What is an “Audition Season”?

If you haven’t heard, the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra is in the process of hiring a new conductor!

After 9 fantastic years with us, Elizabeth Schulze, our current Artistic Director and Conductor, will be leaving our organization which begs the question: “who could possibly replace her?” Well, an “Audition Season” is how we find her replacement!

125 applicants were narrowed down to just 4 candidates. In order for us to truly understand the skills these candidates bring to the table we must interview them!  As you can imagine, this has to be much more than the standard interview process so what we’re doing is requiring each candidate to put on an entire concert.  We will have 6 concerts this season (not counting the Nutcracker) and 4 of these concerts will be a candidate auditioning for the job!

This is not something you get to see very often so attending these concerts will give you insight into the process as well as give you the opportunity to be a part of it.

 

What to Look For

The four audition concerts this season provide an unequalled opportunity to enjoy, evaluate and compare our four finalists. Everyone in the audience is essentially taking part in the process to choose our next conductor.  While this is not a popularity contest, with the audience having final say, the search committee will be interested in audience comments and will ask for feedback through questionnaires distributed at each performance.

So what should you look for in an audition concert?  How can you tell the strengths and weaknesses of a conductor? The League of American Orchestras has some suggestions.

First of all, the conductor’s gestures and baton technique will give you some pretty basic information about how effectively the conductor is communicating with the orchestra.  Is the conductor able to motivate and elicit the best efforts of the musicians?

Does his or her podium presence enhance the quality of music-making?  Don’t be too concerned about conducting style, if you are seeing and hearing a fine performance. Some highly effective conductors throughout history have been known for their eccentric styles.

The most important thing is to trust your instincts about what you are hearing.  How does the music affect you? Is it alive with character, emotion, and feeling? Listen for orchestral intonation, timing, balance and color. Can you distinguish the soloists? Are you fully engaged with the performance?

Of course, a concert performance tells only part of the story of how effective a conductor will be. It shows you the results of the rehearsal process, but doesn’t show you how those results were obtained during rehearsals. During those sessions the conductor focuses on technical details, coaxes perfection from each player, and communicates his or her interpretation of the emotional content of a wide range of music. The conductor is responsible for the total effect of the musical piece, from the quietest solo to the grandest finale.

The Music Director search, however, is more than a conducting competition. The search committee is looking at many criteria besides the candidate’s proven ability to provide a top-notch performance experience.  Does the candidate possess a thorough knowledge of the orchestral repertoire and performance traditions?  Has he or she developed the musical and personal leadership needed to audition and select orchestral players, assign seating, and select solo players? Does the candidate exhibit understanding of and sensitivity to the musicians’ points of view?

All these questions and more are considered by the search committee, which receives as much input as possible from the players, board members, audience, donors and administrative staff. In the end, a momentous decision must be made, one which will affect the excellence and direction of our orchestra for years to come.

Enjoy this unique opportunity to see and hear four individual conductors and experience their unique skills and talents. It’s a Symphonic Fan-Fare!

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