A New Way To Audition

Volume CIX, No. 5May, 2009

Ken Mirkin

Earlier this year, members of the New York Philharmonic — including myself — were involved in judging entries for the “YouTube Symphony.” (Other orchestras participating in the process were the Berlin Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and Hong Kong Philharmonic.)

We were emailed an Excel spreadsheet with links to the entrant’s audition on the YouTube site. The public was not yet able to view these auditions; they would be able to view and vote on the finalists a few weeks later.

The judges rated the entrant’s audition on a scale of 0 to 100 along with a determination if the entrant was “highly recommended,” “recommended” or “not recommended.” We each had to judge 20 to 30 entrants.

Of mine, three were outstanding, two were very good and 15 were very bad, with some rank beginners. (Since these videos weren’t live, it was a relief to be able to turn them off after 10 seconds or so!)

The auditions of the “highly recommended” entrants were then forwarded on to Michael Tilson Thomas for his evaluation.

At first, I was hesitant about watching auditions on the Internet, but I came to realize that this could be a very cost-effective tool for preliminary auditions for major professional orchestras. No more need for expensive studio recordings or coast-to-coast airline flights!

The final step of the process was the posting of all the finalists’ auditions on YouTube for the public to vote on, in a type of “American Idol” contest.

This was the part that I had the most discomfort with, but when I thought about it further, I realized that these videos had all made the first cut and the musicians had chosen to be a part of this process. So why not let the public get involved and spread the excitement? It can only be a good thing for raising classical music’s profile around the world.