Re-auditions: A wrong tool for orchestras

From time to time the re-audition virus breaks out in the professional orchestra world. The latest cases were those at the Symphony Orchestra of Brazil, the Malaysian Philharmonic  Orchestra and the Korean Broadcasting System Symphony Orchestra in 2012.

Internat. Orchestra Conference in Oslo, Febr. 2014: No re-auditions!

Internat. Orchestra Conference in Oslo, Febr. 2014: No re-auditions!

But there were earlier examples: Back in the early 1970s the Rotterdam Philharmonic management and its chief conductor decided to improve the orchestra’s quality through re-auditions. When in the 1980s three Dutch orchestras merged in the Netherlands Philharmonic, re-auditions also took place.

In Germany, shortly after the peaceful reunification in the early 1990s, some conductors in the new federal states started to try selecting a couple of musicians by re-auditions. But these attempts failed due to legal restrictions: In German law and in our national or single collective bargaining agreements an audition may only take place before the musician is employed for the first time, before he or she enters the orchestra. The issue of a re-audition is not regulated in any collective bargaining agreement for orchestras in Germany. Therefore no musician could be forced to take part in a re-audition. And even if he would participate in a re-audition process, there would be no negative consequences. A poor re-audition performance could never be a reason for dismissal.

If you analyze the re-audition cases of the past you will always find the argument from the management or the conductor to improve the orchestra’s quality. This means in concrete: at least dismissals or pink slips for musicians who don’t meet artistic standards, which are only in the brain of the orchestra manager or conductor. And this means too: despotism and unfair methods to kick musicians out of their jobs.

On the other hand: which are the most successful orchestras in the world? Everybody could name ten or more famous national and international widely recognized orchestras. And one can bet: none of these orchestras do have a re-audition system.

The truth is: every rehearsal, every concert, every recording session with the orchestra is a “re-audition” itself for every musician who has to perform on top-level. However, many musicians say that you don’t perform for the audience, but you perform for the orchestra colleagues. There is no stronger artistic control and social pressure as in the orchestra sections themselves.

To sum up: whenever the management or the conductor of a professional symphony orchestra tries to promote the re-audition issue, this may be an evidence for the inadequate leadership skills of these people and not an evidence for a poor artistic performance of musicians. Re-audition remains to be a wrong tool.

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Korean Broadcasting Symphony – Agreement sealed

After national and international protests as well as massive campaigning from the Korean Parliament against the Korean Boradcasting System, against the orchestra management and the former conductor an agreement has been reached for the Korean Bradcasting Symphony Orchestra (KBSSO). The KBSSO will remain with unlimited contracts for the players and refrain from annual auditions. The re-auditon virus has been vanquished.

The agreement: 1. KBS will appoint world renowned prestigious conductor as soon as possible. The former conductor Shinik Hahm is officially out. 2. KBS is obligated to keep 95% of the members in the orchestra. Which means that the quota of the orchestra is 111 people. KBS must keep the members at least 103. If it reaches below 103 members, KBS must open the position by an official audition as obligartory for new members in every symphony orchestra. 3. KBS must support and will increase stable funding for the orchestra. 4. KBS will improve KBSSO’s public services. KBS and KBSSO will develop music education programs and performances for the lower class citizen, who are isolated from classical music culture. 5. KBS guarantees the players, who did not agree to transfer to the new foundation of the KBSSO to stay as an employee of the KBS. The status will be maintained like before. The players will be dispatched to the new KBSSO foundation as an employee of KBS until 9/14/2014.

This case is a good example of severe mismanagement by a conductor. Talented orchestra managers can learn their lesson. The upkeep of unlimited contracts and job security for the players is essential for a healthy artistic development in every orchestra.

Korean Radio System now under international pressure

The International Federation of Musicians (FIM)  representing some 70 musician unions and orchestral associations around the world has launched an international protest against the the unfair re-auditioning plans of the Korean Broadcasting System for the musicians of the KBSSO. This is  the protest from August 21:

“Dear Sirs,

We have been informed of your intention to outsource the KBS Symphony Orchestra to a private institution and to impose systematic re-auditions on all of its musicians. We deeply believe that such actions will only have detrimental consequences for the public, the musicians and the orchestra itself.

All orchestras of significance throughout the world have a longstanding tradition of social dialogue. Such dialogue is crucial for both conflict prevention and the resolution of the various problems that may occur in the course of an orchestra’s daily life. An open and confident exchange with the musicians’ representatives should therefore be conducted before considering a decision that would not only impact the musicians’ career but also the future of your institution.

KBS, one of the major public broadcasters in Asia, is expected to carry out a mission of public interest with a key cultural dimension. The KBS Symphony Orchestra, whose reputation of excellence goes far beyond the borders of Korea, is one of the most tangible aspects of this mission. Outsourcing the KBSSO to a private body would negatively impact the orchestra’s sustainability, its artistic independence and, in fine, its international image. Regarding the re-auditions that the management and conductor are attempting to impose on the orchestra members, we wish to remind you that all musicians already passed an audition before being initially appointed.

