NY Times reverses policy on blind auditions

NY Times reverses policy on blind auditions


norman lebrecht

July 16, 2020

The paper’s chief music critic Anthony Tommasini has called for blind auditions to be abolished because they impede the advance of diversity in orchestras.

He writes: The status quo is not working. If things are to change, ensembles must be able to take proactive steps to address the appalling racial imbalance that remains in their ranks. Blind auditions are no longer tenable.

Blind auditions were first introduced to ensure that every player got a fair chance, regardless of race, collour, gender or creed.

So the wheel has turned full circle?

Most players believe blind auditions are the fairest way to select the best talent.

See here.

And here.


  • Paul Dawson says:

    Blind is surely best. The NYT are effectively calling for positive discrimination. I have little doubt that the sight of more ethnic minorities in first-rank orchestras would serve to motivate the following generation, but do we really want orchestras lowering standards and blighting the careers of ethnic majority musicians in order to accommodate this?

    • rugbyfiddler says:

      Ethnic minority players will not per se lower standards, but abandoning blind auditions will definitely offer the chance for panels to select on any criterion apart from the playing.
      Ah, back to the good old days!!

    • Dennis says:

      “positive discrimination” – that Orwellian British term is even more noxious than “affirmative action.”

      Call it what it is – racism.

      • Henry says:

        No, it is not racism. Even if you oppose it, don’t pretend that well-intentioned discrimination is the equivalent of malicious discrimination. Make honest arguments against it, such as the one in the first comment above.

        • Dennis says:

          Ah, so racism is OK if you deem it “well-intentioned”?

          Also, there was no “honest argument” in favor of so-called “positive discrimination” above, so I’m not sure what you are referring to.

          • Henry says:

            Merriam-Webster’s definition of “racism”: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.

    • Karl says:

      It’s called affirmative action, not positive discrimination.

    • M2N2K says:

      There is no such thing as “positive” or “negative” discrimination. Every discriminatory action that is positive for one person or group is by definition negative for some other person or group. Therefore it is always unfair and violates the equality of opportunity principle.

    • Conductor says:

      Tommasini is pushing the wrong narrative… The problem is not with the blind audition process which allows the jury to focus on one thing exclusively: musical quality. No one in the profession wants to get rid of that. The problem is: why aren’t there more qualified members of certain minorities applying for these jobs? And that brings us back to underfunded education in general and the lack of institutional support for the musical education of certain minorities in particular, especially members of the African American community. As long as conservatories and music faculties will remain mostly White Caucasian and Asian, orchestras will remain the same. The real work must be done way earlier in the process. Equality won’t appear at the top if it’s not built from the bottom up.

      • Diana says:

        Why is it a problem that black Americans aren’t, on the whole, interested in European classical music? Asians are. They took to it like ducks to water and now dominate the string sections of many (most?) orchestras in the US. Orchestras *are* diverse. They just have very few black Americans. This is a fact. It’s also a fact that the NBA is 80% black and the NFL is 70% black. Is *this* a problem?

    • Diana says:

      I have many doubts that European classical music will ever be part of the mainstream of black Americans. And when you say “ethnic majority,” don’t you really mean white? Then say so.

  • The View from America says:

    Since the topic is music, it would be nice if musicians were hired based on what they sound like rather than what they look like.

    • Orchestra Veteran says:

      Agree 100%!

      These “blind auditions” opened the door to female musicians, of every race. Prior to the use of screens in auditions, orchestras were comprised almost entirely of white male musicians.
      Need proof? Check out any vintage filmed performances of the NY Phil, Boston Symphony, etc.

      The screens should not be taken down. They serve an essential function: to hire the best applicant
      (on that day, admittedly) based on their sound,
      their technical abilities, and that’s it.

      Don’t go backwards into the 1950s. Not only would it not necessarily achieve racial balance, it would create a clear pathway for nepotism, favoritism,

      • Grittenhouse says:

        Not actually true. Only recently could you not tell if a player was male or female, by their shoes. The Met only had blackboards, and they could even have seen our feet. The manager knew who was playing, and I’m sure the committee had the list as well.

        • Doghaus says:

          So why would anyone wear shoes that could influence the decision?

        • David Sanders says:

          I’ve been listening to auditions at the Chicago Symphony for 44 of my 46 years as a member. We have been using screens that go to the floor for preliminaries for that entire time. I have never seen nor been influenced by anything other than the playing of the candidate in all that time.

        • JJC says:

          Orchestras today take prodigious care to ensure anonymity down to seperate entrances for the committee and the surrender of their phones. Nothing, in the screened rounds, is known of any candidate other than their assigned number.

  • White Male NYT says:

    How about the NYT hire a non-white non-male full-time critic and writer on classical music? All four key classical music writers are white males:

    Anthony Tommasini, Chief Music Critic
    Zachary Woolfe, Classical Music Editor
    Joshua Barone, Culture Desk with focus on classical music
    Michael Cooper, reporter for classical music and dance

    Diversity is needed in those ranks but you will not see any article about that.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      Awesome response!

      I’m 1000% in agreement that we need to do a whole lot better in the U.S. on inequality, racism, etc., and there are ways these problems should be tackled that are thoughtful, effective, and necessary. But in the context of an orchestra, making a decision on hiring someone based upon anything but what one’s ears indicate, does a disservice to us all. That’s not how we are going to solve the problem.

    • V. Lind says:

      That would make a good letter to the editor of the NYT. Or even an op-ed.

    • annnon says:

      and gay.

      The NYT arts and culture sections have long been dominated by homosexual men who have their own blind spots and inherent biases when it comes to reviewing and reporting (see exhibit A: James Levine and his whole history that was well known to those in the know).

      • DeShaun Johnston says:

        The Met ALONE is responsible for enabling and shielding Levine every time he got into a sexual assault arrest over the last 4 decades.

        It’s always been MONEY over ‘art’ for those not paying attention to the Met’s devolving cast since the 90’s in order to save a few shekels.

        Also, it’s obvious that Peter Gelb has gay tendencies as well. All he has is a sham, fruitless marriage patterned after Hollywood with that conductor wife of his. The 2 sons are from his first marriage trying to play straight until he faced his true sexuality.

        So what if Gelb is bisexual?!?!

        It’s a new world and I support his gay predilections!

      • Herr Doktor says:

        Oh brother….

        By the way, can you send me your copy of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” so I can actually re-read it for the first time since we read it in a high school history class?

        • DeShaun Johnston says:

          Blacks don’t have access to exclusively Jewish schools so I can’t.

        • Brotha says:

          Well you’re only a white so I’m not surprised by your privilege.

        • sam i am says:

          You went to a high school that had you read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion??

          Where exactly did you attend your Oberschule, Herr Doktor?

          Did you attend high school in the 1920s??

          Are you some 120 year-old doctor experimenting with cloing living in Brazil, LOL??

