Exclusive: The RPO gives up on auditions

Exclusive: The RPO gives up on auditions


norman lebrecht

August 30, 2018

We’ve been hearing of a new range of Associate positions being created within the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, a pool of players who can be called on to play when the real RPO players are doing something else.

A colleague of ours  inquired, only to be told ‘As our Associate roles are not full shareholder positions, they are not always advertised.’ Meaning: any musician of any level of competence can put in to be an associate player of the RPO. This statement of policy to an inquiring musician is signed by the RPO’s Digital Marketing Manager, Joseph Woods.

Why are the RPO doing this?

The Arts Council requires a certain percentage of members to appear on stage for all RPO concerts. As members do not want to do regional work in places like Scunthorpe and Lowestoft, the appointment of extra ‘members’ solves the problem.

Back to the bad old days.



  • Bill says:

    Yeah, I don’t for a minute believe that the statement from RPO exec includes your stated meaning! Nor do I think they’ll put just any Tom, Dick, or Harry out on the stage with them.

  • Bruce says:

    I think in the US this is called a “sub list.” But “Associate list” works too. (So would “Affiliated Artist” or whatever name they may want to use.)

    If you’re not on the sub list for an orchestra, then the process is always shady and unfair.

    • Mark Henriksen says:

      So true.

    • Hernando Marquez says:

      This has nothing to do with the ‘sub list’. This is an extra, unauditioned member of each section appointed behind closed doors by the orchestra so that the full members can go and do work elsewhere, or take time off while a core number of RPO players from a paper work perspective still appear to be on stage.

      The sub list will still be needed, but from my understanding the associate members will be given first right of refusal to ALL work in the relevant section. So farewell piccolo, bass clarinet, contra bassoon etc specialists, apparently having one player to be a fill in Principal, 2nd and auxiliary player is how the RPO want to work.

      • Bill says:

        If the RPO as a self-governing organization feels that is what they want to do, so be it. If it ends up having a perceptible negative impact on the quality of their performances, they can always choose different players.

        • Hernando Marquez says:

          As a publicly funded organisation, surely the least we can ask for is clarity and objectivity in appointments. The secretive nature of these appointments gives a suggestion that this is trying to be pushed through out of the public eye and so funding bodies, promoters (who the RPO guarantees a certain percentage of ‘members’ will appear on stage) are not made aware of the fundamental change in the way people are appointed.

          • Andrew Ben Oxley says:

            How many promoters or funders are aware of the nitty gritty detail of the British Orchestra appointment process? Every British orchestra runs a “Trial” process for appointments. Some “trialists” come from audition and some are granted an “automatic trial” on the grounds that their cv not only demonstrates the level they play at but also demonstrates that they would likely be too busy to prepare an audition alongside the busy diary of a British Orchestral Musician.

            Is the appointment process perfect? No.

            Is the appointment of Musicians in the UK without audition unheard of? No. The trial system is the key to British Orchestral appointment and I’ve no doubt that the sections in question undertook lengthy trials before reaching their decisions.

            Nothing new has happened here with these appointments.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Also. It would not really make sense to ask someone to audition if they have regularly subbed for the orchestra. One way into an orchestra is to sub regularly, and then turn it into a permanent appointment.

  • Blyth H. says:

    This story is not true (Again)

    End of story

    The R.P.O is going great guns on all fronts!

    Please double check before posting

    • Hernando Marquez says:

      The RPO is in dissary and this is just more proof. Regional concert after regional concert with D grade conductors and soloists who will never be heard from again. Pops concerts galore to pay the bills and now without a chief conductor for a few years. The apethetic attitude of the players to giving their best was highlighted only last year when the entire orchestra was nearly kicked off a plane in the USA because one of the horn players was so drunk and rude to airline staff!
      Certainly not ‘great guns’.

      • Hornbill says:

        Isn’t Vasily Petrenko heading there? That sounds pretty classy to me.

