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Philharmonic Audition Process

2013 October 9
by Becky Whyley

Open chairs in OrchestraEvery year, hundreds of musicians compete for positions in orchestras throughout the country. As with the search for any job, the process can be exhausting and frustrating. It can diminish self-confidence; it can even break the bank. Those who are successful in an audition have survived a process in which a job ‘interview’ only lasts a few minutes.

With the shrinking pool of available positions, competition among musicians is fierce even in regional orchestras like the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. Taking auditions involves a personal learning curve requiring years of refinement, right down to peculiarities in eating and sleeping patterns before the try-out, on top of the more obvious details of what to wear and when to show up. Auditioning in various climates can also affect a wind player’s ability to breathe properly into the instrument.

Auditions these days are ‘blind,’ that is they occur behind a screen so that the panel of listeners can make no distinctions regarding gender, age or physical ability. Sometimes the effort is refined by having floor covering to muffle the sound of each musician as they enter or leave the audition space.

Young Artists participate in mock orchestral auditions led by wind and brass musicians from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and The Philadelphia Orchestra

Most if not all orchestral musicians began playing as children, meaning they’ve spent years learning, practicing, and moving their way up in various musical settings. Yet many go through the audition process dozens of times before landing a permanent spot in a professional orchestra. Taking an audition requires hours and months of practice just on the repertoire selections alone. The screening committee is looking for absolute perfection.

Musicians must view the process as a building block to success; players keep auditioning until they win, despite the personal toll. And even after winning an audition, there is usually a probationary period of one to two years before the seat is secure. In larger orchestras, some players have tenures that can be tied down for years, meaning that the seat would never come up for audition.

For the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, the process begins each spring when vacancies are announced. An ad is submitted to the International Musician magazine, posted on the Philharmonic website, and is circulated within the American Federation of Musicians. Applicants receive a letter with details of the excerpt list for the audition. Most excerpts are within the range of standard repertoire for each instrument that is being auditioned. There is an initial screening process to determine whether the musician meets the minimum standards for the audition; for younger players, it is desirable to see a continuum of experience that includes a youth orchestra, a college ensemble or training orchestra, and time in a community orchestral setting. Many who have auditioned in Colorado Springs have played in ‘festival’ orchestras such as those in Breckenridge or Aspen.

For this year’s cycle, the Philharmonic auditioned dozens of musicians from Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, California, and Colorado, and hired four strings (one each in violin, viola, cello and bass) and one clarinet.

David Halvorson, cello, is the Philharmonic’s personnel manager. He oversees the audition process by accepting the paperwork, setting audition dates and locations, and arranging the schedule with the principals of sections with the vacancy. Halvorson also manages the musicians on audition day.

Each musician who auditions is given a number. Occasionally, a musician will contact the section principal in the orchestra to ask for feedback from the audition. Others prefer to remain completely anonymous. Following an audition, Halvorson sometimes tries to console players who didn’t think they did well. And even those who don’t win the audition can often end up as subs.

cello on planeFor players of large instruments, the musician must often buy a second seat on a plane, or a special shipping trunk to the destination. Then there’s the issue of getting the big instrument to the hotel in a taxi or shuttle bus. Quality of instrument matters almost as much as quality of playing. At times, a committee that is undecided about two players of equal ability will accept the player whose instrument sounded better.

Aside from the disciplinary rigors of playing in an orchestra, just the act of getting into one bears some unique characteristics. “You have about five minutes to show what you can do,” says Halvorson. “It is difficult for anyone to understand who is not in the performing arts business. Music is deeply personal. We are looking for concert-artist level of playing.”

Violinist Bella Hristova autographing CDs following concert

2013 October 4
by Nicole Anthony
Violinist Bell Hristova

Violinist Bell Hristova

The first concert of the Philharmonic’s critically-acclaimed Vanguard Performances series features Bulgarian violinist Bella Hristova.

Not only will you have the opportunity to hear Ms. Hristova’s powerful and elegant technique during Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, but following the 285 year-old set of concerti she will be available in the lobby to autograph copies of her latest cd, Bella Unaccompanied. The album features an impressive (and epic) recording of the Chaconne.

Born in Pleven, Bulgaria in 1985, Ms. Hristova began violin studies at the age of six, and by the age of 12 began participating in master classes at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. She plays a 1655 Nicolò Amati violin, once owned by the violinist Louis Krasner.




