When an orchestra rejects you after trial

The experience of flautist Hélène Boulègue will resonate with many readers. She has authorised Slipped Disc to circulate this post.

It is with regret that I have to announce I am leaving Stuttgart and the SWR Symphonieorchester at the end of this month. As many of you might have known, I was on trial this whole past year, and in the end things didn’t work out between the orchestra and me. I won’t lie, this isn’t the result I was hoping for, and finding out I am not what the orchestra was looking for did hurt quite a bit. It still does.
On the other hand, I am going back to Luxembourg, and to its wonderful and very warm orchestra, where I spent the last eight years of my life, and which I call home. I am lucky that I could keep my job open in case I didn’t pass probation, and I am very grateful to go back to the place where I have spent some of the best years of my life.

This is a weird mixture of feelings I have been living with the past few weeks. I am sad, regretful, and yet relieved that this time of not knowing is over. I am exhausted and weak, yet the anger of not being enough fuels me with the energy and the will to be already planning for the next step.
I’ll be honest: despite my past achievements and victories, this major setback has made me feel like a failure. I am past the worst of it, I think, but this awful sensation of spiraling down sometimes comes back and takes me unaware. It is a reminder. A reminder that no matter who you are and what you’ve done in the past, as an artist (or should I say as a human being?) you will always have to question yourself. There will be no respite from yourself. As soon as you think you arrived at a point you wanted to reach, there will be something to show you all the ways you still have to improve and work on yourself.
Failing hurts. Not being enough hurts. It hurts all the more because as musicians, we pour all our hearts and souls into what we are doing. Then a failure feels like a rejection of our entire being. That’s how I felt at first.
Thankfully I know better now.
Here is what I think.
Failure doesn’t define you. In fact, failing doesn’t define you any more than winning does.
Winning the Kobe Competition in 2017 didn’t define me, just as not passing trial at the SWR doesn’t define me. What you do of achievements and setbacks is what defines you. You chose what you do of victories and losses, and only you can define who and what you are.
Winning Kobe means a lot and says a lot. But it doesn’t define me, because as a person, I am so much more than just a prize. Deciding to record the complete flute works of André Jolivet and going through with it in just one and a half year, in the middle of moving, having a new job in a new country and being on trial, this defines me.
Not passing trial and still deciding to go through the end of my contract even if I knew it would be one of the hardest things I had ever done, this defines me.
Our choices define us, not results that are out of our hands. We decide what we are.
I might not be Principal at the SWR anymore at the end of next week, but I will be a better person for it in the end, because I will decide to take it as the opportunity to become a better musician.

I will forever be grateful to my colleagues of the SWR, who have been so friendly to me until the very end, and who taught me so very much! I had one tough year, but it was also a wonderful time! I won’t ever forget the warm welcome and this few months together. And above all I will remember the music I had the chance to be part of. For now, I’m moving to Luxembourg tomorrow, and then coming back to play my last week with the SWR. I will enjoy every moment of it, take the experience and music in, then our ways will part. And there will be no anger, no ill will and no bitterness. Just the sorrow of leave-taking and the smell of new beginnings.


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  • This is tough situation for Helene, it sounds to me like she’s dealing with it in a responsible manner. Best wishes to you in the future.

  • Very poetically said. I’m sure this can resonate with thousands of others. Stuttgart is losing someone precious, but you will find a better place.

  • Dear Ms. Boulègue,
    Thank you for articulating so beautifully something that everyone, in any walk of life, should remember and live by. I will forward the link to your statement to several younger colleagues of mine; they will benefit from your experiences and views and doubtless make them part of their “arsenals” as their careers progress.
    I look forward to hearing your Jolivet recordings!
    Thanks, and my very best regards to you.

  • Really??? You had a “placeholder” at your other job and now you want sympathy?
    Sorry it didn’t work out. I can only imagine that no one except for your friends and family care.

    Norm, what was the point of this?

  • Well, at least she realizes that this is not personal. After all it’s just a job, sometimes people dream awake about their careers and get frustrated with no reason. Good luck to her in Luxembourg.

  • Can’t decide whether this system of quick answers to audition then 1 year trial which could fail is worse or better than the British system of trials for a few over a year or 2 but then no probation. Treat every experience as a learning opportunity…learning about yourself. You have not failed anything…just have been given to move on again. Would you really be happy working with others who for what ever reason have a problem? Be strong and celebrate the next bit of your journey.

  • “…smell of new beginnings”? I can only guess what the ending smelled like to her. She has an admirable amount of courage and confidence finishing out her time there.