      • Blyth H says:

        The RPO receives a tiny fraction of the public funding awarded to the other London Orchestras. In return it is seen by more people in britain,than any other orchestra. If that isn’t value for money,I don’t know what is! It’s spends a great deal of time entertaining and reaching out to those with little access to the arts. It has no barriers. The “Pops” concerts you refer to have provided joy to millions over the years. Organisations that don’t receive large government hand outs are harder to run and therefore require the absolute most dedicated players and highly skilled and resourceful staff and management. Huge respect to them! Special things need protecting because they are often attacked the most, the RPO is no exception.

      • Morello says:

        The drunken horn player in question was sacked the following day.

  • Doug says:

    Fake News…….but you read it here first!

  • Misc says:

    I don’t quite understand the assertion that “any musician of any level of competence can put in to be an associate player of the RPO”. The opposite appears to be true: anyone can apply for an advertised job, whereas these associate members would appear to be hand-picked, presumably from amongst the orchestra’s regular deputies.

  • Lawrence Kershaw says:

    Pesky facts, hey; they do insist on ruining a good story. This is beneath you, Norman and you know it.

    • Hernando Marquez says:

      It was only a matter of time until you made some noise for the group your wife is concerts director for Lawrence! What facts are you referring to?

  • Misc says:

    Plus only Slippedisc could frame a London orchestra hiring more musicians as a bad thing

  • Anon backdesk says:

    Associate RPO players are subject to auditions and receive half the benefits accredited to Members. They are essentially First Call to fill any required sections. It is scurrilous to suggest anyone can be a RPO Associate – please check your facts before tarnishing the reputation of this hard working orchestra, who always delivers whatever the conditions! (And airline staff know an orchestra, especially a British one, shall drink a plane dry on a long haul flight!)

  • Tumbleweed says:

    Only slippedisc could reframe the creation of new positions for musicians in a London orchestra so negatively!

    And Norman seems to have got the wrong end of the stick when he says “any musician of any level of competence can put in to be an associate player of the RPO”. From what Mr Woods says it seems to be the other way round: anyone can apply for an advertised job, but these new positions are hand-picked, presumably from the pool of regular freelancers. I can’t reakky see the problem with that.

  • Tamino says:

    Maybe good for the bottomline.
    That‘s all that matters after the race to the bottom has ended on the bottom.
    What about the people?
    Well, too many of them are ignorant and the others are greedy.
    So we get what we deserve and will decline in decadence.
    Make room for more vital cultures.

    • Blyth H. says:

      A few weeks ago the RPO played to six thousand members of the public in a park in Newham. This was a free concert provided by the local council. The diversity of the audience was astonishing. The absolute polar opposite of the concert audience at most London Venues. Children and their Grandparents of all ethnicities were dancing together to Elgar, Puccini etc. It was wonderful display of community togetherness. Surely this is the aim of the Arts in Britain??

      Only Music can do this and the bridge that the RPO builds to welcome all communities into the Classical world is something to be strengthened not attacked! It is exactly what the Arts council is aiming for!

      I really can’t think of anything more “Vital”, profound and needed than that!

      • Hernando Marquez says:

        And for the record, how many members were on stage vs how many freelancers?

        • Bill says:

          How many members of the audience cared? They went to hear some music, and if they enjoyed it, the event was a success. That’s going to be the defining characteristic for most audience members, not the count of left-handed albino contrabassoonists who are full members of the RPO onstage. And I’ll bet the documents submitted in pursuit of getting that funding talk about delivering music to the audience, not about enabling a larger number of musicians to become full members of the RPO.

          • Hernando Marquez says:

            As it turns out, the contra bassoonist was one of the dozens of members of the RPO who were absent that night. I feel if the audience were told it was an ad hoc band, instead of the RPO they were promised, they would have cared, and so would Newham Council who put thousands into supporting such events. It is about being honest with your audience, not treating them like fools.

          • Bill says:

            Hernando, perhaps you could tell us all where the bright line is delineating when the RPO can call itself the RPO and when it cannot. Is one substitute ok? Two? At what point exactly is it no longer the RPO, and why? These players are players chosen by the RPO to be on stage with them, representing their brand, if you will. Undoubtedly they are players with whom they have prior experience or knowledge, because the positions are not being advertised. The pool is being created in advance, so they are not simply making calls to random members of the musicians union asking if they are able to play a gig tomorrow night.

