Cleveland principal viola hands seat to his student

Cleveland principal viola hands seat to his student


norman lebrecht

June 27, 2016

Wesley Collins has been named principal viola of the Cleveland Orchestra from September.

He succeeds his Cleveland Institute of Music teacher Robert Vernon, who is retiring after 40 years, the longest tenure of any string principal in the Orchestra’s history.

Wesley has been playing in the Boston Symphony for the past four years.

wesley collins


  • Jackie says:

    I was a participant at the initial audition for this position, in October 2015. 25-30 players were invited to the preliminary round, 11 including myself passed on to the semifinal round… but not really.

    They started calling us on the phone about an hour before the second round was supposed to take place. Most of us were having lunch or were far away. We were told to “come back immediately” and perform again, because “the Music Director had decided this many semifinalists is too many”. We played again. There was no time or place to warm up, as “playing backstage would be heard in the hall”. This time, everybody was cut.

    The semifinal round contained three members of the Cleveland Orchestra only (all students of the now former Principal), who were advanced automatically. They thus had no outside competition. None advanced to the finals, however. As we can see in the above post, a student of the former Principal did ultimately get the position – apparently in a private audition for the MD – just not from the CO itself.

    • Patrick says:

      Look on the bright side. At least you don’t have to live in Cleveland.

    • bratschegirl says:

      Jackie – wow. I don’t know what to say, other than that if this is an accurate representation of events, it stinks to high heaven, and I’m really sorry that you and the others invited to the audition were treated so shamefully.

      I don’t intend to cast any aspersions on Mr Collins himself; if he’s a Vernon student and won a seat in Boston he is obviously a fine violist. But if this is what actually happened, it was a shell game and not an audition.

    • Catherine says:

      Thanks for the post, Jackie. it’s important the public knows the back story.

  • WokeViolist says:

    Every violist in the Cleveland Orchestra, less one, is a previous student of Robert Vernon.

    I’m sure it was a just and fair audition process…

  • Anders Lindgren says:

    Just perfect. Can’t help loving it. Tradition. Perseverance. Quality. Best news today !


    The “Cleveland Way” continues…

  • Tim Zenobia says:

    Typical politics. Simliar to cheating, really.
    If the student was deserving of the position, then he could have advanced from the premilinaries based on talent. The account above suggests he did not possess such talent.

    Sounds, rather similar to how POTUS gets elected.

  • Ross says:

    So according to my Google search, this fellow is the 3rd chair viola of some orchestra in a remote city named Boston.

  • Respect says:

    There are two brothers named Dumm in the orchestra, sons of Thomas Dumm, associate principal viola under Szell. Neither had a pass in, but the distinct advantage of an education that tailored their sound and preferences to the orchestra. One stuffed with Gingold, Szell’s concertmaster. Superb players, with the Cleveland sound (transparent, elegant, never harsh). In other words, although I’m sure it’s frustrating to very fine players who want to be part of this magnificent orchestra, your chances are lessened. It’s not a closed shop, but it’s difficult. Blame Szell……

    • Ross says:

      He “stuffed with Gingold”?
      Stuffed what? A turkey?

    • MacroV says:

      Cleveland’s “all in the family” process is fairly well-known and sort of accepted. But to run an audition the way described in the first post is simply unprofessional, if not downright unethical. You don’t treat what must have been a Who’s Who of the viola world in such a manner. And if you know who you want to hire, then spare everyone the time and expense of a pretense of a real audition.

      • Bruce says:

        They did that back in 1990 with the principal flute job (and ended up with a fabulous principal flutist). If they could do it then, I don’t see why they couldn’t do it again. Maybe the rules have changed.

  • Laura Solomon says:

    So that confirms that orchestras do not have the best musicians.

  • Rebecca says:

    I have personally heard Wes play (he used to go to my church before I started attending & has come back to play since moving on) he is an outstanding musician!

  • NYMike says:

    This smacks of the Preucil violin dynasty. Both Curtis and Juilliard have outstanding viola pedagogy turning out topnotch violists including Philadelphia Orchestra, Berlin Phil and now LA Phil principals in addition to a wonderful violist addition to Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society.

