Houston Symphony Magazine From the Orchestra May 2011

On behalf of my colleagues in the orchestra, welcome to the final month of our 97th subscription season. While the Symphony will continue to perform a wide variety of concerts in Jones Hall and throughout the city during the summer months, there is a certain valedictory feel to the end of the subscription season. Among the more bittersweet milestones we mark are the retirements of two long-time colleagues who are both admired musicians and good friends. Associate Principal Second Violin Charles Tabony grew up in Houston, went to Juilliard and earned his well deserved place in the world before returning to Houston to give back to his hometown. Principal Oboist Robert Atherholt has been one of the highest profile artists in the orchestra for more than 25 years and a source of inspiration to all of us. While Bob will remain at Rice and Charles promises to be a fixture at our concerts, we will truly miss having them on stage with us next year.

But the ending of one successful career is also an opportunity for the next generation to leave their mark on our city. The competitive process of hiring new players is highly regulated and intricate as, each year, conservatories around the world graduate hundreds of times more musicians than there are orchestral vacancies. Much like the transition from collegiate athletics to professional, only a small fraction of the very best students find orchestral jobs. A New York Times article surveying the Juilliard class of 1994 found that 10 years after graduation—even coming from one of the most exclusive schools in the world—nearly half the graduates had abandoned hopes of a musical career. In such a competitive environment, orchestras do their utmost to give every candidate a fair chance. Once the vacancy is advertised, musicians submit their resumes and are invited to audition. On the day of the audition, a committee of seven musicians chosen by the orchestra assembles and listens to each applicant play the same musical excerpts, anonymously from behind a screen (there is even a carpet runner to prevent the click of high heels from revealing the gender of the applicant!) Candidates receiving a majority vote proceed to the second screened round, where the process is repeated. In the final round, the music director joins the committee and the remaining candidates are heard for the first time without a screen, playing both solo excerpts and chamber music with members of the Symphony. The music director has a weighted vote in the final decision, meaning that no musician can be hired without his support, nor without the support of at least some of the musicians. Once offered the job, a musician is then on probation for his first two seasons before finally being confirmed as a permanent member of the orchestra.

This process may seem unusually stringent, but in a field where it is not uncommon to have 200 or more qualified applicants for a single position, we want to do everything we can to ensure that everyone has a fair chance and that—from among the many excellent musicians we hear—we find the one we most want to bring to Houston to join us and our audiences for years of great music making. Enjoy the concert!