, speaking with many local orchestral musicians about their experiences.

There are a few players who can write their own tickets and not much remaining for the rest. Perlmutter brings up substitute work. When I attended LA Phil concerts regularly, I’d see many unfamiliar faces on stage and sometimes the same non-roster faces often. That one guy in the flutes, the clarinetist who outshone the touted clarinet soloist. Nothing in the program, no acknowledgment of any kind. And yet positions in the orchestra can go unfilled for years when they don’t blow up spectacularly after a prominent hire. The Phil rambles on in its marketing materials about its respect for music, musicians, and community on the one hand while staying as impenetrable as any for-profit corporation when it comes to its internal operations.

Perlmutter asks if there isn’t a better way. In an earlier paragraph, the European approach is brought forth as being more civilized. Couldn’t it work here?

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