Persistence Pays Off: The Three-Month Audition by Adam Kuenzel

In auditioning, persistence pays off. In my early 20’s I auditioned for the Colorado Philharmonic (now the National Repertory Orchestra), a summer training orchestra, four years in a row before at last being accepted. During the 24 months prior to winning my position with the Minnesota Orchestra, I had advanced to the final round for associate principal jobs in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and New York. No dice. But persistence doesn’t always pay off; I’ve auditioned for the Boston Symphony Orchestra five times to no avail. Persistence, however, really was key during the three-months for my audition with the Minnesota Orchestra.

Virtually every job opening listed for a major orchestra in the International Musician (the publication that advertises orchestral positions) includes words to the effect, “Only highly-qualified applicants need apply.” The Minnesota Orchestra had received over one hundred recorded auditions for their principal flute opening, and also many inquiries from curious and ambitious musicians who, for reasons of their own, then chose not to continue the process. Since the flute section had no full-time principal due to personnel issues, many of those auditioning had already performed with the orchestra over the past two seasons as substitute principal flutists. Eager to show my stripes, I had also written to the general manager, Mark Volpe, to ask if I could fill in as a substitute. He thanked me for my interest but told me that only players known to the music director or recommended by someone on the committee were being brought to Minneapolis. My persistence in this regard didn’t seem to get me anywhere, but perhaps I had at least gotten some attention from it; only a few months later I was informed that my position in San Antonio qualified me as one of the twenty-five flutists invited for a live audition.

On a weekend right after New Year’s Day in 1990 I traveled to Minneapolis from San Antonio.  In total there were five rounds for the audition, two on Saturday and three on Sunday. All candidates played on the stage at Orchestra Hall for a committee of seven Minnesota Orchestra musicians and the Music Director, Edo De Waart.  I ended up as one of two players that advanced through all five rounds. This was as close as I’d ever come to landing a major orchestra position. Most auditions identify a winner by the end of the final round and offer the position to him or her. Some, however, continue the process by inviting one or two finalists to perform with the orchestra, as was the case here.
On Sunday evening it was determined that I and the other finalist would continue our auditions, each playing a trial week of performances with the orchestra. De Waart, of course, would be conducting those concerts.

I had to wait until February for my trial week on a program including a bassoon concerto premiere played by principal bassoonist John Miller, and Holst’s The Planets. Fortunately for me, I had learned that the other candidate had already played her audition week and had been eliminated from further consideration.

My performances went well. Edo said he liked what he heard but could not make a final decision until I returned for another week for a program that would highlight the flute in a more prominent role. I was invited to play just such a program later that season. My nerves were hardly soothed as I was told that the associate principal flutists in both the Philadelphia and Boston Symphony Orchestras had expressed interest in the job, and were each invited to play a week as principal with the Minnesota Orchestra, as well.  After all, the Minnesota Orchestra owed it to themselves to identify the best player for the job in whatever manner they chose. This was a scenario I hadn’t at all anticipated but I persevered, and prepared for my second trial week.

My second audition week was in March, and this time I performed one of the two Strauss wind serenades and his tone poem, Don Quixote. During that same week there was also a rehearsal dedicated to associate conductor auditions. All I remember of that is the slow introduction to a Mozart symphony and Edo seated right behind me to guide the proceedings. The week concluded well, but I returned to San Antonio, still uncertain as to what Edo’s ultimate decision would be.

On the Saturday before Easter I returned home around 11:00 p.m. after a pops concert with the San Antonio Symphony. Mark Volpe had left a message: “I’d love to talk to you. Please call me tomorrow morning.” At this point I thought, what did he mean?! Did I get the job or not? Why didn’t he just say so one way or the other?! Of course I’d be incredibly disappointed if I’d gotten this far without winning the audition. But, as had become my habit over the years, through the dozens of auditions for schools, summer festivals and orchestra positions, I remembered to give myself credit for doing my best under such competitive circumstances.

I waited until 9:00 a.m. to call, although I’d been awake since 6:00 a.m., unable to
sleep. Mark answered my call, and said that the auditions were complete and that I was being offered the position of principal flute with the Minnesota
Orchestra! Over three months had passed since I had first walked onto the
stage at Orchestra Hall and I could not believe what I heard. So that I would
have some evidence that I was not imagining things, I asked Mark to please
call back after we hung up and leave a message on my answering machine
(this was pre-voicemail days) and repeat what he had just told me. He did so
right away and I had to listen to it a few times before I felt confident calling
family and friends with the terrific news. It had turned out that my persistence
paid off and my three-month audition was a success.

4 thoughts on “Persistence Pays Off: The Three-Month Audition by Adam Kuenzel

  1. I am still early in my orchestral flute training, but it is really refreshing to read about someone who plays my instrument who went through so much and who truly reaped the fruits of one’s work/ persistence. I should say, Adam, I really enjoy your musicality… thanks for also being a profound role model for flutist and all musicians.

    • Thanks Antonio. Here’s a bit of inspiration from Greg LeMond, the first American cyclist to win the Tour de France. When asked about his rise in the professional ranks of racing he said, “It doesn’t get easier, just faster.”

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