  • Mr. Lebrecht, You immediately mention the woman in the SWR Symphony gave you the ok to publish the above. Why didn’t you ask this authorization question of the woman who didn’t get tenure in the Vienna State Opera?

    I await your response.

    Mike McGuire

      • Are you going to run maudlin sob story columns on rejected musicians lacking any personal
        dignity.Thousands of people are hired and fired
        daily and get along with life as best they can. To
        serve up this drivel as important is a bit much .

        • I absolutely agree. However, the sob story is worth many, many “views and clicks.” Fritz Kreisler was rejected by the Vienna Philharmonic when he was starting out and he didn’t write a little story like this one for the whole world to see. Managers will feel sorry for this lady and then they will avoid her for being so pathetic. On the other hand, maybe she did it in order to promote her new recording. Who knows.

    • All kinds of things happen week in, week out, in all professions. People get jobs, people lose jobs; people get married, people get divorced; people have children; people die of cancer, people survive cancer; people’s birthdays are celebrated or ignored; opera singers & conductors cancel or step in for each other; and on and on.

      If you want to look at it from a certain point of view, nothing is news and nothing is worth reading about. Everything is a non-story… including your comment.

    • So…this is not entirely true. Yes, people lose their jobs—don’t get tenure etc etc…but the life of a professional musician and orchestral one at that is an extremely intense process to even be considered for an audition for university let alone a professional orchestra job. Furthermore, being a professional flutist is much like being a singer….every breath is uber important for not only your tone but the emotion that is felt through your whole body when you produce that sound. Helene is probably one of the best flutists alive…flutists they say are a dime a dozen; have you noticed that there are only two and at most four professional flutists in orchestras? It is the most competitive orchestral instrument. She for sure worked her tail off to where she got and is probably one of the best musicians in Europe. It’s NOT the same as other professions. None of the orchestral musicians in the world got to where they are without thousands of dollars spent on lessons, school, instruments and practice time in 3×5 feet rooms practicing for years in school. So; have some respect!

      • How can one have respect for this
        maudlin display in the lack of dignity.So she didn’t get hired….big deal.

      • “there are only two and at most four professional flutists in orchestras? It is the most competitive orchestral instrument.”
        – Not quite; that would be the tuba …

  • Although it was more likely to be a decision based on style and taste given your background, any audition loss feels like a rejection of you as a person or as a shameful failure in one of the essentials of music making.

    This is greatly compounded by the duration of the trial, bringing the emotional weight from that of not having a second date to more like a divorce.

    I wish for you that Luxembourg’s obvious hope that you would return would be the harbinger of a happy and cherished role as one of the honored mainstays of a musical community. Cherish those people that waited for you and wanted you back.

  • “Life is full of pain and suffering”: the Buddha.

    You still have a job and place to go to. Be grateful. Work to improve the situation for others.

  • Very nicely written. Besides being a great musician, Helene writes so well and articulated the ups and dows of a musicians path. Brava!

    Nowadays, it’s a 50/50 ( or bigger ) chance of not passing the trial year in Europe as a principal flutist. Funky times for being a flute player.

  • Why do such blogs /writings come across as washing one’s linen in public. People lose jobs all the time. Such writing is of little educational value to anyone freelancing. Feels like millennial oversharing.

    • “Why do such blogs /writings come across as washing one’s linen in public.”

      Because you choose to see them that way.

  • Very beautiful and poignant, especially considering the German “Probejahr culture” where such open expression is typically frowned upon. Well done and best wishes for the future, Hélène!

  • After its fusion with the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden&Freiburg, the SWR Stuttgart is one of the bizzarest ensembles in Europe. It has, for example, 9 trombonists, most all of them relatively young so they won’t be retiring for years. Each one plays about once a month, or close to that. 11 horns. 6 trumpets. And so on. I suspect this dissipation creates artistic issues.

    Hélène’s comment sounds a bit like sour grapes to me. In my jaundiced view, any liberation from orchestras and their herd-like mindset that leads to leaving them behind for more creative forms of music-making would be the true victory. I hope she continues to find her way.

  • ==I am lucky that I could keep my job open in case I didn’t pass probation,

    She is unbelievably lucky !! I don’t have too much sympathy for her ‘problems’

  • I think it is wonderful that someone has come out and said how it feels when such things happen. It can absolutely destroy someone’s confidence when probations and trials are failed. Players can be led on and also treated appallingly.

    Care should be taken of those that fail their trials and probation years.

  • This should be required reading for anyone considering an orchestral career. It says a lot about how capricious and illogical it can be trying to win an orch. job. If you beat the odds and actually win an audition, often you have to prove yourself again during a trial.