          • Herr Doktor says:

            Sam, I read it in my freshman history class in high school as a part of studying anti-Jewish discrimination and violence. This was the doings of one forward-thinking teacher who taught in a public high school that gave its teachers leeway to teach as they thought best, within very broad boundaries. It was entirely appropriate. I believe that it’s wise to teach against racism and anti-Jewish behavior, and all its terrible consequences, by going right at it. It deserves to be exposed for what it is – disgusting nonsense.

        • Oh My! says:

          Such a niggardly comment from a Hillary supporter.

      • Grittenhouse says:

        Not in the days of Donal Henahan.

      • Eric says:

        Oh god the gay mafia argument again. They love this sort of thing in Russia. We all know that heteros are now being deprived of their rights.

    • A Pianist says:

      Not just in the arts, the NY Times is notorious for being one of the very few large US newsrooms that refuse to fill out the annual newsroom diversity surveys (which the Wash Post among others fill out dutifully) to hide their lack of diversity. Today’s NY Times is overwhelmingly a bunch of lily white trust fund babies trying to out-woke each other and this is a perfect example. The sooner the public starts moving on from viewing the NY Times as an authority the better.

    • Grittenhouse says:

      More importantly, they are all supremely unqualified for their positions.

      • sam i am says:

        You touch on an interesting point:

        I don’t know what credentials are actually required to be made a music critic at the NYT (music degree? perfomance experience? been attending concerts since age of 5? a kickass record collection dating from the 1800s? had an affair with a conductor?), but reading their CVs (and more important, reading their REVIEWS), I always wondered: “hmmmm, so why is YOUR opinion so important? why should we care about how YOU felt after the concert?

        Each age has its own “music criticism format”, for a while in the 80s and 90s, it was: crib from the program notes some historical and musicological factoid, discuss how the performance was faithful to such factoid or not, discuss technical level of playing.

        Now, it’s entirely: the performance made me feel this way or that (and if it’s the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, how many women were in the orchestra)

  • Useless says:

    Baffling… one of the few things that is good in the industry, and he wants to change it!

    Critics have the single most useless job in the industry… They have absolutely no qualifications that make their voice and opinion superior to others… most of them are failed, wanna-be musicians, or never even touched an instrument!

    Why have we given them and their voice a position of authority?

    • Anonymous says:

      Perfectly put! Critics are failed, frustrated musicians who haven’t a clue about the profession. Blind auditions are the fairest for all, taken on merit, not a tick box exercise to satisfy diversity charts and grants!

      • V. Lind says:

        Tommasini’s comment has nothing to do with criticism, which I for one think you misunderstand or choose to misrepresent. He has, if represented correctly in the blog, written a polemic reflecting a woke perspective.

        It does, and here I agree with your general anger, reflect very poorly on his role as a critic, if he can conceivably put a quota system over musical ability in auditions.

        This sort of GARBAGE has to come to an end. It can only be fought fairly and justly when the much larger issues that have prompted this sort of rubbish are addressed. As has been suggested, here , elsewhere, and for decades, is that the opportunity for equality begins in EARLY education and in continuing education. It also continues on the street, in the workplace, in interactions between employers and candidates and police and suspects and jailers and prisoners and film-makers and everywhere else in society.

        Orchestras could and probably should make an effort to engage and promote more people of colour in their offices and backstage. But when it comes to the specialised, highly-trained and ineffably gifted abilities needed to play music to its highest level, only talent should count.

        Can you imagine a sports team engaging a new player based on his colour? Are not basketball teams made up of predominantly black players? Should whites be demanding places if they are not as good as their black competitors?

        It’s time to get a grip. The fight for opportunities — through schools and social programmes that make life easier for people who have long been disadvantaged — is much harder than a few woke jabs at high-profile work like the arts, or even sport. neither of which employs people as important as farmers or factory workers.

        And if I cross a bridge designed by a black engineer, I want to know that he was the best of those who tendered, not the blackest. If I am assigned a black surgeon, I want to know he passed medical school without favour because of some woke idea that quotas must be met.

        • The View from America says:

          Just like the time I saw Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” in concert and the conductor and orchestra were perfect all the way to the last few bars when things kinda fell apart, I was right with you until the last paragraph of your comment. It’s too bad you can’t to back and restate it like this:

          “And if I cross a bridge designed by a black engineer, I want to know that he or she was the best of those who tendered, not the blackest. If I am assigned a black surgeon, I want to know she or he passed medical school without favour because of some woke idea that quotas must be met.”

          • V. Lind says:

            Oh, Good God, one woke ideology at a time.

          • Affirmative Action is for the WEAK says:

            Token “Affirmative Action” Blacks are marketing tools to merely help get votes.

            Democrats want everyone to know THEY facilitated somebody ELSE’S success!!!

            Why? Only because it makes them LOOK GOOD though they would NEVER look to a black neighborhood to live in and educate their children in.

            When one looks at the most powerful on the Left in the USA (the Obamas, Clintons, Bidens, Pelosis, Schumers, etc) they ALL live in and send their kids to private, wealthy, WHITE neighborhoods.

            That’s the entire point “ONLY A” view from America.

            Tommasini and the lot of the leftist media are really flailing around desperately now that November is approaching in an election year. They are afraid and angry like any children who aren’t happy.

        • MDR says:

          When you cross a bridge built by a white engineer, do you ask yourself whether they were commissioned because they are employed by a firm with friends on the local government or because they submitting the best design?

          When you are treated by a white doctor, do you ask yourself whether they were tenured because of their family’s relationship with the board or whether they graduated in the n’th percentile?

          I consistently agree with a lot of what you write V. Lind, but in the above post I think you display some unconscious racism. It’s about time we all challenged ourselves on our unconscious biases.

          • Allen says:

            Poor analogy. V Lind was specifically addressing the issue under discussion, which is the underrepresentation of black people.

            You could have challenged him about asian doctors and engineers, but that is not the current issue either.

            Seeing racism everywhere, and qualifying it as “unconscious” when the evidence is paper thin, is part of the problem.

          • V. Lind says:

            Nonsense. I agree with you absolutely regarding how ANYONE gets a contract or a job. But we were not discussing bridges, civic corruption, nepotism — or women, TVFA! I, anyway, was discussing affirmative action which I have opposed since I was a (very liberal, not to say even leftish) university student. It always struck me as patronising, with dangerous potentialities.

            Back in those days, when students — and most of my contemporaries were white — were struggling, they were gently persuaded to leave the course they were in, usually for a different university. My friends teaching university now, where they have senior students in their English and journalism courses who cannot form a simple English plural, are warned — not cautioned, warned — that these students must be passed with good-looking grades.

            That is “only” a threat to civilisation in the English department, as it would be in an orchestra, but it would be damned dangerous in a medical or engineering school. At least in my day there was a decent chance that if affirmative action admissions couldn’t cut it they would be cut out (like anyone else), which made it more acceptable to me that they be given the opportunity. But my friends are sitting — or were, pre-Covid — in front of senior classes — graduating classes — who could not have made it through the doors of a university when I was there.

