The chief classical music critic for the New York Times joined the chorus of mainstream news organizations in the call for a racial reckoning in symphony halls across the U.S. and said one way to fight the lack of minority musicians in orchestras is by ending the practice of “blind auditions.”
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Anthony Tommasini, the famed writer, wrote that these auditions once proved beneficial when it came to hiring more women. He said they “changed the face of American orchestras. But not enough.”
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The Times’ report comes after the Washington Post ran an article titled, “That Sound You’re Hearing is Classical Music’s Long Overdue Reckoning With Racism,” which argues that black musicians make up about 1.8 percent of these ensembles. The report said the League of American Orchestras posted on its website that there is an “urgent need for White people and predominantly White organizations to do the work of uprooting this racism.”
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Tommasini wrote that the current system is clearly not working and ruled that these auditions, where the musician is not visible, are contributing to the problem. He contends that on the surface, these auditions “are based on an appealing premise of pure meritocracy.” But he went further to state that the difference between the best musicians is generally remarkably slim. He wrote, “a typical orchestral audition might end up attracting dozens of people who are essentially indistinguishable in their musicianship and technique.”
Tommasini did stress that orchestras should be comprised of the best players.
What the critic fails to answer in his column is what exactly the audition should look like and how candidates (who all sound the same anyway!) are selected. He also did not mention what percentage of an orchestra should be represented by minority performers.
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His article did point to other ways to reach the minority community and mentioned that he spoke to those in the field say fostering these performers at a young age could pay dividends in the future.
He spoke to one leader who mentioned that dozens of minority children were selected to join a competitive summer program and said many will be ready to try out for top-tier auditions in the near future.