    It also says a lot about the value of competitions. The Kobe, which Miss Boulegue won, is one of the world’s top flute competitions. You have to be amazing to win or even place in the finals. She is all that.

    What good are competitions if you can’t go out and earn a living at what you do? There isn’t a lot of room for flutists to make a living as soloists. Even Emmanuel Pahud keeps his day job in Berlin. If winning the Kobe doesn’t qualify one to play in an orchestra, what exactly is it good for?

    In summary, every single university or conservatory flute professor who makes it their mission to accept and churn out flute players on the false premise of being able to make a living at it, should be reading this article and sharing it.

    I am sick of these “professors” who are so pompous and authoritative on social media who have no clue about the orchestral or competition world, and who are encouraging young flutists who are not aware of how the profession works or how little chance they have of ever making a living. These teachers are feeding their own egos, not serving the profession or their students. They need to be reading this. They need to understand that even if you are good enough to win the Kobe, you may not be able to win an orch. job.

    Brava to Helen for her wisdom and honesty.

  • It’s great that you have a good place to land.

    It’s too bad you can’t get more specific feedback as to what the reasons were. It might be useful going forward.

    Of course it would have been better if they could have clued you in to perceived shortcomings earlier, before it became a reason to reject you.

  • What a very sad, situation. But it sounds like she will overcome this tragedy and get on with her life. A very inspiring story of hope!

  • I wonder if the “shut up and quit whining” crowd ever read as far as where she says:

    “That’s how I felt at first.
    Thankfully I know better now.”

    It doesn’t seem like some readers realize this is actually an article about dealing with adversity & defeat, and learning how to come through it stronger & wiser.

  • it’s very easy to say, “people not pass trials happens many times a year. this is a non-story.” The issue becomes, fantastic musicians win auditions, but the musicians in the orchestra have to choose to play together with those musicians and vice versa. When that doesn’t happen, trials are failed. How to accept this in a healthy way and move on in your career is very well articulated in this article. So I found it very informative. I read in responses, “it’s not personal” but the truth is, it is personal. it’s connected, the playing to the personality. Those other colleagues don’t want to play with you and they don’t like her. It’s painful, but it happens. It’s good not to have your self worth be dependant on those few peoples opinions. The truth is, professional orchestras are full of assholes and terrible musicians that stopped practicing years ago. But yet they are holding all the keys to the kingdom. Who’s to say they are proper judges for this?

    • Yes. It’s a relationship thing — although it’s not always necessarily a matter of “A is wonderful and B is terrible.”

      Sometimes it is, but probably we’ve all known couples comprised of two perfectly lovely people who just were not a good fit.

      The same thing happens between conductors and orchestras. As I recall, Dohnanyi and Boston did not hit it off back in the 90s, for example: does it mean either one of them is terrible?

      Also: sometimes it’s the conductor. I don’t know how it works in Germany, but in the US, the music director normally has final say over who is hired, who is fired, and who passes or fails their probation period.

  • What a great attitude – you sound really grounded, and you display a great deal of class here. For whatever reason, this was not the right fit for you – there will be plenty of other opportunities, and you will be much happier when you find the right one. Wherever it is, they will be lucky to have you.

  • Although I am not at all sympathetic to her cause, I don’t exactly know why. I think she’s going from a second tier orchestra back to a third tier orchestra. I don’t see the point of crying over something like that. My little compositions are rejected by publishers and orchestras and soloists all the time. So what? Maybe my music is not as good as I think it is.

  • And ” new beginnings ” are exactly what it will be.

    ONWARDS and always upwards.

    And above all, enjoy.

    And above all

  • Being an orchestra musician myself, I feel like we, musicians, should organize a website on which one could discuss experiences from all possible orchestras. All orchestras would be listed, and we could have reviews on them made by musicians that have experienced trials or actual permanent jobs there. That way musicians would be spared huge amounts of wasted money spent for auditions, accommodation. Most importantly, probably a lot of hope and energy would be also spared.
    The whole trial year/period is such a subjective matter. While the audition can be thouroghly prepared, and fairly objectively judged, getting the actual permanent job usually feels like winning at the lottery. By winning an audition, the person obviously had already proved the standards required in order to be hired. As regarding the rest, the trialist has basically no control during the trial period. The truth is that, at least in Europe, in quite a lot of orchestras, the auditions are organized just because of the European Union law. Very often the auditions are held, and no winner is found. Other times the person chosen is later rejected based on made-up reasons. Then the process is repeated until suddenly a new musician, most often than not, citizen of that country, happens to be hired, sometimes even without audition, and passes the trial without problems! Yes, this is the truth in many orchestras, especially 2nd and 3rd league orchestras…

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