            We should all be very, very afraid — of all professionals, any colour, coming up on the inside. We have already seen their impact on newspapers and books, improperly edited, and on schools where teachers are unfamiliar with grammar, or literature. I was stunned to find priests are not taught Latin any more; years ago I was discombobulated to see some TV series about high school (not Fame) where the music lessons were just guitars and pop music.

            No, MDR, it’s not about race for me. It’s about standards.

          • Antonia Potter says:

            My undergrad alma mater now offers a music degree which may be obtained by a student who began freshman year not knowing how to play any instrument. They need not learn how to read music along the way. Their degree can be in hip hop, in world music, in any type of music. This is at not a music school, but a music degree at a highly-rated private liberal arts college. I was so stunned and disappointed. I can definitely see a music minor in one of these musical genres, but a 4-year degree?

        • CanuckPlayer says:

          In American football, there are often factors unrelated to playing ability when considering hiring. Teams think twice before having A black quarterback or coach for example. Gay rumours will stall careers in many sports today

          • A Pianist says:

            They do not. You have fallen for the Kaepernick propaganda hook line and sinker. Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb are just a couple of the many star black quarterbacks. Kaepernick was already on the bench when he pulled his stupid stunt. And it was certainly worth it for him.

        • MacroV says:

          Re: Your final paragraph:

          If you’re an American, you might remember a hospital show from the mid-1990s called “Chicago Hope.” There was a scene where a woman is brought in, sees the black male attending ER doc, and says “Thank God, you’re black!” Seeing his puzzled reaction, she says “It means you had to be twice as good as anyone else to get here.”

          • V. Lind says:

            That’s what women used to say — they had to be twice as good to get half as much (opportunity, pay, etc.).

            Under the Tommasini scheme, that is now the fate of white males.

      • Grittenhouse says:

        These guys were never musicians, I wager.

    • Grittenhouse says:

      Because otherwise, they would have to actually write, think.

  • Michael James says:

    Of course. How could orchestras resist the demand for diversity? Pity about standards.

  • Old Man says:

    Lowering standards in order to accommodate to diversity is very dangerous territory.

    I am all for giving “minority” communities more access at a younger age to the arts. That way they have the same opportunities as their “privileged” peers.

    The arts, and every other field for that matter, should be concerned with having the best musicians/people, not the most diverse or “representing”.

  • Bill says:

    Would any black musician really want to think the only reason they got the job is because they were black ?

    The problem is not the audition process. The problem is the appalling state of music education, and general education in what is still effectively a largely segregated public education system in the US.

    Potential students of color are at a significant disadvantage long before the audition process. If there are no music programs or resources available early in their lives, they are not going to be able to effectively compete to get into conservatory and then compete for jobs at an audition.

    This is simply a cop out way of addressing the problem that will only lead to resentment and backlash.

    Give black students the same opportunities as white students earlier, and I guarantee they will be able to compete on a level playing field.

    But that will require a far more difficult societal effort.

    • Freddynyc says:

      I would think that putting food on the table in a post-Covid society would far outweigh any sort of ideological dilemma one may have….

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Before any deeper demand for diversity, the sensitive question is whether everybody is interested in playing classical music whatsoever.

      • Dennis says:

        But according to the diversicultists, every segment of society, every industry, activity, sport, etc. must be “diverse” and have equal representation of all races or it is deemed inherently bad. If some things appeal to people of some races or ethnic groups more than others…too bad, the diversicultists will force them to be equal!

        It only works one way though – if some particular thing is mostly black or minority, that’s ok and something for them to take pride in; it’s only whites who aren’t allowed to have anything or take pride in anything. You’ll never see the diversicultists complain about the lack of diversity in the NBA or the 100 meter dash finals.

        • JJC says:

          You are so right Dennis and the opposite direction is now condemned and shamed as ‘cultural appropriation’.

      • Adrienne says:

        No, many people are not interested. Interest in classical music is not evenly distributed across all communities. Sorry, but it just isn’t, and there’s no reason why it should be.

        This issue came up a couple of weeks ago so there’s a limit to how much I want to say, but certain white people need to stop telling black people how they should spend their leisure time in order to make themselves appear virtuous.

        Lastly, Dennis (below) is right, it’s a one-way street.

  • ClassicmusicYOUKNOWIT says:

    Honestly, we are just asking to be racist at this point. The idea of having blind auditions was to NOT see race, gender nor age.

    This is by far the fairest way and any person of color or non color who doesn’t think so, is merely not able to handle the truth of a merit-based system.

    Shame on him for advocating for this!

  • Sam says:

    When they were not blind they were not fair. Now they’re too fair. The woke want it all! A perfect orchestra with the perfect representation of racial groups (as defined by…?) What’s going to happen when groups within those groups feel under-represented, or other non-race-defined groups feel left out? The list of complainants is potentially endless! All solvable, of course, by focusing on the individual’s merits as a musician – blind auditions – and not on the arbitrary groups to which that individual may or may not belong. That would be “post-racial”, though, and politically inexpedient to a Left that depends on collectivist thinking for its very survival, and will therefore never be satisfied.

    • SVM says:

      Well said, Sam — in particular, your point about “groups within those groups” and “other non-race-defined groups”. I can think of various “non-race-defined” groups that are marginalised when it comes to competing in the music profession — for such groups, most of which are invisible, positive discrimination could actually exacerbate existing disadvantages.

      Blind auditions enable all parties to focus on the most important criterion, musical excellence. They also have the virtue of reducing discrimination against protected characteristics. If we want to make the world a fairer place, we need to take blind auditions as a model for improving recuitment and selection processes across the music profession, in other professions (this is already happening — the concept of “anonymous recruitment”, whereby job applications are reviewed without reference to the applicant’s name, is becoming more common, although it is still not mainstream… of course “anonymous recruitment” would be difficult/impossible in some fields), and in the education system.

  • Freddynyc says:

    With the number of job opportunities dwindling – along with salaries I would presume – post-Covid this will not sit well with lots of folks out there…..

  • John K says:

    So, just to be sure that I understand this, blind auditions were introduced to remove any bias based on appearance. Makes perfect sense.

    Mr Tommasini however wants them abolished because they are not giving the result he wants.

    I’m all in favor of equality of opportunity but, as so often happens, inequality of outcome is taken as evidence of inequality of opportunity. This is because any other explanation raises difficult questions.


    • Doghaus says:

      In California, they have recently moved to remove legal language preventing discrimination so that they can discriminate in the name of “diversity”.

  • Bill says:

    As an older musician who is still crazy enough to subject myself to the audition process on occasion, I will be happy to sue over age discrimination when the committee doesn’t give me the job I think I deserve.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    “positive” discrimination = discrimination anyway

  • Leo Doherty says:

    I wouldn’t hire anyone unless I could meet them first.