    This is just the usual Cleveland inbreeding…..

    • Mary says:

      Excuse me, does the Philadelphia Orchestra not have the exact same story you are criticizing the Cleveland Orchestra for? Every single current member of the section including the principal studied with Joseph dePasquale. Does that not “smack” of a dynasty to you? There are clearly “dynasties” everywhere.

  • Larry W says:

    So much ignorance and jealousy! Let’s start with the headline “Cleveland Principal Viola Hands Seat to His Student.” Not insightful, but deliberately inciteful. Bob wasn’t allowed to vote let alone personally choose his successor. And, if 11 violas didn’t advance to the finals, they didn’t qualify. Anyone who complains about audition conditions or standards must have just graduated from school. Of course any current member of the viola section automatically advanced. That’s in their contract. And, they’re good. That’s why they play in the Cleveland Orchestra. To say Wes had no outside competition is totally false. There was another candidate who was in the running, but the ultimate vote went to Wes. He will have a whole well-trained section behind him, guiding and supporting him when needed. Bob Vernon is the most successful viola teacher in history. It would be impossible to hold an audition without his students playing. Now, stop complaining and go practice your scales if you want to get better!

    • ILikeHonesty says:

      The question is, did Wes have to play for a full committee of musicians and be compared along side other violist? From what I heard he didn’t. Iay have heard wrongly though. As I understood: there was a second invitee only audition in which 2 or more made it to the finals. Of these violists, Eric Nowlin was chosen, then told there was still one more violist to be heard at a later date. At which point Wes auditioned later on his own and hired him.

      My questions are:

      1. Did Wes have an audition on a separate date from the others of the invite only audition.

      2. Did Wes audition for the same committee as the other auditionees as the first audition in September and/or the invite only audition in the spring?

      3. Did he participate in the first audition in September 2015. If not, why not?

      4. Why were auditionees called back from lunch and expected to play with no warning at the first audition in September 2015. For such major position there was no ability to let them have lunch as promised and come in ready to play? It seems closer to a kangaroo court than an audition.

      While Cleveland orchestra can certainly hire who they want, if people are going to come in and claim those who didn’t win just didn’t play as well and should practice there scales more, then perhaps it should be easy to give honest straight answers about what is seemingly a rigged process. Answer the questions , show us the process was fair, or don’t come in here and shill.

      • Larry W says:

        I like honesty, too. You have many questions, but no answers. For Jackie to claim Wes played a private audition suggests that no one else played. You have shown that was not the case, since Eric Nowlin did. I did say there was another candidate who was in the running. Congratulations to Eric for being considered. Unless you can show the process was NOT fair or a rigged process, you are the shill. There are many who complain about the audition process. None of those actually got the job.

        • Ilikehonesty says:


          Are you in the Cleveland orchestra or staff? Do you or have you ever received pay from them at all?

          Why can’t you answer if Wes played for a committee or the director privately? Is it because you don’t know or you don’t want to say? Please answer.

          If Cleveland just said Collins was appointed by the MD without an audition, we’d get over it. But it appears by this and other reports on the Internet this particular audition was not held in good faith. I’m a principal of an orchestra, I know how these work sometimes. but I also admit how easy innuendo can be thrown around. I wasn’t at this audition, but I know several who were, and by all accounts it was rigged. So answer the questions or explain (without the current obfuscation) why you cannot. If you have an honest fair answer, I for one will gladly acknowledge it. Right now the coverup (by the orchestra and you) looks worse than the crime.

          • Larry W says:

            If you like honesty, begin by using your real first name, at least.
            No, I am not in the Cleveland Orchestra. I know most of the section and Bob personally. Not one of them mentioned anything irregular with this audition. They are pleased with the outcome.
            Everyone wants the highest standards for that, perhaps the finest American orchestra.
            No, I was not there, but I trust the outcome of any viola audition in Cleveland.
            You cannot say I am part of any coverup, so don’t go there.
            For which orchestra do you play principal viola? Please answer.

