Saturday, January 31, 2015

Blind Auditions at Orchestras? Hardly.

As if anyone needed more proof that the audition screen really is a smoke screen, and that the race of the person auditioning is often known during the audition process, here are two recent examples of orchestra tryouts taking place in public.

Blind Auditions at Orchestras? Hardly.

As if anyone needed more proof that the audition screen really is a smoke screen, and that the race of the person auditioning is often known during the audition process, here are two recent examples of orchestra tryouts taking place in public.

The New York Times writes about Burt Hara (formerly principal clarinetist of the Philadelphia Orchestra) auditioning in performance at the New York Philharmonic.

And flutist Mathieu Dufour has ended his flirtation with the Los Angeles Philharmonic after he auditioned that orchestra for several months. The Frenchman decided to go back to his old job in Chicago.

What's the relevance to race? Orchestras have defended the low number of African American members by saying auditions are played from behind screens, therefore race cannot be a factor. In a column last year I listed all the ways musicians get around audition screens, and these two recent stories drive home the point.

It's not just for principal posts, by the way, that the audition screen isn't used. It typically comes down in the final round of any audition.

More important, as I wrote earlier, there are many other ways in which the audition screen is rendered useless.

The "pipeline" question? Some observers say there just aren't enough African American players of a high enough caliber auditioning. I don't buy it. First of all, great African American musicians are now making it into the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (Shea Scruggs), the San Diego Symphony (Demarre McGill) and the Metropolitan Opera orchestra (Anthony McGill). Jeff Scott, hornist of Imani Winds, is exactly the blend of high energy and polish any orchestra could use (though maybe he's happier not being tied to an orchestra). Why hasn't some big orchestra scooped up freelance trumpeter Rodney Mack?

To look at a recent concert by the Curtis orchestra, the pipeline, if it is a problem now, won't be a problem much longer. But will these players make it onto substitute lists at major orchestras? Will big ensembles court them as they have courted Hara and Dufour? 

Despite the declared rules and guidelines, an orchestra will hire the player it wants to hire. If the player in question is African American and the orchestra wants to hire him or her, the orchestra will find a way. That hasn't happened enough. I'm not suggesting I've seen overt, stated racism of the easily recognized kind. But the neglect and denial surrounding this issue is still racism, passive though it may be.

 

Peter Dobrin Inquirer Classical Music Critic
About this blog

Peter Dobrin is a classical music critic and culture writer for The Inquirer. Since 1989, he has written music reviews, features, news and commentary for the paper, covering such topics as the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the Venice Biennale, expansion of the Curtis Institute of Music, the Philadelphia Orchestra's bankruptcy declaration in 2011, Philadelphia's evolving performing arts center and the general health of arts and culture.

Dobrin was a French horn player. He earned an undergraduate degree in performance from the University of Miami, and received a master's degree in music criticism from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, where he studied with Elliott Galkin. He has no time to practice today.

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