    • Diane says:

      That’s what the tenure review process is for. The musician that performs the best is offered the position based on their merit and then they have 1 or 2 years of probation while their peers decide if they are the sort of colleague they want sitting next to them for the next 20 years.

    • buxtehude says:

      Privately, perhaps, on occasion, maybe over a bottle of wine . . . I mean where the endowment is obviously exceptional, of course . . .

      The pretense that beauty doesn’t matter is surely a little old by now. With the screens down it will be impossible to continue it.

  • Olassus says:

    By “proactive steps” he means affirmative action. It is unclear why a euphemism is needed.


    From that article:

    The term “affirmative action” was first used in the U.S. in Executive Order 10925 signed by President Kennedy in 1961. Government contractors had to

    “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated [fairly] during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color or national origin.”

    In 1965 President Johnson issued Executive Order 11246 requiring government employers to

    “hire without regard to race, religion [or] national origin” and “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, color, religion, sex or national origin.”

    In 1968 gender was added to the list.

  • Anon says:

    Each judge should pick their top five based on a headshot photo, and separately their top five based on blind audition. The candidate with the most points across both columns is selected.

    Imagine the honor of being selected without a single photo point!

  • Dennis says:

    Absolutely insane. This whole culture is nuts, and utterly eaten up with race obsessions. The whole point of blind auditions is to focus on the quality of one’s playing, and not personal characteristics like looks, race, sex, etc…

    And Tommasini’s notion is essentially racist anyway (in that typically woke white condescending way), in that he’s saying blind auditions that don’t take into account incidental personal characteristics beyond playing ability will result in less blacks being hired, i.e. “they aren’t really up to snuff, so let’s just throw out musical standards and start implementing race quotas.”

  • BP says:

    One of the several elephants in the room left unadressed by Tommasini : this “system that has impeded diversity” has allowed dozens of Asian musicians entry into orchestras. They clearly don’t qualify as diverse though. And blind auditions show a clear bias in their favor so they must be put an end to.

    • len says:

      in much the same way that asians have never been considered “minorities” for the racist “affirmative action” programs at universities.

  • Anon says:

    Anthony Tommasini should be let go from the NYT. They could do so much better.

    • jack says:

      But I suspect that Thommasini is taking this position at the behest of the editors and publisher at the NYT. (Smart career move.)

      • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

        Good point. The New York Times as a news source has all but abandoned any commitment to objective reportage in favor of a woke agenda which Tommasini upholds in true groupthink style.

      • V. Lind says:

        I doubt it. These things are discussed in editorial meetings, and he may have taken soundings, but columnists and reviewers are not, in my experience as a writer in several countries, told what position to take. I recall telling an editor once I did not want a sentence praising an unfashionable artist (to some extent to the detriment of one who was very voguish) if she needed to shorten the piece a little. She assured me — and kept her word — that she would never dream of doing anything that altered context.

        If you read the Arts section of the NYT today you would have noticed a piece by 9 black musicians alongside Tommasini’s. Most of them did not demand the end of screening — just looking for ways to widen the diversity of musical institutions and draw in audiences more reflective of their communities. Some of them made perfectly good concrete suggestions. Realists, not wokies.

    • The Real Anon says:

      I actually like Tommasini. It’s Zachary Woolfe who should get the ax. He’s a nasty, vindictive & pompous with a noticeably limited view of classical music. Replace Woolfe with a minority reviewer.

  • Alex Klein says:

    Irresponsible writing and conclusion unworthy of credibility. Shameful suggestion, in fact. While we are all concerned with the low numbers of racial minorities in orchestras we should not “throw the baby out with the bath water” and get rid of the one central solution which granted us the needed gender diversity and also that of sexual orientation, as well as many minorities along the way: the screen, followed by carpeted walkways on stage, verbal silence of candidates through the presence of a proctor and other smart solutions. The problem exists from the bottom (education) and it cannot be solved at the top (finding someone who “looks right” to make the orchestra look good). As a minority player myself – latino – I abhor the easing of standards to get more diversity in orchestras. Such thinking is insulting and discriminatory in itself because it implies that minorities are not capable of winning fair and square against whites, and can only succeed if given a hand out. The field of candidates is flooded with whites because the educational realm is similarly filled. The auditions at the top are a mere result of statistics. The solution, thus, is to create more educational, training and competitive opportunities for talented minorities to hone their skills and eventually show that they are perfectly able to perform at the very highest standards without the easing of standards and having them win auditions just because of the color of their skin or racial background.

  • Bruce says:

    A couple of points mentioned in the article. Too long for a blurb at the top of the post, but worth bringing up. One, often bemoaned on this site, is the increasing homogenization of playing, especially in the US:

    Blind auditions are based on an appealing premise of pure meritocracy: An orchestra should be built from the very best players, period. But ask anyone in the field, and you’ll learn that over the past century of increasingly professionalized training, there has come to be remarkably little difference between players at the top tier. […] A typical orchestral audition might end up attracting dozens of people who are essentially indistinguishable in their musicianship and technique.

    At most professional auditions, you could choose a winner at random even from the semifinals, and chances are you’d be happy with your pick. I’ve been at several auditions where the monitor said something after the semifinals like “the committee asked me to tell the group that all of you are good enough to hold the job. That being said, the candidates they’ve picked to advance to the finals are…” Someone who didn’t play with absolutely 100% accuracy on the day could end up being a more interesting artist over time than someone who was note-perfect. And keep in mind that, while probation-to-tenure rates are very high in the US, no orchestra is required to give a player tenure. Often the questions at a tenure review meeting are different than the ones at the audition: does the person listen to their colleagues and know when to step in or out of the spotlight? Do they take direction well? Do they treat others with respect? It’s almost never a question of whether they can play their instrument.


    It’s like an elite college facing a sea of applicants with straight A’s and perfect test scores. Such a school can move past those marks, embrace diversity as a social virtue and assemble a freshman class that advances other values along with academic achievement. For orchestras, the qualities of an ideal player might well include talent as an educator, interest in unusual repertoire or willingness to program innovative chamber events as well as pure musicianship. American orchestras should be able to foster these values, and a diverse complement of musicians, rather than passively waiting for representation to emerge from behind the audition screen.

    The idea that you can increase diversity without lowering standards is, IMHO, worth considering. I’m not saying it’s true, I’m just asking if it’s necessarily untrue.

    Granted, colleges have gone crazy with this already, with their extracurricular requirements (officially not required, but everyone knows they are): a wealthy kid’s summer volunteering in Africa or Central America is more “socially conscious” than a poor kid’s summer spent painting houses to make money for school, and so you tend to end up with just as homogeneous a group as you had before.

