What Goes On Behind the Screen?

With nine musicians including the concertmaster retiring, the Jacksonville Symphony will be busy with auditions this summer. It’s an amazing process with lots of moving parts, angst and hope.

When there is an opening in the orchestra, the first step is to place an ad in International Musician, a monthly publication, as well as post on the Symphony website. An auditioncommittee comprised of other principal players in the instrument’s family, in the case of the principal clarinet audition that would be flute, oboe and horn, join other musician committee members to review the resumes. Approximately 50 will be selected to come to Jacksonville to audition. Selected applicants must pay their own way to come to the audition.

During the actual audition, musicians sit behind a screen when they play to ensure anonymity. The committee will then select a number of musicians as semi-finalists, hear more music from the musicians and then pare down the numbers again to three or fewer finalists. At that point the committee can choose to hire or vote to conduct a live audition where the finalist joins the orchestra.

The final decision has the committee sending a list to Music Director Courtney Lewis, who attends the auditions, of those finalist candidates they believe are qualified for the position.  Courtney will then select a musician who has been voted as qualified.

The auditions for concertmaster are a bit different. The ad does get posted in the same way but in this situation Courtney would invite a certain number of individuals to audition. The audition committee would then select additional finalists through a standard audition process to join those selected by Courtney to come to Jacksonville for two weeks of trial performances. Each candidate would perform with the orchestra under Courtney Lewis’ baton for a Masterworks week and also for a Pops set.

As a former concertmaster noted in a New York Times article ‘The concertmaster’s job involves several paradoxes. ‘On the one hand, I must play with the discipline of an orchestra member and strive to blend with the other first violins. Yet when a passage arises for violin alone, I must play with the freedom and brilliance of a soloist.’ Add to that responsibility the ability to be subservient to the direction of the conductor and the ability to convey his/her vision about the music to the orchestra and it makes for a demanding role.

The Symphony expects that the audition for the concertmaster position will result in an announcement sometime at the end of the 2017-2018 season.

So look for new faces in the upcoming season and know the effort that it takes to become part of the Jacksonville Symphony.