This entry is by way of answering some not-infrequent questions from audience members about how the orchestra is assembled.
You’ll see on the website some links to information about upcoming auditions. I make all returning members re-audition, along with, of course, the new students. Thus PUO starts from a zero base every year. As it says on the website, the audition consists of two parts– a page of excerpts (hard ones) from upcoming repertory, and another prepared piece. The auditions are ten minutes, and happen the first week of classes, extending through the weekend. Anywhere from 150-170 students will sign up, and around 100 will be accepted into PUO.
Taking an audition is, to be blunt, lousy. Unfortunately the performing arts have yet to come up with a better and more efficient way of the evaluation process necessary to get the right performers in the right roles in the play, chairs in the orchestra, etc. But the system is so imperfect. It’s a ten minute snapshot that can be affected by many factors– nervousness being the most obvious– and may not be predictive of how a person will actually perform under normal circumstances. Perhaps there is a correlation between the pressure of an audition and the pressure of performing a big solo. But playing a solo is something that one is able to rehearse at least a few times, and to play an audition is to walk into a room, set up, take ten minutes to show your stuff, and leave, while passing the next person on the list on their way in. It can be tough, but auditions provide the only context in which everyone can be seen/heard under the same conditions. At the least, a level playing field.
Over the years I’ve realized how important it is to humanize the process as much as possible . The freshmen (who are already overwhelmed) are welcomed by returning members outside the room who act as greeters. Their purpose is to have a calming “you’re going to do fine” presence. For everyone, new and returning alike, I always try to take a little time out of the ten minutes for chat. They are, each one, important far beyond what they do with the instrument, even though the instrument is what brings us together at that moment.
When the results are posted, there is always a cover memo in which the first sentence is to thank everyone who cares enough about music to endure an audition. And I mean it every time I say it.