    I forget where I read this idea, but I’ve often thought it was a good one: maybe there should be an interview component to orchestra auditions. Weed out the people who can’t play, and then ask the finalists about their ideas regarding music education, community engagement, etc. — things any orchestra can use more of. Each orchestra could decide how important the interview portion is to them: how to weigh their technical accuracy against their ideas about other facets of the job, or if they even want to do an interview at all. I’ve known players who are terrific players but don’t want to get involved in outreach or anything like it, and decent-but-not-spectacular players who do a great service to the orchestra and the community through their engagement in those activities. An orchestra could decide what they’re looking for, just like they decide if they want subtle musicality vs a huge sound.

    I know this is too long, but I find this kind of thing interesting to think about.

    • nope says:

      “the committee asked me to tell the group that all of you are good enough to hold the job.”

      That did not happen.

    • Hai says:

      The audition committee and personnel managers will always say positive words to those who did not win the audition. It will be naive to actually believe them. In the ears of professional musicians, there is A big difference between someone who is good and someone who is great. The current audition system is surely not perfect but is by far the fairest.

      • Bruce says:

        I didn’t believe it (if I was really good enough, I would have won) but thought it was nice of them to say.

      • Guest says:

        I remember one small-time audition for an orchestra that I had subbed with that I expected to do very well in. During the second excerpt I got a “thank you”. I got totally taken by surprise and looked at the personnel manager. She said, “Its not a bad sign”. Made me laugh at home.

    • Papa John says:

      I’m with you Bruce; lot’s still to be done to redress past wrongs in our country (redressing of wrongs is a component of Justice). When it comes to race in the U.S., I think that white people must engage is self-examination, keep asking questions, communicating, and examining status quo. Remember: evidence and outcomes show that, particularly in Education (which impacts EVERYTHING), we’ve stalled and are arguably moving backwards (mentioned in another post) when it comes to equity for students of color…
      But look out: Diversity in Higher Education too hangs by a thread presently. In college admissions the goal of diversity is admirable (to greatly simplify the language of Supreme Court rulings) because it is “good”- for white people…!
      Once our highest court panel decides that it is no longer “good” for white people, it will disappear…
      What is “good” can change with the culture, but justice should be an absolute. The best reason to champion diversity is because one wishes to champion justice, i.e.redress past wrongs. In this specific case, for talented musicians of color, striving for the pinnacle of the mountain in high-stakes auditions, might the knowledge that “justice” will not be a companion as they take the last, most difficult steps, be a serious inhibition to career fulfillment? I am a music ensemble teacher; I’ve always worked in multi-cultural, mid-to-low socio-economic public schools. This VERY subject has come up on numerous occasions upon returning from our twice-yearly field trips to attend a performance given by our city’s professional Symphony Orchestra. The students hear with their eyes too; they can see; they know; the ethnic composition of the orchestra does not reflect their school or city population…
      It’s complicated, I tell them…
      How problems come to be, and how to fix them, usually is…
      But eyes can see the truth, and the heart knows what justice is…

      • Harry says:

        Isn’t the increasing number of Asian and female players in an orchestra a encouraging sign of diversity? If so, I think US orchestras have done a much better job diversifying than New York Time.

      • Harry says:

        Dear papa John, I am wondering if you have any professional sports teams in your area? If so, do you want them to win or you just want them to represent the “ethnic composition” of your area. Do you quit supporting your sports teams if some of their players On the team do not represent your own race?

        • MacroV says:

          One difference is that sports teams don’t give lifetime tenure. An orchestra turns over about 3% a year, a baseball team probably 30% or more. A lot more opportunity for different types of diversity.

      • Guest says:

        You are a pathetically programmed robot spouting nonsense that went from your ears to your mouth without passing through your mind.

        • William says:

          Just say “Democrat”…Guest.

          They’re ALL like that and violent. I just sit back and watch them kill each other. They LOVE it!

    • SVM says:

      Bruce raises some interesting ideas, but many of them can be incorporated within a ‘blind audition’ format.

      The problem with interviews is that it is too easy for a candidate to promise the earth, and then fail to deliver. It is easy to say “I am passionate about unusual repertoire, devising my own chamber concerts, and outreach work”. But does making such a statement prove anything? If those three criteria are so important to an orchestra, they could be auditioned by, for instance, having the candidate lead a workshop rehearsing a piece of chamber music that is not in the mainstream repertoire with some students from a local music college (given the time and logistics required to arrange such an exercise, it would probably have to be only in the final round). The screen would be weakened by hearing the candidate’s voice, but the audition panel need not see him/her. Potential bias from hearing the candidate’s voice could be mitigated by splitting the audition panel into sub-panels, so that the people evaluating the candidate’s playing are not the same (or not entirely the same) as the people evaluating the workshop. Or the panel could be present only for a playthrough at the very beginning and at the very end of the workshop (the idea being to assess the extent to which the candidate can improve the quality of the performance between those two playthroughs).

      So, my point is that, even if an orchestra is looking beyond the principal criterion of excellence as a performer, one should start from the position of trying to assess the candidate according to the principles of the ‘blind audition’ — anonymity and empiricism (that is, assessing what a candidate can *do*, rather than what a candidate *says* he/she can do).

    • Ilio says:

      “At most professional auditions, you could choose a winner at random even from the semifinals, and chances are you’d be happy with your pick.”

      If this was true, why do so many orchestras take years to fill positions. English Horn in NY, Horn in Chicago and NY, Trumpets all over the place.

      • MacroV says:

        You are confusing “perfectly competent and acceptable” with “uniquely ideal fit.” Just like you can date a lot of people with whom you have a perfectly good time, without any being “the one.”

    • Violinist says:

      IMO the only conceivable way to eliminate the screen would be AFTER the first round, and for a position in an orchestra which had previously redefined itself as a joint performing/teaching institution (and was presumably receiving grants for this purpose)
      Similarly, if the job open was defined as performer/ inner city teacher then other qualities would obviously need to come into play. In that sense certain players could have personalities and experiences more suited to these tasks, and they could possibly be more successful at creating a kind of “cultural bridge” to these communities (one bilingual member of our orchestra spoke Spanish to a group of mostly Latino kids- they were thrilled!)
      These applicants would therefore be the best candidates for the job, and would be respected by their colleagues.
      As far as I know, there are not many orchestras with this model. Maybe there should be. On the other hand, if the screen just comes down regardless, whatever racism exists within symphony orchestras now will only get worse.

  • RM says:

    Please remember that screened auditions were originally implemented by organizations to comport with the newly created laws preventing the very kind of bias that Tommasini shows nostalgia for!

    • V. Lind says:

      Yes, and while I tend to disagree with Tommasini, please remember that times change, and we should not close doors to new ideas and discussion: out of those differences might come a solution.

      The problem with, say, interviewing all the finalists who have shown themselves to be up to the standard required is that, under the Tommasini formula, the whites, especially the white me, might as well not turn up. What’s to be done about that?

