By: Roger Cline, CSO double bassist since 1973
It has been 43 years since I won the audition for my position in the CSO bass section. It was truly a life changing event for me and even after all these years, I still have memories of that audition process.
Just as I did, every Member of the CSO must secure their position in the CSO through the competitive, anonymous audition procedure the CSO uses to select new players. The procedure in use now is the same as was used all those years ago when I auditioned. In fact, the procedure was fairly new then and the CSO was one of the first major orchestras to institute this type of anonymous, competitive audition procedure. Virtually all U.S. orchestras now use this impartial procedure and the CSO is foremost in allowing anyone to audition with no judgments about who will be allowed to audition.
When a position becomes open in the orchestra, the audition for that opening is advertised in the union paper. Then, those who wish to audition contact the CSO personnel office and schedule an audition date. When the candidate arrives for the audition, their anonymity is preserved by assigning them to a warm up room in a separate area and being a assigned a number which is their only identification to the Audition Committee.
The Audition Committee, which judges the candidates who audition, is made up of seven elected Members of the orchestra, the section leader of the section in which the opening exists and one Member assigned by the Orchestra Members’ Committee to assure that all audition procedures are followed. The audition candidates play on the stage of OH and are visually screened from the committee to assure impartiality.
Each member of the Audition Committee, without discussion with other members of the Committee, votes on each candidate by secret ballot either “Yes” or “No” whether in their judgment, the candidate is capable of performing in the CSO.
The music selected for the audition is available to the candidates before the audition, but any passages from the audition “list” may be requested and usually “sight reading” of unprepared passages is also requested.
If the candidate receives six “Yes” votes in this preliminary round, they are then passed on to the “Final” audition. The Music Director makes the decision whom, if anyone, is hired amongst those who also receive at least six “Yes” votes from the Audition Committee voting in this “Final Audition” round.
Most positions are auditioned for by from 50 to hundreds of candidates. Sometimes, a number of audition rounds take place before a candidate is finally hired.
After the winner of the audition begins playing regular concerts with the Music Director conducting, they are granted tenure in the orchestra within two years, if the Music Director and the members of the section in which they play feel they “fit in” and meet the levels of musical style and accuracy the CSO demands.
It is easy to see then, why this thorough audition procedure has resulted hiring performers that produce the “World’s Best, Chicago’s Own” reputation for which CSO performances are known throughout the world.