Extremely young job winners
I believe this should go under the orchestral technique section mainly because this post has a lot to do with orchestral technique.
Now for my question: I was looking over the Berlin Phil musicians' list and as I was reading through all the bass players' bios, I kept noticing something very interesting: a lot of these players got their first jobs when they were either just out of college or grad school or still in college. While I can't speak for percussionists at all one example of someone playing professionally from a very young age is Rainer Seegers, one of the BPO timpanists from 1986-present. He was already an active sub with Hanover Staatsoper when was 13 years old. Obviously, his case is extremely rare, and while not really related to my point entirely, it raises some interesting questions.
How do these guys get that good that early in their lives as musicians? It has always been a mystery to me how people are musically and technically mature enough to be playing with professional orchestra such a young age. I know it definitely has a lot to do with talent, hard work, and not to mention the huge influence that a fantastic teacher has on your development.
About hard work though, I can't remember the last time that a 13 year old was able to harness the sheer intensity of attention and discipline in their practicing that a professional musician needs nowadays to win a job. I've also noticed that for almost all of these extraordinary examples, the players are appointed by someone, rather than being the winner of an audition. My guess is that if there was an audition, someone else would beat them out. I may be wrong though, but I can't imagine a 13 year old beating out the most qualified people on the audition. It just doesn't seem possible to me, unless maybe, you're a genius. Maybe it is (and will stay) a mystery, but hopefully someone can shed some light on this for me.
This is conjecture, but if he was working percussion for an opera company at a young age it's entirely possible there were some small stage roles for him to fill. The marching band in La Boheme, for example. There's also an entire children's chorus in that opera, but that's not exactly the same thing as winning a studio position at the Met.
Occasionally you'll hear about 19 and 20 year olds winning big jobs, but it's very rare. Perhaps it was more common 50 years ago when appointments were typical.
I don't doubt there are a handful of teenagers who have the skills to keep up in a professional orchestra. I've met plenty of people who've kept an intense practice schedule since childhood. Many of them had more or less mastered their instrument by the time they began college.
At the highest levels, most conservatory professors focus on repertoire on the assumption that technique is a non-issue. Double bass tends to be an exception to that, partly because most bassists began taking lessons as much as a decade after their piano and violin-playing colleagues. As a result, most bassists spend more time in school and generally get a more complete education and appreciation for the literature before getting thrown into a professional setting. Perhaps this is why bassists tend to be the least jaded members of the orchestra.
My bunkmate at Interlochen subbed with the Berlin Phil while in high school; he was a monster on the cello. He also gave up the principle cello chair with the top orchestra there out of sheer humility, having already sat in one of the greatest sections on earth. I have seen no greater lesson in humility in the orchestral world than the one this guy taught me.
Let us not forget that Gary Karr recorded The Swan with NY Phil and Bernstein as a teenager. When we were at IU, Daxun was already playing the 5th suite at pitch, beautifully... as a teenager. Age ain't nothin' but a number.
Another non-bass example, but one of the horn players in the Detroit Symphony won his job when he was 18 (and actually had to have his parents sign his contract, since he legally wasn't old enough to when he was initially hired). From what I understand, he had started very early, and just clicked so well with the instrument that he dedicated himself to it rapidly, and had really great opportunities and training from the get go. He's still in the orchestra: http://dso.org/page.aspx?page_id=386
Hanna Chang started cello at 6, studied w Maisky when she was 11 she must've been a beast by then already. Yikes. 11?
Oh yeah: at 12 years old she recorded with Rostropovich.
While not a teenager, Jeffrey Beecher (Principal of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra) was very young when he landed that gig. He is a fantastic player, and won a job in a very well aged bass section.
I believe the success of younger players has a great deal to do with their circumstances. Depending on their personal/family resources, young players can entirely dedicate themselves to music. Quite often this means an arts school, private lessons, summer programs, youth orchestras, master classes, and whatever else the parents/students/scholarships/grants/etc. can afford. Talent/musicality plays a role as well, but by the time they are in their final couple of years of education at a conservatory or college/university, they will be on the top of their game because some of them have done absolutely nothing else but live bass.
Many of the students I came in contact with who won jobs fresh out of school lived that lifestyle. I am not suggesting Jeff Beecher or anyone else mentioned here is a result of an affluent upbringing. I know absolutely nothing about his personal circumstances, but I can bet he definitely put tons of hard work and hundreds of hours into his bass playing. Many of these players couldn't do anything else, because they were so immersed in bass playing. I am saying that fresh out of school, a lot of players are playing very strong. Their musicianship will continue to develop and their technique will potentially evolve a bit, but the Joel Quarringtons and Hal Robinsons and Gary Karrs of the world were monster players when they were quite young, they didn't start out mediocre and suddenly blossom in their 40's, so it is reasonable to assume that similarly talented players will present at similar ages.