      Nothing new about affirmative action holding back very deserving whites in the name of social progress — let’s face it, there are a lot of years of prejudice and exclusion to make up for, especially (but not only) in the US. But in the rush to make it up right away, the cost to white men is going to be very high. White boys are already being called “the lost generation” in some circles. If they are faced with the KNOWLEDGE that they might as well not bother if they compete with an able BAME candidate – for anything — they are going to get even more lost.

      It has long been a truism that two wrongs do not make a right. It is also a fact.

  • sam (the real) says:

    Which orchestra holds *truly* blind auditions?

    There’s the initial cut by CVs and reference letters. There’s the special invitations to well known principals in other orchestras, to favored students, to long time substitutes. There’s the audition by playing in concerts.

    It may be blind during the playing, but playing alone is never the sole criterion, sooner or later, there’s a discussion of ther person’s CV and references: is this musician a reliable professional, does he have a troubled employment history, was she ever fired for sexual harassment, did he play under major conductors…

    The musician’s professional history is a major factor in the hiring decision, thus his or her identity is always known and considered as part of the evaluation process.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    I am so tired of arts journalists “looking” for topics to write about during this period when little is happening in their field. They end up with woke crap like this.

    Better yet, how about exploring (with those actually in the field) alternative ways for the performing arts to adjust to this new reality instead of presenting more roadblocks? If you don’t help the cause, you’ll find yourself out on the street along with many musicians.

    The great thing is that most people in New York interested in classical music never read Tommasini. He’s considered a joke (and quite the toady).

  • Cubs Fan says:

    There’s a way that orchestras could add more minorities to their ranks and still use curtain: make the application and job notice very clear: ONLY PERSONS OF COLOR MAY APPLY. Don’t laugh – this happens all the time in the US. There are many seminars offered in universities and businesses where this mandate is made. There are dormitories which have a No Whites rule. It’s not right, not fair, but so far the courts have upheld these stupid policies in order to address perceived wrongs of the past.

  • Hypocrite says:

    What Tommasini is saying is that he does not believe that people of color are not capable of winning jobs on their musical merits alone. This is incredibly racist.

    • Bruce says:

      Does not believe that they are not capable = believes that they are capable. Is that what you meant to say?

    • Musicman says:

      I agree. This is incredibly racist. Why are homosexuals allowed a pass for blatant racism? It a white, straight man wrote this article, they would have been fired so fast their head would spin. Francesca Zambello would have been fired in an instant from after the Glimmerglass scandal if she was a straight, white man. It is time for equal accountability.

  • debuschubertussy says:

    However one feels about blind auditions is up them, but Tommasini does make one good point–Orchestra auditions can no longer be about “just talent.” He points out that the technical level of players in this country has steadily risen over the last century to where players are essentially “indistinguishable” from one another in terms of talent.

    In order for classical music organizations to survive, they should be looking for membership who can bring more to the table than just “talent”–for example, interest in advocacy/public outreach, know-how in technology, a background in musics other than Western Classical. In this country, being “talented” alone doesn’t cut it in getting into college or conservatory, nor should it be the ONLY factor in getting into an orchestra.

    Because the truth is, most elite orchestras in the U.S. kinda sorta sound the same nowadays. Even your “second-tier” orchestras are flush with elite players who can more or less deliver a great musical product. It has to be about something more than talent if arts organizations are going to survive post-COVID 19.

  • Caruso says:

    Some thoughts from Black musicians about the changes we need: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/16/arts/music/black-classical-music-opera.html

  • DAVID says:

    Blind auditions are not the problem — access to high level education is. This is an issue that begins a very long time before an applicant even finds themselves in an audition. Make tuition absolutely free for those who cannot afford it, so that anyone, regardless of race or socio-economic status, can actually have an equal chance of success as somebody else with a fat wallet. In order to pay for this, increase taxes. I’m bothered by the utter hypocrisy of voices who claim lofty ideals, but who probably would be quite reluctant to open their wallets in order to help solve the very problem they are denouncing. Talk is cheap — very cheap. Increase taxes, so that those who may not be able to shell out 60 grand per tuition year also have a chance to develop their talent. I’ve never been particularly fond of critics, but am even more irritated when they think they have the competence to address the core issues of a profession they often know at best superficially. Stick to reviews, there might be some people who actually take them seriously.

  • Daphnis176 says:

    Read the full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/16/arts/music/blind-auditions-orchestras-race.html?referringSource=articleShare. Has Tommasini ever taken an orchestral audition? Has he ever served on an audition committee? Has he ever even witnessed an orchestral audition in progress? What are his credentials on this subject?

  • Monsoon says:

    If an organization — orchestra, tech company, university, etc. — wants to have a more diverse staff, a so called “color blind” hiring process won’t accomplish that because of the inherent advantages that white people have. They’re wealthier, for example, and have a much easier time paying for music school and supporting themselves after school while auditioning for jobs. Or to put it another way, one of the reasons there are more white people in music schools and then applying for orchestra jobs is because of structural racism.

    To create a diverse workforce, you have to be intentional about how you hire. Equality is not the same thing as equity.

    Now if an orchestra says their primary concern is to have the best musicians, fine — that’s their right. But you cannot claim to be committed to hiring a more diverse workforce with a “color blind” hiring process. It doesn’t work. It may stop discriminatory hiring practices, but it doesn’t promote inclusive hiring.

  • CA says:

    I’m amending my earlier comment to echo what others have said: unless and until we improve access to the arts from a very early age, meaning education and training, and level THAT playing field, little will change in terms of what we see on stage. In the past several decades we have seen increasing numbers of Asian and Latino musicians especially join the ranks of orchestras through blind auditions, and increasing numbers of blacks but sadly not to the same extent. The blind audition system works. We just need to confront and address the issue much lower down the continuum, where interaction, exposure to and achieving proficiency in the arts begins. But if we insist on destroying or defunding the foundational building blocks, how can we fix this? (These are my opinions only.)

  • drummerman says:

    The way to get more diversity in the orchestra is to encourage more young African American kids to study classical music, to learn string and wind instruments, especially. There are several admirable programs around the country: Project STEP in Boston, the numerous El Sistema programs, Sphinx Organization, to name just a few.

    The screened (blind) auditions are not the problem. Take away the screen and you will not necessarily see more African Americans hired, for the simple reason that there is not a large pool of them — not yet — who are auditioning in the first place. This is changing for the better year by year but things in this business do move slowly. Keep the screens and do much more to get youngsters involved! I say this as someone who is both an orchestra manager and a card-carrying member of AFM.

    • Jon Issacs says:

      Yes, I am sure you know more about this than the leaders of Sphinx. There simply aren’t any players good enough who are black or brown to play in tier one or two American orchestras. Right. And the civil war was about states rights. Got it.

  • PaulD says:

    No doubt Tomassini fears defenestration by the Maoists at the NTY.