          • ILIKEHONESTY says:


            Thanks for the answer, although not complete. Since there were and still are unanswered questions regarding the unprofessionality of the initial audition coupled with all players (except 1) in the section being former Vernon students, it’s natural to ask why one of his former students was handpicked, skipping the first two auditions. Apparently the section is happy, so I guess that’s positive…

            Your need to out me is questionable at best. The relevance of my inquiries certainly do not depend on my first name and my orchestral affiliation. If the Cleveland Orchestra audition process is beyond public scrutiny, they should cease public AFM audition ads and public announcements of winners. Since they haven’t done this, then it’s fair game to ask questions, no matter my name.

          • Larry W says:

            ILIKEHONESTY, you demand answers to questions yet fail to provide your own. Nothing was incomplete. Your lack of integrity is making itself evident as you write only in the shadows of anonymity. No wonder you want to stay hidden. You are an unprincipled principal.

          • ILIKEHONESTY says:


            Do some light reading when you aren’t busy chasing your tail.

          • Larry W says:

            You’re the one chasing your tale. Give it up.

          • ILIKEHONESTY says:

            Ouch, good one!

    • Charles says:

      Bravo, Larry, you tell ’em!

    • MacroV says:

      According to the first post, the CO held an open audition which presumably had a preannounced structure and schedule: preliminary, semifinals, final – and maybe they’ll pick a winner. What then seemed to happen was that they had a preliminary as per the plan and cut it down to 11 people for a semifinal. Those 11 were presumably comprised largely of highly qualified players from other orchestras – that’s the assumption when you pass a preliminary round. Then, the MD finding that too many, with little notice they inserted a pre-semifinal round to narrow the field. Not unreasonable in itself, but they apparently gave the semifinalists no notice, provided unsuitable conditions, and gave them all a very limited opportunity (two excerpts each) to show themselves. Which suggests they weren’t all that serious about finding people to advance to the final, a conclusion buttressed by the fact that they eliminated them all, a statistical improbability given the quality of the field you could expect at such an audition.

      Of course Robert Vernon is a successful teacher and you’d expect his students at such an audition. And Wes Collins is surely a fine player who by virtue of his BSO job showed he could win a big audition. I haven’t seen anyone here suggest he wasn’t a good choice. To dismiss the complaints about the process as mere jealousy and with “go practice your scales” is to miss the essential point of this discussion – the process – not to mention highly disrespectful to the well-qualified people who went through it.

      • Larry W says:

        Macrov, my post was largely directed at “Jackie.” First, you assume that her account is entirely accurate. Since neither you or I were there, perhaps it should be confirmed by the other 10. Second, you assume I am not respecting those 11 qualified candidates. Having played many auditions, I am quite respectful of the audition process. You should read where I wrote that the members of the Cleveland Orchestra who auditioned already successfully went through that process. I think your concern about respect is misplaced given your post above about the Cleveland Orchestra. And, I disagree that my suggestion to practice scales misses the point of the discussion. That is integral to all successful playing and helps develop musical honesty and clarity of thought. You should try it.

        • MacroV says:

          If you appreciate clarity of thought, best not to confuse two distinct issues: 1) The audition process that Jackie experienced and contends was unfair and 2) the outcome. Your comment that Jackie should “go practice scales” is to dismiss her complaint as “you’re just upset that you didn’t win.”

          Most people who apply for a job – in any profession – understand that only one person will get it, and it will probably be someone else. What they seek when they go to the time, trouble and expense of applying is to be considered on the same basis as the other candidates and conditions to show themselves at their best. The process described by Jackie seems to fail that test.

          • Larry W says:

            No confusion here. “Described by Jackie” and has yet to be confirmed by any other candidate. Until then, I see all complaints here as simple carping or jealousy. Musicians make sport of second-guessing audition results, no matter the outcome, and many are tired of it. My suggestion to practice scales (a good idea that seems to have received quite a bit of attention) was not directed solely to Jackie, who must be a fine player to have reached the semi-finals. It was meant for those who find something wrong with every audition and whose time would be better spent practicing. Macrov, why not try that instead of posting insults about the Cleveland Orchestra?

          • ILIKEHONESTY says:


            2 violist complain about the audition with the same experience, last fall. Maybe one was Jackie, maybe not (so that leaves you with 2-3 witnesses). You then have someone who auditioned for asst. Concertmaster with same experience.

