Of course, it’s (remotely) possible that everyone at the Milwaukee audition choked up and didn’t play his or her best. That’s what happened to me those many years ago–I wouldn’t have hired me based on how I actually played in that audition. (Still Milwaukee’s loss!)
The problem with taking an orchestra audition is that you, well, want the job, and are hoping to get the job, and feel there is a lot riding on the audition. And that tension, which is different then the usual anxiety a concert provokes, seems to make just about everyone play less well than they are capable of.
Then there is the story of a great French clarinetist with whom I had the great good fortune to play a chamber music concert with about 20 years ago. He was, at least then, the “super-soloiste” clarinet of the major orchestras in Paris–meaning he was co-principal, but always played first chair when both principals were playing.
He had won the job at a ridiculously early age–something like 18 or 19. And here’s how it happened, as I remember him telling it to me.
Evidently everyone in Paris knew that a particiular well-established clarinetist was to win the audition. My friend, in his late teens, took the audition just for the experience of taking the audition. Certainly he was known as a hot, up-and-coming young player, which is probably how he was invited to the audition in the first place. But no one in Paris though anyone but the front-runner would win.
My friend, who had just had a birthday and reached the legal driving age in France, spent the entire week before the audition taking driving lessons, all day long. He did little if any practicing until a day or two before the auditions.
Imagine it, if you can. He was unconcerned. He knew he wouldn’t win, so there was no pressure. He had been consumed with a teenager’s excitement at learning to drive, which left no emotional energy for worrying and obsessing over the audition. Nevertheless, he was a marvelous, accomplished and deeply musical player. He arrived relaxed and unconcerned. And he played great–nothing to win, nothing to lose.
Even when, to his surprise, my friend was advanced to the finals, he didn’t think he had a chance. He still assumed the other guy would, as everyone thought they knew, win. My friend’s emotional focus remained on learning to drive. Since nerves didn’t get in his way, he played his best–the kind of playing that many of us can usually do only in private.
The annoited winner, on the other hand, felt the weight of the Paris musical world’s expectations very intensely. This was his big chance. What he’d been waiting for all his life. All eyes were on him.
This unfortunate front runner choked up and played subpar!
And who won? My friend. And he was as shocked as the rest of the Paris music world.
There’s no question that this was a true discovery of a major young artist. But my friend knew that something had happened that he could never intentionally recreate. Had he thought there was even a remote chance he might win, he told me, he would have been an emotional wreck, and doubted he could have played any where near as well as when he was focused on learning to drive.