    • Larry D says:

      You seem to have a low bar for labeling people “Maoists”. I suspect you mean anyone to the left of Atilla the Hun. And it’s not “NTY”. I mean, it’s only three letters, try to get them in the right order…

  • Alphonse says:

    This is the last straw. I can’t take it anymore. I’m a white man, I consider myself a good and decent person. I’ve always tried to do to others as I would like to be done by. I have worked so hard all my life to hone my craft as a musician. And it’s all been leading to this? What’s the point of even bothering anymore? Why audition for orchestras if how I play is of no (or at least, secondary) importance? It’s insanity. Pure insanity. Stop the train- I’m getting off.

  • Minnesota says:

    Tommasini: Great at applauding Met productions and being woke, not so good in other things.

  • Complicated topic says:

    Complicated subject – a few points come to mind:
    1. Blind auditions were created to eliminate discrimination based on race, gender and personal connections and have been extremely successful in that respect, dramatically increasing the percentage of women and Asians playing in orchestras, and establishing a hiring practice for orchestral musicians which everyone – both those hired and those rejected – knows to be unbiased and fair.
    2. The NYT article is based on the premise that orchestras and arts organisations want to appear more racially diverse by presenting more black and latino players on the stage. However, in most orchestras, players are tenured and vacancies are rare and occur only when players retire or leave for other reasons. Once hired, players still have to pass probation in order to become tenured. Any changes in the racial mix of an orchestra would take years to see.
    3. Hiring more black and latino players through the elimination of blind auditions would not serve to correct any racial injustice – since arguably the current system discriminated against no-one based on race or gender. However, wouldn’t eliminating blind auditions in an effort to hire more black and latino players discriminate against musicians who are not “racially diverse” enough? When one considers how competitive and tough it is to achieve a career in music under the best of circumstances, with decades of training, personal sacrifices and financial investments, would it be fair to reject an excellent candidate in favour of a less qualified one, simply because of their race not being black or latino?
    4. The music world is very much engaged now in self examination wanting to be more inclusive, diverse and just. This is all good and fine but please let us not forget the big crisis happening right now – the coronavirus which is threatening the very existence of hundreds of arts organisations and the financial survival of hundreds of thousands of performers who make their livelihoods in the field. I wish that more of the energy would be directed simply towards lobbying the governments and societies for our survival, especially in the US where the arts receive no government support. The argument for more racial diversity is going to be meaningless if the majority of us are without work once the health crisis is over.

  • Eric Rand says:

    Of course they did – because New York Times. Merit-based outcomes will not give them the results they want, so the only choice is to make racist decisions. California is fighting to do the same thing by repealing prop 16 which was put in place to PREVENT racial discrimination. Anyway, this is just further proof of the nyslimes’ ideological shift.
    Regarding their recommendation – who asked them anyway?
    Remember Hayak’s words; “…In order for there to be equal outcomes, the government would need to treat citizens unequally.” Who would want this?


    A highly contagious disease spread by social, aural and visual vectors. Presently endemic within the liberal white community, with a steady expansion that threatens free speech and public debate and the health of democratic institutions, universities and the media.

    Symptoms: general unease and anxiety leading in many cases to a diminution or loss of the capacity for reason and logic. Those infected sometimes express a sense of guilt or insecurity in the presence of people of other races.

    Improvement in their mental state occurs mainly when they are in the company of others similarly afflicted or when a specific and morally acceptable numerical representation of those with a different skin color has been reached in a particular institution or locale.

    The condition appears to be chronic rather than fatal, thus allowing
    rapid uncontrolled spread of the disease. No mitigation or cure presently exists due to the deterioration of the faculty of reason. Resarch for a cure is minimal.

    Diagnosis remains difficult due to the patient’s resistance which arises from the loss of reason and results in a denial of the condition. At present the only method for curbing its spread is the isolation or shunning of those suffering from the disease from the rest of society which should reduce the number of paths available for the vector.

    • Larry D says:

      Another word for your proposed “isolation or shunning” is of course “segregation”. Ah, the good old days, right?

  • Simon says:

    Blind auditions have scientifically been proven to work, see Goldin and Rouse’s work https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.90.4.715
    The argument seems to be that progress is too slow despite blind auditions. This calls for improving the pipeline (music education, touth orchestras, conservatories) for underrepresented groups, not for the abolition of blind auditions; very strange argument.

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    This is just STUPID. Orchestras should want the best players, regardless of their sex, race etc.

  • CanuckPlayer says:

    What People in the business know, is that many of these auditions are not available exactly totally blind.
    Members of the orchestra who want a promotion or students and regular subs appearing at auditions are likely identifiable by colleagues behind a screen.

    Also the most prominent American orchestras invite other mid-career people to second or third rounds; again, often identifiable. Finally, the MET orchestra has a policy of actually hiring the winner of any audition, but the biggest orchestras in the country regularly do not.

    It is obviously better and more honest to change the system rather than go through the role-play which happens at too many auditions in the USA and Canada today.

    • Musician says:

      and in Canada, there is a mandatory Canadian audition first where only Canadians can attend.

      • V. Lind says:

        If that’s an objection and not just an observation, fair enough. But there is a substantial difference in approach. Canada is a young country, and is orchestras are young, and it must develop its own talent (although much of it has been very successful internationally — Canada punches well above its weight in the talent department). But auditions are blind, and as conscious of the need for diversity as anyone else. Women are hugely represented, and any Canadian orchestra would be ecstatic to welcome members from “under-represented” communities.

        And when a suitable Canadian does not emerge, international artists are welcome to audition.

        The National Arts Centre, Canada’s newest major orchestra, was determined to open with a Canadian conductor and seduced an initially-reluctant Mario Bernardi back from Europe. He led the orchestra for eleven years and built it into a well-regarded musical entity.

        Subsequently, its needs for a new Music Director have not coincided with the availability of a suitable Canadian conductor — it is a small orchestra, and not right for every conductor’s musical experience or plans. But Bernardi established the sound, and it has since attracted Mannino, Pinnock and Alexander Shelley, the current MD.

  • Anon says:

    This is insane I’m sorry. He clearly has no idea what it’s like and hasn’t sat on an audition panel before.

    Best player should be hired. PERIOD. We can come up with creative ways to give underserved communities a chance without compromising this process.

    From the article:

    Blind auditions are based on an appealing premise of pure meritocracy: An orchestra should be built from the very best players, period. But ask anyone in the field, and you’ll learn that over the past century of increasingly professionalized training, there has come to be remarkably little difference between players at the top tier. There is an athletic component to playing an instrument, and as with sprinters, gymnasts and tennis pros, the basic level of technical skill among American instrumentalists has steadily risen. A typical orchestral audition might end up attracting dozens of people who are essentially indistinguishable in their musicianship and technique.

