Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The market for musicians (in top orchestras)

Need a Job? Help Wanted at the N.Y. Philharmonic . These posts, naturally, are rarefied and have little to do with the normal job picture nationwide. But the number of openings prompts the question of why so many spots stand vacant in a market glutted with talented musicians looking to move up to better orchestras or just to find jobs.

"The economy has had an effect. It is cheaper to leave jobs unfilled and to pay substitutes, who usually receive close to the minimum base pay and fewer benefits. Starting salaries at the 10 top-paying orchestras next season range from $101,600 (Minnesota) to $136,500 (Los Angeles), but principal players can earn two or three times that.

“It happens that you do save money,” Mr. Mehta acknowledged, but he said the lingering vacancies in New York were not cost-saving measures."...

"The elaborate logistical demands of orchestral auditions cause delays. First auditions are advertised. Then time must pass for applicants to send in résumés and tapes and practice the assigned excerpts from the orchestral literature. A committee of players, usually in the section, has to be formed, and preliminary rounds of auditions have to be scheduled. After the finalists are chosen, a time must be found when the busy music director and committee members can hear them. The process can easily stretch out for many months.

"Often no winner is chosen. That happened last year with the Philharmonic’s principal clarinet job. Two rounds of auditions for associate principal horn player and a double bassist also produced no result. The music director in New York has final say but makes the decision in consultation with the committee.

"The Boston Symphony usually has a high number of openings, because the demands on the players — the Tanglewood festival, the Boston Pops and regular concerts — make scheduling auditions especially difficult, as does the orchestra’s system of hiring based on a two-thirds majority in committee.

"The finest musician can have a bad day: it’s a paradox of the process, in which less than an hour of playing is supposed to determine whether a musician is suitable for the continual day in, day out life of an orchestra member. And in another contradiction, the aspirants play alone for a job that depends on group effort. (Winners are usually on probation for a year or two, effectively a tryout with the ensemble.) On occasion, when no winner is chosen, established orchestral players from elsewhere will be invited to play as guests in a kind of informal tryout. It’s an imperfect system, but no one has figured out a better one."

The orchestra audition process is the topic of the paper"Orchestrating Impartiality: The Effect of 'Blind' Auditions on Female Musicians" by Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse American Economic Review (September 2000)

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