Summer Symphony Stories: Laura Neumann and Sam Eppley

2013 July 26
by Meghann Maurer
Laura Neumann

Laura Neumann

With the return of Summer Symphony to Colorado Springs, we’ve invited members of the community to share their memories and impressions. This is the eight post in a series.

Words by Laura Neumann, chief of staff, City of Colorado Springs:

Picture it … the mountains have turned a deep purple and the evening settles like a sigh, signaling that it’s time to unwind. Just a few feet away from your blanket, the instruments begin to tune up, then there’s a pause. Suddenly, the first notes from the Colorado Springs Philharmonic begin to flow, and a perfect evening has begun. Time to breathe …

These beautiful evenings of family, friendship, and music are what help to make community – and all of life – so rich and rewarding. Ordinary days are made memorable with life’s simplest ingredients: families and neighbors chatting, children laughing, senior citizens sharing an ice cream, couples dreaming, the pop of holiday fireworks, and the feel of grass on bare feet – all wrapped in unforgettable music that imprints the moment on our lives forever.

Congratulations to the Colorado Springs Philharmonic on 40 years of making beautiful music in our parks! The incredible talent and dedication of these gifted musicians, directors, singers, and other performers have enriched our lives and community in countless ways. Their harmonies have made us smile, brought us to tears, evoked long-buried memories and transported us to far-flung places. They’ve caused our spirits to soar and celebrate, and made us more compassionate. Most importantly, they have reminded me and my fellow citizens just how fundamental music, and all of the arts, is to our lives. As City leaders, we especially appreciate how cultural events bring us together, uniting us in the things we enjoy. When these events are free and accessible to everyone, the fun and benefit spreads throughout the community.

Summer Symphony is icing on the orchestral cake, as amazing music and beautiful Colorado weather converge in some of our region’s best summer events. This year their lineup has been extraordinary. Fabulous patriotic music, classical masterpieces by American composers, tunes and – hurray! – the music of Journey are all showcased. Our beloved Flying W Wranglers and the Colorado Springs Children’s Chorale headlined the June concert, commemorating the one year anniversary of the Waldo Canyon Fire, a party not to be missed.

A huge THANK YOU goes to all of the staff and volunteers whose time and efforts make these events so spectacular. Your hard work is a worthy and valuable investment in our community’s life and future.

Dare to explore music in the great outdoors in the coming months! Summer Symphony is the perfect way to get your feet wet with new music while hearing the songs and artists you already love.


Words by Sam Eppley, chair of the board of directors, Downtown Partnership, Inc.:

Sam Eppley

Sam Eppley

I began attending Summer Symphony concerts in the park when they first started in the early 1970’s, and I continue that tradition today. There is always something special about packing a picnic and listening to live music by the Philharmonic, set against a beautiful backdrop of Pikes Peak and the mountains.

One of the things I’ve always loved about the concerts in the park is the ability for music to connect to people with varied musical taste. There is classical music, yes, but also Broadway hits, pop music, and even movie scores. Guest performers like Flash Cadillac and the Flying W Wranglers, vocalists, and featured soloists showed such diversity that no matter what your musical preference, concerts were thoroughly enjoyed. And, if it was your first experience with symphony music, you became a fan.

What I always remember the most are the 4th of July concerts. With the loud, bold, patriotic music, there seemed to be an instant sense of community. Something about the music and spirit of the day created shared smiles and conversation with complete strangers picnicking on blankets around you. The kids were hyper and anxious, dancing around to the music, waiting for fireworks to start. And when the Fort Carson cannons would boom to the 1812 Overture, you could feel the vibrations through the ground.

As Chair of the Board of Directors for Downtown Partnership, Inc., and as a downtown business owner, I’m dedicated to preserving and celebrating the treasures and legacies of our community. The summer symphony concerts in the park are exactly that – a community treasure we should embrace and enjoy. For some, these concerts are their first exposure to music that isn’t an mp3 download. And, for some of us, they bring a bit of nostalgia as we look back over the years we’ve been going. The concerts bring families to our parks. They add cultural activity to our community. They capitalize on the beautiful outdoor settings in which we live. Most of all, they bring the talents of local musicians and the power of music to an open air setting for all to enjoy.


Summer Symphony Stories: Pam Shockley-Zalabak and Al Buettner

2013 July 18
by Meghann Maurer

With the return of Summer Symphony to Colorado Springs, we’ve invited members of the community to share their memories and impressions. This is the seventh post in a series. Next up: Laura Neumann, chief of staff, City of Colorado Springs.