Since then, they have played on stage in full view and scrutiny of the public every week, which in itself represents another form of audition. Re-auditioning is an unnecessary, extremely stressful test for the musicians, which in isolation is unable to give an accurate reflection of the artists’ overall qualities and skills. Finally, and foremost, the artistic personality of an orchestra is the result of a long-term process that depends not only on individual qualities but also on the in-depth work carried out daily by the orchestra as a whole, as well as on the artistic framework defined by its Musical Director. We firmly believe that the revamp of the orchestra as currently envisaged and the re-auditioning of its musicians takes the orchestra in the wrong direction and would be detrimental to both the KBSSO and KBS.

We therefore urge you to engage in discussions with the musicians’ representatives without further delay, with a view to jointly identify the best ways to reach the level of efficiency and artistic excellence that are equally desired by both parties. By so doing, you would maximize your chances to successfully undertake the renewal of the orchestra, for the mutual benefit of all stakeholders involved, including the public. We remain at your disposal to facilitate the dialogue, should you find it useful and appropriate. The World music community would not understand if these requests were to remain unheard.

Yours sincerely,

Benoît Machuel

General Secretary of FIM”

This new scandal of orchestra mismanagement could have severe consequences for the international reputation of the Korean arts and orchestra recognition in the world. And it could lead to an international blacklisting of the conductor Shin-Ik Hahm, too. Which orchestra in the world wants to be conducted by a “maestro” who uses unfair practices or is only able to estimate the quality of an orchestra performance, when he can hear every single musician in a re-audition?

The reaudition virus – now out in South Korean Radio Orchestra?

After the OSB case in Brazil and the still running one with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra which tries to recruit new members in New York, now KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) Symphony Orchestra (KBSSO) seems to be infected by the “reaudition virus”. The KBSSO is one of the leading orchestras in South Korea. Its quality is documented on many Youtube videos, CDs and broadcasts. The KBS is the only Korean orchestra with permanent contracts for its players. This shall be history as of September 1. It has been about five months since the KBS orchestra’s function was stopped by the radio company. Now the situation for the orchestra and its players is obviously getting worse. Concerts are cancelled and it seems like it is impossible to recover and to fulfill the job as a public broadcasting orchestra.

Korean Broadcasting System

What happened? In December 2011 KBS announced the audition for all members of the orchestra. The purpose should be to evaluate each player’s topic performance skills and this procedure should be taken every year from now.

The chief conductor Shin-Ik Hahm supported the decision of KBS officials. It is reported that Mr. Hahm thinks that “the audition to each members is absolutely necessary because during the rehearsal, when a lot of people play together I cannot recognize who is good or bad. And if they are the members of Korea’s leading orchestra, they have to prove their ability in the audition.” No comment on this.

There seems to be a battle between conductor and orchestra. When Mr. Hahm was engaged first as chief conductor, 93% of the orchestra members strongly resisted to the appointment due to artistic reasons. See earlier reports on this issue and the attempt to inform other orchestras conducted by Mr. Hahm here. However, KBS enforced the appointment and even threatened the players who resisted, at least the whole orchestra.  While Shin-Ik Hahm served as a chief conductor in Daejon Philharmonic Orchestra until 2006, he already has used ‘audition policy’ to humiliate the players whom he disliked, as musicians reported. From the point of view of professional orchestra management this is a nightmare.

The members of KBSSO refused to take the audition because the audition is unfair and unreasonable method of evaluating system for orchestra players. This is according to the policy of the International Federation of Musicians (FIM) who had banned reauditions recently. When KBS musicians got the position in the orchestra, they already passed the audition. Until becoming the tenured player, they participated one year as a probationary period. This is a logical system for most of the orchestras around the world. Most of the KBSSO players refused to participate in the reaudition.  KBS took severe disciplinary action against the players. The chairman of the union committee was fired and some 70 people got suspended from 15days to 6 months. Orchestra members protested against this ‘reauditioning policy’.

In meantime KBS decided to outsource KBSSO and make it an independent foundation. The company is enforcing the plan without any discussion and agreement from the players and KBS union. This action seems to be unlawful to Korean law. Part of the plan includes that the musicians have to take an audition every year to maintain and develop their musical ability. KBS has informed the players that existing KBSSO will be disbanded as from September 1, 2012. If musicians do not sign a transfer agreement for new foundation, KBS has announced to dismiss all players.

The international music world will be watching this dramatic case. Incompetence of conductors and management which jeopardizes orchestral organisations cannot be tolerated. It damages the image and operational basis of symphony orchestras and the dignity of their players.