            If the alternative is that no performance is given, I do not see how anyone benefits from insisting that only players who play in 90% of all RPO dates can be utilized (or whatever number seems appropriate).

          • barry guerrero says:

            Right. The music is what matters, period. Why would an audience that does not regularly attend concerts of the full-time London orchestras give the slightest ‘hoot’ about who’s on the roster? Besides, the playing level of freelance musicians in a city like London must be pretty darn high. On top of that, the ‘pops’ discs I’ve heard with the RPO are pretty darn good, in terms of the playing – often times better than what the music deserves. The Beecham days may be over with, but give the RPO a break.

  • Chris Clift says:

    This debate seems to bear out my personal theory that loads of concerts performed ‘in the provinces’ by the ‘first class’ ensembles from the capital, vary in standard according to which selection of performers the orchestra in question chooses, or fancies, to send for the date. Indeed not so long ago I spotted that the very same RPO was billed as playing no fewer than three ‘provincial’ performances on the same evening. Can’t vouch for the RPO membership criteria each group managed to satisfy that evening,

  • Hernando Marquez says:

    Bill, I don’t make the bright line regarding the percentage of members vs extras. That is made by many ensembles themselves in their funding applications, or even in some cases their mission statements. What gets me is that the orchestra are happy to present numerous extra players one day (with sound reason, as they are excellent players) but then turn around the next day and say your extra work is no longer being offered as we have decided to appoint an ‘Associate member’ without audition or due process who will now be offered all extra work. The RPO have admitted that no audition takes place for these posts. With that in mind, the great work the current large pool of extra players do for the group (including the Newham concert where freelancers far out numbered members) is being looked over. My point regarding members vs extras is not due to quality standards (especially as many RPO concerts are put together on a single 3 hour rehearsal, so matter who they employ it will only be so good), it is due to the extras now being overlooked so that the percentage of members on stage can remain high, while full members take time off, in many cases for work with other orchestras. It seems to me like freelancers are being give a raw deal once again, despite being so valuable to the vibrant music scene in London.

    • Noteblower says:

      Hernando, how do you think these Associates were chosen? It seems likely that they have been picked from the first-choice freelancers who were, as is the necessity of orchestral life, doing a lot of work with the orchestra anyway. So nobody has lost out, but the relationship has been formalised, and these freelancers have been guaranteed more work. Seems like a win for everyone – musicians, orchestra, audience.

      You seem to have a very personal grievance on this matter. We’re you perhaps overlooked?

  • Conducting Feminista says:

    RPO will get its act together if they have a woman conductor right now. Women conductors are far superior leaders over their male counterparts and manage orchestras a lot better. Morale will be much higher in every single orchestra under the superior leadership of women.

    • barry guerrero says:

      I agree with you. I think the Concertgebouw should hire Imelda Marcos, Martha Stewart or Ann Coulter. They’d be great.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Why only female conductors. What about also insisting on female players playing pieces by female composers.

  • Olly says:

    OMG. Having read this thread, as a member of a London orchestra, I am sorely tempted to enlighten some of the individuals posting comments here as to the real facts. However what would be the point? We live in an age where people believe whatever”facts” suit them whether they be accurate, completely wrong or somewhere in between. The appointment process in London orchestras is based on extensive trials allowing the process to be democratic. This takes time which is why at any one time, all the orchestras have vacancies. Non of us spent decades mastering our trade so that we could work with Tom, Dick and Harrys who are going to let the side down. The orchestras here in the capital are among the busiest anywhere and while managements operate a fairly strict policy with regard to time off, every orchestra has a small pool of tried, tested and trusted deputies to cover those releases. A small number of deputies does not constitute an “ad hoc” band in the same way that one individual speaking inappropriately does not represent the attitude of a large group of professionals.
    Why am I even reading the comments on this site?
    While often alarmed at how misinformed some people seem to be, I do find it bizarrely entertaining.

    • Weary professional says:

      The reality is that how you play is the very last consideration in appointing someone, or being an extra. How you fit in is given far more importance.

      Wasn’t it RPO caught out by having multiple RPO concerts on the same day?!

      That aside… A few more musicians get a bit of job/security. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.