Words from Pam Shockley-Zalabak, chancellor and professor of communication at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs:

The return of the Summer Symphony and free concerts throughout our community signals a return to one of my favorite series of summer events.

Pam Shockley-Zalabak

Pam Shockley-Zalabak

Having lived in Colorado Springs for more than 30 years, I enjoyed these concerts immensely before they were discontinued a few years ago as our community struggled financially.

The return of the concerts is a sign of our recovery as a community and much, much more.

It is important that we take a moment from our busy lives to enjoy a performance by professionally trained and highly talented musicians who through their performances please us. As members of our community, we celebrate these talented individuals whose years of study and practice make performance seem effortless.

I have always personally enjoyed the concerts. But they do more than provide entertainment and a break from the routine. Free, outdoor concerts are a means for neighbors to greet each other or, as happens so often these days, to meet for the first time. It is important that we know our neighbors by more than a wave as we drive into the garage, quickly shutting the door to avoid contact. The Summer Symphony in four public park locations throughout the city provides that opportunity.

In addition to meeting our neighbors, the concerts provide us reason to celebrate our community and what is right about it.

Many communities the size of Colorado Springs cannot boast a Philharmonic, an important distinguishing factor as our city competes for tourists as well as for industry. The potential for an evening of live classical music is an important piece in the cultural mix that our community offers to visitors.

As I think back to those summer concerts that I last attended more than four years ago, I cannot help but think of the young families for whom an evening out was a nearly impossible task, either financially or logistically. As their young children played in the park, their parents got a well-deserved break and were visibly soothed by the music. As the evening cooled and the children tired, it was not long before toddlers were willing to lay down and listen to softly stroked strings and muted horns that in talented hands create a world that seems softer, slower and more kind.

Will those toddlers grow to be musicians? Will a summer concert recruit a Fortune 500 company to Colorado Springs? Will meeting a neighbor at a concert improve civility the next time there’s a storm or disagreement about homeowner association rules?

There are no empirical data that say a free concert can do all of those things. But I believe that the return of the Summer Symphony is a demonstration of a community asset that makes me proud to Colorado Springs home.

Al Buettner

Al Buettner

Words by Al Buettner, Colorado Springs Philharmonic Chairman of the Board:

What is it that’s so magical and wonderful about summer outdoor symphonies? Think about the decades of tradition with the summer season of orchestras like Chicago’s (the Ravinia Festival) and Boston Pops (Tanglewood). The Aspen Music Festival may be Colorado’s most venerated but it’s been emulated at mountain resorts around the state.

There’s something about live music performed under blue or starry skies, on a picnic blanket with food and beverages as simple or elaborate as you like, in the company of family and close friends – those you’ve known forever and the ones you’ve just met on the blanket next to you. It just feels wonderful.

And this summer we have it in our own backyard – four times! No need to fight traffic going to the mountains and then pay resort prices. And the Colorado Springs Philharmonic can certainly more than hold it’s own among the finest orchestras across the country.

I know that I speak for the entire CSP family that we are thrilled and proud to be able to offer a summer season of four concerts around the city in June and July. And we are ever so thankful to our principal sponsors – El Pomar Foundation, The Anschutz Foundation, City of Colorado Springs, and El Paso County Enterprise Zone – for helping to make this possible. We very much want this to become a new summer tradition to celebrate in Colorado Springs.

You’ll see our familiar, beloved orchestra players under the baton of both Associate Conductor, Thomas Wilson, and Music Director Josep Caballé-Domenech, making a special summer trip from Barcelona. The energy, excitement and musical diversity will be as palpable as in our regular season home in the Pikes Peak Center.

Your enthusiasm and support are every bit as important to making this happen. This simply becomes yet another way that we can serve, inspire and be part of the fabric of our greater Colorado Springs community. Thank you. We look forward to seeing you at the concerts.

Summer Symphony Stories: Susan Davies and Doug Price

2013 July 11
by Meghann Maurer
Susan and Izzy

Susan Davies and Izzy

In anticipation of Summer Symphony‘s return to Colorado Springs this month, we’ve invited members of the community to share their memories and impressions of this exciting event. This is the sixth post in a series. Next up: Pam Shockley-Zalabak and Al Buettner.

