By Alan Gilbert

As I have been preparing my second posting here, I read a blog that admonished me for not “feeding the beast” by posting more frequently. This was nice to read, but I admit that it made me nervous about keeping up with the regular demand of writing. Of course I am very pleased that somebody out there wants me to blog even more, but from the outset I have wanted to manage expectations about how frequently I could realistically contribute here. It will be as often as possible, but probably only every two or three weeks.

Over the last year I often found myself feeling the urge to share random thoughts about my professional life; that urge would occasionally become so strong that I had the thought of writing a book flash across my mind – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, I’ll just repeat that it was nice to read that someone was actually looking forward to hearing what I have to say; I will try to post my thoughts and experiences here as often as I can.

In fact, my schedule over the past two weeks has been, if anything, even more intense than last year’s opening. The New York Philharmonic is in an unusual situation right now, with Zarin Mehta just having announced that he’s leaving in two years. While he’s very much still in the saddle, this announcement has created a shockwave throughout the organization, and everyone is having to consider, in a very conscious way, where they stand and how they fit into the long-range plans of the organization. The process of figuring out where we will go after Zarin leaves has begun, and everybody seems truly committed to making sure that the right steps are taken.

This is an opportunity to express my appreciation for everything Zarin has done for me and for the New York Philharmonic over the years: from my first experience with the Orchestra he was a champion and a supporter, and it is largely because of him that I am here. Working with him, being able to benefit from his enormous wealth of experience, from his natural elegance, has been an education and a joy for me. In particular, I have been struck by his interest in expanding the boundaries of what we do, in using music to touch the widest possible audience, and by his heartfelt belief in the necessity of taking artistic risks. The New York Philharmonic can mean many things to many different people, and Zarin has been one of the most powerful proponents for broadening the dimensions of our artistic reach. For now, he is still very much at work here, so I do not have to express all my thoughts about his contributions and legacy at this moment; I very much look forward to working with him over the next two seasons.

In a related area, the continuity of the orchestra is constantly on my mind, as there are many vacancies at the Philharmonic. Last week we concluded a round of very successful violin auditions, which resulted in the hiring of two new musicians. It is quite rare, actually, for both of the finalists to be offered positions, but we were lucky to have two exemplary candidates who were both masters of their instruments, and also came with an artistic sensibility that I am sure will add to the musical depth of the Orchestra.

Still, during this process I thought about auditions in general: it is incredibly complicated, as it has to accomplish a lot of things. The main one, obviously, is finding the right person, but another integral outcome is the self-referential need to instill and preserve confidence in the process itself. 

I learned some lessons in Stockholm where, over the years, we had problems with the audition process. When I was Chief Conductor there was a bizarre attitude about auditions: of course the stated policy was that auditions had to be taken, but, in practice, quite a few musicians were granted positions – and ultimately given tenure – who had never played an audition. The argument internally was, “They are the right person, we need to find the right person no matter what, and that’s more important than process.” That was refreshing in a way, because in Sweden it very often can seem as though process is more important than result, but there was a palpable negative effect: people lost faith in the way we ran auditions. They asked themselves why they should audition if it was possible to win a position without undergoing this particularly stressful process. Over time the auditions became less successful simply because not enough good people were presenting themselves as candidates. In fact, we knew of people who were interested in open positions who decided not even to try since they hoped to get into the orchestra through the back door, as it were.

Holding auditions is the system we have now. It doesn’t necessarily test all the qualities that are essential to function as a consummate orchestral musician, but we are constantly trying to reevaluate it so we can create the most telling process that is possible.

That’s some of what’s been on my mind. See you next time.

(For more information on Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, visit

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