          • Larry W says:

            This is better reading than your previous offering. The description by AnonymousViolist666 sounds exactly like Jackie. Tarnhelm44 is the other violist. He sounds less bitter. While the inserted round of auditions sounds like it was less than ideal (some would say fair), no one knows for sure why it happened that way. These two said they had no time to eat or warm up. At other auditions people say they had to wait around or they were too nervous to eat. Most likely, the MD didn’t want his day extended and told them to speed things up. The audition process is far from perfect, so it is easy to find fault. In the case of Cleveland, Bob was not permitted to be involved. That has turned out to be fortunate given all the accusations. Time to move on.

          • ILIKEHONESTY says:

            Well you haven’t ofered anything other than to dismiss 3 complaints about the process as “nothing to see here” and evade questions with ad hominum attacks.

            You honestly think it’s fair to call people from lunch early to come play and not warm up before their time? Be serious. I participated in 40+ auditions advance, won, lost all sorts of things. I’ve sat on committees, negotiated audtion rules in contracts. This is not standard operating procedure.

            You haven’t addressed if the winner only played for the MD or a full committee. You’ve just told people to practice more, as if talent and ability are the only part of the audition.

            Its troubling because we honestly all know most auditions are ran as fairly as possible, but some are shams. Instead of addressing the actual concerns you dismiss them and tell everyone its in their head (gas lighting) then you attack peoples character as a way to attack their logic (ad hominum). All sorts of logical fallacies. Good luck.

          • Larry W says:

            I have not dismissed anything, I just can’t validate your negative views. And I can’t answer questions about which I have no direct knowledge, and your attacking me will not provide an answer. Why don’t you answer the question of who you are and stand openly for what you believe? Be brave.

  • Micky K says:

    Congratulations to Mr. Collins, and I’m sure he’ll make a strong leader.
    From a professional standpoint, I’d like to add something that hasn’t been mentioned. Quite a few otherwise qualified violists (major competition laureates, performers with management) were interested in applying yet didn’t (at least the ones I and my colleagues know) because the odds of being accepted into the Cleveland Orchestra viola section have been historically stacked against an outsider.
    As has been noted in one way or another, every violist, with the exception of one, has been a student of Robert Vernon’s…every winner since around 1990 and every winner for the decade or so before 1988/1989 (about).
    The viola section boasts some excellent players, including a viola-disc Grammy Award winner, and quite a few in-demand teachers. Vernon’s command of the excerpt language goes beyond “talking about” excerpts–he has an explanation for every placement of the bow, every fingering, and every single musical detail…literally, and that is his strength; a fuss-free, direct and efficient approach to learning how to play the viola and win a job. Of course, his students don’t always win jobs, and they seem to be mostly concentrated in the US, but he has been a consistent producer of fine orchestral players as is evidenced by his unmatched track record.
    The string section of Cleveland is very homogenous, and has been increasingly so over the past few decades. it shouldn’t really be a surprise that the desired candidate would meet the expectations, technically and stylistically, of really any ensemble. Philadelphia strings, for example, have a distinct sound too…how many of Vernon’s students play in that section? I could be wrong, but I don’t think any, and same goes for quite a few other orchestras (most recent Chicago winners were not his students either, as far as I have heard).
    In any case, Mr. Collins has already proven himself a strong section player and leader in Boston, this is just his next step

    • John McLaughlin Williams says:

      The member of the Cleveland Orchestra viola section who has received two Grammy nominations is Eliesha Nelson.

  • bratschegirl says:

    To LarryW: “Jackie” never said anything that could be read by any reasonable person as “because I didn’t win, this audition was unfair and rigged.” I read it as “The extent to which the policies and procedures governing this audition seemed to be getting made up on the spot was completely ridiculous, and that left a very bad taste in the mouths of all of us who took part.”