Words by Susan Davies, Executive Director, Trails and Open Space Coalition:

For me, parks and music belong together like a cello and its bow. Each brings out the best in the other.

Some of my earliest childhood memories involve hearing our Fox Valley Symphony or community band in our City Park. It was Wisconsin, so there was additional percussion as people slapped mosquitoes. No cell phones, tablets, or texting – no distractions at all except the sounds of laughing children, birds singing their evening songs and the music. There were three to four concerts each summer – weather permitting. Midwestern thunderstorms at dusk can be ferocious. But when the weather cooperated, people brought lawn chairs, picnic baskets, and plastic pitchers of kool-aid. Our symphony was small but they were ours and sounded wonderful. There wasn’t a frown in the crowd.

As an adult, I lived in Pittsburgh for close to a decade. Many Sunday mornings during the summer, members of the Pittsburgh Symphony would perform in Schenley Park – a 400 acre municipal park in the heart of Pittsburgh. Vendors would sell pastries, coffee, and the local newspaper. We’d meet up with friends, spread blankets, buy brunch, and read the Sunday paper to the sounds of Mozart or Chopin. If someone felt frisky there was a Frisbee to toss. Music in the park on Sunday mornings became a weekly favorite – followed by a hike in the Laurel Highlands or Chestnut Ridge.

After that I spent eight years in Cleveland. Blossom Music Center is the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra. Just 28 miles south near the Cuyahoga river, several times each summer we would sit on a magnificent green hillside lawn with as many as 13,000 other enchanted fans, surrounded on two sides by a mature forest and listen to one of this country’s great orchestras. Even with that many people there was a shared intimacy with the musicians, the trees, and the music. It felt as if a magnificent sensual feast had been spread like a picnic before each of us. And we were all dining together.

 Both the Pittsburgh Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra have marvelous halls. Carnegie and Severance are among the best. But personally, given a choice – I’ll take music in the park every time. I was thrilled to hear that our Colorado Springs Philharmonic is offering a Summer Symphony Series. Of course here in the dry west, the percussion section won’t compete with “mosquito-swatting.” I’ll be there with my family and picnic basket.

Doug Price

Doug Price

Words by Doug Price, President & CEO, Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau:

Having been a resident of large cities including Philadelphia, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, FL and even working in Washington D.C., I’ve been exposed to a multitude of arts and cultural offerings that range from theater and dance to concerts. Upon arriving in the Colorado Springs area in 2011 as the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau as the new President & CEO, I was delighted to learn what a rich culture our region is home to. Places like the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Pikes Peak Center and Theatreworks offer amazingly creative outlets to that both residents and travelers coming into the area can enjoy. A huge piece of this fantastic performance scene, and a gem of our area, is the Colorado Springs Philharmonic.

Because of this fantastic organization, classical music has been alive and well in the area since 1927. In 1973, the Summer Symphony series began, and after a long four-year hiatus, will return in 2013. The series expects to draw more than 100,000 in attendance over the course of these four performances alone. This program provides an opportunity to further enrich our area’s access to the arts and even better, at no cost. This program is also being reignited in a year where it will celebrate its 40th anniversary of the series itself.

I myself had the pleasure of attending two Philharmonic concerts last year and am excited that so many will get to experience this treasure once again. Based on a study done by the Americans for the Arts (AFTA) and the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI), it was reiterated that the role of an organization such as the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau is to tell the true and unique story of the Pikes Peak region. This also includes being stewards for the sustainability of “place-based assets” including the cultural environment. In this same study, it was revealed that 5 percent of U.S. travelers’ primary reason for travel to a destination was specifically for a concert, play, or dance. Offering performances such as the Summer Symphony help entice these types of travelers while providing a more robust experience for travelers coming here for other reasons.

Activities such as the Philharmonic help tell that unique story that is Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region, and one of the many reasons I personally and professionally support their efforts and encourage them to continue to find ways to make events such as these continue to thrive. Not only does the organization offer an outlet for talented musicians, it also adds to our extensive arts scene which we wish to continue to nurture and grow.

These concerts are taking place in conjunction with some amazing community efforts including the rebuild of Mountain Shadows after the Waldo Canyon Fire, the exciting return of a Colorado Springs pastime with fireworks in Memorial Park for Independence Day, a continuation of America’s pride at Sky Sox Stadium and even a Journey tribute. I urge our residents and travelers to experience the return of the Summer Symphony Series and know that they can be enriched here just as much as anywhere else in the country.