Appointments / Auditions & Appointments / Los Angeles Philharmonic / Music News & Info: Classical

Catching up with the LA Phil: trying to fill empty chairs

It’s been an unexpectedly unruly past two weeks for yours truly.  I squeezed in a few concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall, but unfortunately didn’t have any capacity to do much of anything else, including write, until now.

Time for me to start catching up.  Before we get into my views of the performances, let’s warm up with the matter of the Los Angeles Philharmonic trying to fill some open positions.  The orchestra recently had two open auditions for titled woodwind chairs:

  • Associate Principal Clarinet:  this is essentially downgrading the Principal Clarinet chair previously held by the late Lorin Levee, continuing the orchestra’s move away from the two principal system in place between the 1960’s to the mid-1980’s
  • Principal Flute:  the latest attempt to bring stability back to a position which, after two decades of  having the same two people hold the position, has been in constant flux.  If you count former principals Janet Ferguson (who stepped down in 2006) and Anne Diener Zentner (who retired shortly thereafter), four people have held the title in the past six years — the other two being Mathieu Dufour and David Buck.

So what happened at those two auditions?

No hire.

Both times.

Undoubtably disappointing for auditioning musicians and orchestra alike.  The LA Phil has had a pretty good track record of giving job offers or trials after recent auditions;  specifically, at the two most recent Principal Flute auditions, both Mr. Dufour and Mr. Buck were offered the job outright after their respective auditions in 2008 and 2010, without need for a trial week.  This time, the orchestra and/or its Music Director apparently didn’t hear anyone they liked enough to let them out of the final round.

Now what?

There are two possibilities:

  1. They can wait to hold another set of open auditions.
  2. They can choose to invite specific players to individual auditions before having open auditions.

I’m guessing #2 is the path they’ll take, especially with the Principal Flute job.  This is how the orchestra ended up hiring two stellar additions to the orchestra:   Nitzan Haroz this year at Principal Trombone and Whitney Crockett at Principal Bassoon in 2009.   So who do they invite this time around?  I don’t have any inside information as to what Gustavo Dudamel will do or who may want the job, especially with the clarinet job, but here are guesses on some of possible flutists may be asked to try out:

  • Look at who has been sitting in the chair recently:
    • Start with Catherine Ransom Karoly, the orchestra’s Associate Principal; since she was promoted from Second Flute in 2009, she’s served as acting principal whenever the position has been officially vacant, including this season.  She’s an excellent, capable flutist, but in my humble opinion, her playing isn’t quite as special as, say, Mr. Dufour, or for that matter, the other LA Phil woodwind principals:   Michele Zukovsky (clarinet), Ariana Ghez (oboe), and the aforementioned Mr. Crockett.  I’d be a bit surprised if she got the full-time promotion.
    • At least two noteworthy first chair flutists from other orchestras have played as guest principal the past couple of years:  Timothy Day from the San Francisco Symphony and Demarre McGill of the Seattle Symphony (and the San Diego Symphony before that).  Mr. Day is the less likely of the two to move given that his wife, Robin McKee, is the SFS Associate Principal Flute, but a commute between the 415 and 213 area codes via airplane isn’t much different than many people’s commute from, say, South Orange County into LA on the freeway.
  • Look at who’s currently playing in orchestras experiencing financial and/or labor difficulty.  The news ticker and its 21st century equivalent, Twitter, have been rife with stories about orchestras of all sizes in financial and labor trouble; the two frequently go hand-in-hand.  In contrast,  the Los Angeles Philharmonic is one of the most fiscally stable and well-payed orchestras in the country.  Add those things to the orchestra’s strong artistic reputation and acoustic gem of a concert hall, and it may be the perfect storm to attract some players that otherwise wouldn’t consider making a move.  A couple of names to throw out there, just for fun:
    • Jeffrey Khaner, Philadelphia Orchestra.   This would be a dream get — a long shot, I’ll admit, but not out of the realm of possibilities.  The local band managed to pry Mr. Haroz away from the City of Brotherly Love, so there’s a very recent precedent.  Before landing in Philly, Mr. Khaner spent eight years as Principal Flute of the Cleveland Orchestra, so he’s previously shown a willingness to move from one big-time orchestra to another.  Maybe he can be convinced to move again.
    • Adam Kuenzel, Minnesota Orchestra.  While the Philadelphia Orchestra is still not exactly healthy, it at least seems to have hit bottom already and is on its way back up; it’s out of bankruptcy and it is celebrating the inaugural season with its new Music Director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin.  The Minnesota Orchestra is not nearly so lucky; they are mired in a financial mess and management has locked out players after asking them to take drastic pay cuts.  They have already cancelled numerous concerts, and their season is in jeopardy   Mr. Kuenzel may not have wanted to move in the past, but he probably didn’t have this kind of motivation before.

Nothing will likely happen for a few months.  Mr. Dudamel would need to be in town to make any hiring decisions, and he isn’t scheduled to conduct the LA Phil again until late February.  I’d be surprised if any additional auditions, open or invite-only, happen before then.

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Photo credit:  J. Scott Applewhite

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One thought on “Catching up with the LA Phil: trying to fill empty chairs

  1. Pingback: Burt Hara wins LA Phil Associate Principal Clarinet chair | All is Yar

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