A combination of talent, resources, dedication, and the right jobs opening up at the right time/luck is what gets them there. Now I need to stop speculating and get back to practicing.
German orchestras favor youth over almost anything else. I don't want to get into why, but if you haven't secured a position by 25, you have a tough time even getting invited to audition. Also, the audition criteria are different from the US. Pretty much everyone begins with the first and second movement of Dittersdorf, and the selection is heavily weighted toward what you can do with this. IMO, with proper guidance a very young person can learn to do a convincing Ditters even if (s)he doesn't have a well rounded understanding of classical music and orchestral practice in general. I was last chair in a German "B" orchestra for many years, so I was always the one to share a stand with the "subs", who were usually drafted from top orchestras in the area, often principals. There was one guy who came sometimes who had recently won an important principal seat at the age of 22 or something. I had been refused audition... I hated playing with him. He had no clue about note lengths or taper, and was pretty insensitive about dynamics.
So, not to sound bitter, but I think there is some bias toward youth itself as opposed to overall merit which lands some of these players in their jobs. I suppose the theory is that what you really want is monster technique and the musical subtleties and stuff will come in due time. Maybe true, but I wouldn't want to be the one turning pages every day for a young principal who blasts gangsta rap out of his BMW when showing up for rehearsals:)
My first job was as assoc princ. I was 23. I sat next to a bassist from the then Leningrad Symphony.He was # 3 and should have been concertmaster this guy was so good. He was placed #3 because he was to0 strong a personality (I had been told)It was very humbling to sit next to him because this dude could play the pants off of the bass.
I came in all gangbusters with my flat hair and even stroke but it was probably very boring compared to him. I quickly learned to listen carefully.
I donīt think he ever played an excerpt in his life. He played everything like it was a concerto and it sounded great. OK It wouldnīt fly with Philly but I still learned so much from him.
I digress here but Iīm over 25.....
When I listen to young players today (under 25..) They (most of whom I have heard) play so boring. There is too much pressure to play right than to play musically. And what I mean is to just play notes. As if they never heard the symphony before. This is usually after they play the dittersdorf perfectly from memory.
In the UK there have been plenty of young people winning fairly big jobs recently - the principal trumpets in the LSO and the Philharmonia both got their jobs at about age 21 or so, and that's after going through the trial system for x amount of months. A friend of mine got the principal bass job in the BBC national orchestra of Wales at 23 and was also offered the same spot in the Northern Sinfonia.
I dont know how the freelance scene works in the states or continental Europe, but in the UK it's possible to have already had quite a broad range of experience playing with the top orchestras before leaving college. There's a lot of substitute/extra work in London and most of the orchestras have side by side schemes... I'd already played guest principal with the London Sinfonietta, done extra work at the back of the LSO and Philharmonia sections and been offered a job in a chamber orchestra in Hong Kong before I'd finished my undergrad.
I suppose there has to be an audition before you can win a job... But in the bass scene over here there were quite a few auditions that came up just as people like me left college, so many of us spent the year or so afterwards just doing auditions and trials pretty much non stop. And some of us younger ones ended up in jobs....
Yes, sometimes it can feel like its the end....
Ended up? I'm sure that's not what I meant.... Although I do sometimes wonder if it'll end when somebody finds me out! :ninja:
And yes there were many, many jobs in the U.K. from 2011-2013, somewhere around a dozen or perhaps even more in cities that are just a few hours away by car or train. Just luck of the draw I suppose.
Equally interesting are those who start study later in life and go on to win jobs in a fairly short amount of time. Far example, Carter Brey, principal cello of NY Philharmonic, didn't start private lessons until 16, which is fairly late for non-bassists. Another that comes to mind is Meredith Johnson, principal bass in Winnipeg, who didn't start studying bass seriously until he was doing an English degree at Vanderbilt.
I think what it comes down to more than age is dedication. Those who win jobs, young or old, have placed countless hours into mastering their art.
I started learning bass aged 23 back in 1963 and by 27 was getting regular sub work in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. I won a permanent position when 28. At the time I was studying there was a young guy aged 15 (still at school and in short pants) who could sight read and play me under the table. He beat me into the SSO and at 18 was Associate Principal. Later he went on to study with Ludwig Streicher for several years. To this day he remains one of our best players and teachers and also conducts.
Looking back I would say that at that time, nearly fifty years ago, standards were a lot lower here. I changed my day job from industrial chemist after 7 years to trainee orchestral musician on the basis of playing a movement of the Galliard Sonata well for an audition (into a full time training orchestra). My major work for the SSO audition was 2 movements from the Dittersdorf Concerto. It seemed like no-one had ever attempted auditioning with this piece before. Now it is ho-hum. Standards are now incredibly high, with students already preparing major works to audition for entry into our Consertatoriums that are pumping out too many highly qualified graduates for the few positions that come up. There are only about 40 or so full time bass positions in Australia's professional ensembles.
The story today sounds familiar, doesn't it.
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