    I’ve participated in numerous professional orchestra auditions in my 30+ years in the business, including some for major orchestras. I’ve never once encountered a situation where the announced time for a round was suddenly moved earlier and candidates were called back from a break, much less then expected to perform with no warmup time or space whatsoever. That’s completely outside the bounds of normal practice, and it’s in violation of the Code of Ethical Audition Practices agreed to by ICSOM, the AFM, and MOMC, the Major Orchestra Managers’ Conference.

    I’ve also never encountered an American orchestra of any size whose CBA allowed for any position apart from Concertmaster to be filled outside the arena of a publicly advertised national audition. Private auditions, with no committee of orchestra musicians, no union steward, and none of the other conditions specified in any professional orchestra’s contract, are exactly the sort of thing that the musicians’ union was formed to oppose and work to remove from the business.

    I’m the first to acknowledge that there are multiple problems with the audition process. And as I said in my very first comment, obviously Mr. Collins is a fine violist given his professional credentials. No one here, including myself and “Jackie,” has said that they don’t consider him qualified for the position. But the Cleveland Orchestra failed to meet any reasonable standard of professional and ethical conduct of auditions here, and they should expect to be taken to task for it.

    • Larry W says:

      To bratchegirl: Jackie doesn’t say she should have gotten the job, and I didn’t say she did, either. She states she did “not really” pass on to the semifinal round (it was an intermediate round) and gave several reasons why she didn’t or couldn’t play her best. She did not advance to the semis, and neither did the others. She then says three CO members were advanced to the semifinals with no outside competition, seemingly by design. She then says the winner “apparently” played a private audition for the MD. She specifically mentions that all four were students of Bob Vernon, inferring that there was favoritism. All of which is an attempt to show the audition was unfair and rigged. I am told it is unreasonable to see that is what was said.

      Bratchegirl, you said, “if this is an accurate representation it stinks to high heaven” and, “If this is what actually happened, it was a shell game and not an audition.” You claim that you have not said that Wes is not qualified, but you have criticized how he auditioned and was hired. All without having first-hand knowledge of the facts. I suppose you think that’s reasonable.

      If “the Cleveland Orchestra should expect to be taken to task for failing to meet any reasonable standard of professional and ethical conduct of auditions,” those affected, including Jackie, should file a complaint with ICSOM, the AFM, or MOMC, or whatever entity deals with these issues. Posting anonymous comments on a public website does nothing more than cast aspersions and denigrate the profession.

      People are free to choose not to audition for the Cleveland Orchestra, which will just have to limp along without their participation.

      • bratschegirl says:

        This has long since passed into the realm of beating a dead horse, but I think your insinuations require answering. First, there is no conflict whatsoever inherent in my saying that, while the process was flawed, I assume that Mr. Collins is eminently qualified for the chair. A flawed process can yield a satisfactory result, just as a process that goes entirely according to plan can sometimes yield a bad one. Mr. Vernon is a legendary violist and teacher, and his students have excellent track records; if Mr. Collins won a Boston Symphony audition he is obviously an extremely fine violist, and even more so if the MD of Cleveland chose to offer him this principal chair. But that he is well qualified has no bearing on whether the audition Jackie took part in was conducted appropriately.

        According to Jackie, on the day of the audition the CO told those 11 candidates that they had been advanced to the semifinal round and they should be back at X time to take part in it. Then, the MD let it be known that he didn’t want to hear that many people. This required calling all the candidates back immediately for a hurried, not previously scheduled round in which nobody had any warmup time or space. That’s unreasonable by any professional standard of how to hold an audition, including the Code of Ethics that I referred to earlier, and I do indeed think it stinks. It’s also not in the best interest of the orchestra, because there could easily have been someone among those 11 who wasn’t already known to the MD who he might have wound up preferring.

        While the subsequent private auditions that were held apparently do not violate the CO’s contract, it’s a system that inherently puts everyone who does take part in the initial advertised, formal audition at a huge disadvantage. There’s no incentive for the highest-level candidates to take part, because they can expect to be invited to play privately later. There’s no incentive for the MD to hire anyone from the advertised, formal audition, despite how well anyone performs, because there’s every reason for him to assume that some top potential candidates will have chosen not to participate and he can hand-pick those he particularly wants to hear privately. Those candidates who are heard privately are playing under much more favorable circumstances that those in even the best-run audition. When this happens, the advertised audition is largely window dressing, and those candidates who take part in it have for the most part wasted the time and money invested in the venture, and that also stinks.

