Sunday, December 12, 2010

going places, luring faces?

Perhaps the Denver Post could do better by hiring a knowledgeable musician to review concerts rather than issuing term papers like this to fill their culture quota. I get tired of repeating myself when I say that "classical" music is not an "it." The institutions that support (read "hire") classical musicians may dumb their programs down, glitz their programs up, shorten their programs substantially, pepper them with extra-musical benefits and banter, cross them over, or bring in choruses of young singers (who bring parents to the concerts), but they are still too few in number to employ a decent number of the many qualified musicians who would like to make their living from music on much more than a part-time basis.

For a real look at what is happening in the classical music world, go take a look at the YouTube Symphony's American Idol style audition page. You get the opportunity to choose between an awful lot of excellent young musicians who would like to be part of what is essentially a music festival. The quality of the playing here is extraordinarily high (in contrast to American Idol), but the toss of the coin for who gets a position in the orchestra still depends on the whims of the general public.

If you listen with the ears of a person on an audition committee, you will understand that musicianship is a subjective thing, and there are many factors that go into choosing a person for a position. I listened to the viola audition "finals" yesterday. Everyone there can play Don Juan better than I can. Everyone plays Bach differently. Everyone had the opportunity to choose their acoustics and do as many takes as necessary to get a nicely representative tape. I imagine that all the younger people learned a great deal from the experience of making these YouTube recordings, and I know that all violists, both young and old, would benefit from watching Roger Benedict's lessons on Harold in Italy, Don Juan, and the Midsummer Nights Dream Scherzo. I know I did.

An audition for an actual paying job in a full time orchestra is judged by a set of people who are given the directive to find the best person to fill the opening. I would imagine that this list of YouTube Orchestra hopefuls would represent about one percent of the people who would apply for an orchestral job. Winning an audition (and people do use the term "winning") these days is riddled with barriers, particularly if it is a principal position, because you have to be a known quantity in order to even be considered for an audition.

Take 1000 university and conservatory graduates per year, and unleash them yearly on a set of performing institutions that might be able to employ 50-100 of them in a good year. This is not nearly as bad for string players as it is for wind players. The odds for getting a job as a wind player are far smaller, and the pool of applicants is just as vast as it is for string players. Watch these graduates get advanced degrees and make their way into the hinterlands (like my neighborhood), where all they can really do to support their musical habit, besides play chamber music and recitals for the fun of it, is teach and play in regional orchestras along with highly-qualified musicians who rely on day jobs to pay the bills.

It is great to see the quality of musicianship go up in cities and towns far away from the former centers of culture in America, but I can't imagine that we'll ever see the number of employment opportunities (i.e. gigs) go up.

Don't get me started on pianists, singers, or composers.


Maren said...

Please, please, get started on singers! I was planning on writing a blog entry myself on America's Got Talent child "opera" sensation, Jackie Evancho, and the uneducated and easily-tricked ears of the public that catapulted her to fame (for now). In order for symphonies and operas to stay afloat, they are trying to cater to the lowest common denominator, and as someone who gets hired by those institutions, I don't mind singing 3-4 Messiahs every holiday season or doing my umteenth performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. What is really important, though, is that we are able to financially sustain keeping channels open for new music to flow through, and that we share with all audiences that it is just as important to explore new sounds and ideas as it is to enjoy an evening listening to Mahler's 2nd.

Thanks for the great post. I really enjoy reading your blog!

Elaine Fine said...

Thanks Maren, and thanks for pointing me (and other people reading this post) to your wonderful "Supermaren" blog!

Anonymous said...

Music is a great avocation/hobby, and a very tough profession!
Bill in Dallas