        • Larry W says:

          Dear bratchegirl, with all due respect, any insinuations were yours, not mine. Regarding unconventional auditions, years ago I was one of three invited to audition for the New York Phil principal viola spot after they didn’t find any applicants to their liking. For various reasons (including a car accident), I did not play my best. It would be easy to make a reason an excuse, something I try not to do, and wish others would consider.

          Isabel Trautwein has very thoughtfully and clearly explained the audition process for this position. We should all thank her for that. Being a violinist, she was the ideal person to do so.

          As you say, the horse is dead. Better to beat it instead of beat it. Goodbye and good luck. (door closes quietly)

  • Bruce says:

    With all the back-and-forth going on here, I can’t help but notice how often Cleveland Orchestra auditions attract this kind of controversy. The New York Phil. and Philadelphia Orchestra (among many others) routinely hire students or former students of their principals, but somehow they seem to run their auditions in a way that doesn’t attract this kind of response. Hmm.

  • monkeymusic says:

    All of the negativity above needs to be directed to audition process of Cleveland, and frankly, audition processes of ALL of the major orchestras.
    In all orchestra auditions, players have been invited directly to later rounds of an audition depending on their experience and position; other orchestras also have music directors who carry a lot of weight in decision-making; MANY orchestras have formers students playing in their respective workplaces; screens, no screens; tapes, no tapes; many orchestras have seemingly-strange audition schedules and numbers-of-rounds to get to the end (often with no-hires by the way); and the list goes on…

    –Nothing was “handed” to anyone, as an audition was played and won by Mr. Collins.
    –Mr. Collins brings credited experience both as a section player and as a section leader. He now has the upcoming season to further prove and share this with his new group of colleagues.
    Good Luck to Mr. Collins. CO is lucky to have such a wonderful musician and human being as a new member!

  • Isabel Trautwein says:

    Hi, I am a member of the Cleveland Orchestra. Personally, I very much look forward to meeting Mr. Collins. Obviously, he won a big and difficult audition before winning this one. (Btw, a large number of the Boston symphony violists are Bob Vernon students!)
    And to the comment that there are many fine violists at the Juilliard school, I’d like to say that Bob Vernon is also on faculty there. As a teacher, he has an outstanding track record with job placements.
    I can also confirm that Bob was not present at Wes’s audition and that there were other orchestra members listening to this private audition together with the music director. Our contract here states, that after a national audition has been held without a hire, the music director can hire someone through a private audition. Yes, this might seem old-fashioned, but that’s the way it is here and it seems to have worked for a long time. I will also say, that in my 14 years here hiring by private audition has only happened one other time.

    Also, for those stating that all the positions here go to insiders only, I can say that I did not study with any of the orchestra members here and still was hired. I did go to CIM but my teacher there was Donald Weilerstein. There are five Weilerstein students in the section here, none of which studied with Cleveland Orchestra members.
    The conductor here does have a lot more say than other orchestras as the final decision is not done by a vote but simply by the music director choosing who he wants. I think that’s has positive and negative sides, but the quality of the orchestra is high and perhaps that concentration of power at the top (which certainly appears old-fashioned these days ) is a contributing factor? It’s hard to know without switching to another method for the next 25 years which will probably not happen.
    That said, I feel very lucky to be in this orchestra. The music-making with colleagues who care so much is a privilege. I hope that everyone who wishes to audition for this orchestra will feel encouraged and know: many musicians that neither attended CIM nor studied with Cleveland orchestra members are on stage. In fact, both of our associate concertmasters and our new assistant concertmaster are all wonderful examples of this kind of hire, all within the last few years.

  • Lliwami says:

    I know for a fact that Robert Vernon was forbidden from having any say in the audition process. The music director also has a trump-all vote, and the new principal was hired on the spot by him. Robert Vernon has students in every major orchestra–they win jobs. Amazing how the unsuccessful cry foul play so consistently.

    All hail the greatest orchestra in the world, and congratulations Mr. Collins!