    • MacroV says:

      His point is there IS no best. The paragraph you cite here is absolutely correct, especially the last sentence. So all things being equal, maybe hire for diversity. Maybe hire the hometown player. You’re not likely to compromise quality in either case.

      • V. Lind says:

        You are essentially saying, all things being equal, the white guy is out. Maybe it’s turn and turn about. But there is also a matter of reverse discrimination.

      • SVM says:

        No two players are ever identical. If it is truly impossible to select one, keep calling them back until a winner emerges. Get some more assessors on the panel. Engage each player for an actual concert. Invest the necessary time and energy in assessing them until the panel arrives at a decision.

  • Igivethe A says:

    Blind auditions usually protect candidates from initial discrimination especially when internal candidates are auditioning for a titled position in a system that has no other mechanism for promotion – unless, jobs are given with no audition under the “nice person” clause.

    What would make the system a bit fairer is to have trial periods for all super-finalists, and for the tenure process to be truly enforced and not just a formality.
    A professional symphony orchestra is a great team of players who need the best team player period!
    Some orchestras have been accused of discrimination due to personal members’ bias and preconceived notions about the nature of classical music. Decades ago Asians were discriminated along with other minorities. Nowadays, Asians make up a substantial contingent of the worlds’ great orchestras, why? Because of general music education opportunities and approaches that elevated and gave players the necessary tools and level required for the profession’s requirements!

    Looking at an orchestra as a team, employment comparisons could easily be made to some general US professional sports teams reversed make up like basketball and baseball.

    Giving opportunity comes with the trial period once a player meets the required level technically and artistically!

  • Dave S. says:

    Devil’s advocate here.

    Maybe Tommasini is right.

    Classical music audiences in the USA are shrinking and the average age of its attendees is getting higher and higher. For classical music to survive in the US, it must broaden its appeal. And that doesn’t mean scheduling more atonal avant garde pieces.

    Rather, it means having people on stage that potential new audiences can relate to, generally because they like their story (triumph over disadvantage, etc) or have a story similar to theirs or look like them (ethnicity, color, gender, etc).

    Thems the facts.

    Will musical quality suffer? Let’s say it will.
    But will the new audience even notice? Will they be as discriminating about musical quality as commentators here are?

    For example, the audience that comes to hear Barenboim conducting the East-West Divan Orchestra. If they had the choice, how many of them would rather hear Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin — even after the commentators here expertly explained to them how the Staatskapelle is on another musical planet as compared to the East-West Divan? You think they’d notice the difference? You think they would care?

    Of course, things can go too far, to the point that ANYONE who knows ANYTHING about the art will notice the difference — and refuse to go to any performances with a particular artist.
    Misty Copeland and the ABT is a prime example.
    In terms of bringing in new audiences and inspiring young black girls, her appointment to principal dancer is a smash hit. A new audience, which never before paid to see classical ballet and knows nothing about it, cheers her every performance. But for those who know ANYTHING about ballet, her performances are painful to witness. She cannot even do the required steps, let alone do them at a level expected of a principal dancer in any other company.

    Would classical orchestras have to compromise THAT much, to the extent that ANYONE who knows ANYTHING will notice? I doubt it. I truly doubt that a majority of even the current audience would be able to hear the difference between a Julliard graduate who was at the top of his class vs the one who was near the bottom.

    So, given that classical music in the US is dying and there are so many very talented musicians out there, why not?

    Is this unfair and discriminatory against Asian and Eastern Europeans? Absolutely.

    And will it mean that NY Phil would continue to be as highly-ranked as it is now? Let’s say it won’t.

    But that does not mean it’s the wrong thing to do, if its survival is at stake.

    • Anon says:

      “Classical music is dying”, “audiences are dying”, “we need change”….oft repeated and completely false.

      A top orchestra gives multiple (3 or 4) performances of the same program every week for audiences of 1500-2500.
      Anywhere from 5,000-10,000 people every single week.
      That’s not “dying”.

      The East-West Divan relies on a story. They attract their own audience. Because audiences are not dying, and neither is music.

      Performances by the Concertgebouw, Berlin, Bavarian, Vienna, etc are always virtually sold out in Carnegie.
      People know exactly how good these orchestras are.

    • V. Lind says:

      What’s the point of surviving to be second-rate? That’s what all this is saying — wokeness trumps excellence. Give up on the need to strive for excellence, present things in the expectation that the audiences won’t know any better, and all you do is breed mediocrity across the board.

      I have seen it in the written media, from book publishing to papers and magazines to, of course, the shocking level of literacy on BTL comments and elsewhere on the net. Anyone who cavils is accused of being “grammar police, but when senior English students can’t form a plural without an apostrophe — placed at random — let alone recognise the meaning of a concert like “irony,” it’s not long before communication breaks down. Music may be elite. But the solution s to open up education — and IMPROVE it, in every field. Not to promote because of the marketplace.

      • Anonymoose says:

        para 2 – missing double-quote mark; concert = concept? solution s ? Sorry, couldn’t resist – but it is a good idea to proof-read before submitting a complaint about illiteracy.
        Can you tell me what BTL stands for, please? (Genuine ignorance on my part.)

  • Off in Bach says:

    Anthony Tommasini has generally demonstrated naivete in his understanding of the music business, but this is a new low. Do orchestras hold auditions in order to create a visually diverse ensemble, or to hire the best musicians? For the latter, blind auditions are the most fair – and it’s thanks to blind auditions that there are now so many women and Asians in our orchestras. Orchestras are supposed to SOUND good, rather than to look politically correct and racially diverse. Yes it would be nice to have more brown and black players in our orchestras – so the solution is to open community music schools in their neighborhoods and offer subsidized lessons. Certainly there is talent in these communities – so let’s invest in them to train and nurture these talents.

  • jack says:

    There is one other aspect to this that bothers me. That is the notion that blacks cannot measure up to the highest musical standards because of lack of early educational musical exposure. But I can tell you this, there are absolutely superb black musicians (many of whom have brought tears to my eyes listening to them). They have just not been playing in classical orchestras. Most have been playing jazz, or bebop, or whatever (and many of the best never received any formal musical education {they learned by doing}). And here is the discriminatory basis that underlies this whole discussion. That is that the penultimate achievement in music is classical orchestral or operatic repertoire. That notion creates a hierarcy in which more “ordinary” forms of musical expression are devalued. Professional classical orchestras should absolutely choose players based on merit (blind auditions). But as any jazz musician can tell you, the good players will be selected based on the public willing to pay to hear them. (And one more aside, almost every jazz musician that I have really liked has been black, with one white exception, Chet Baker {and he was a drug addict}).

    • sam i am says:

      You completely missed the point:

      Jazz isn’t demanding affirmative action for white and Asian musicians!

      Wynton Marsalis isn’t proposing a radical overhaul in his auditioning process for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra just so his orchestras can have more Asians and Whites faces.

      Surely, there is a glut of Asian piano prodigies, but no one is demanding that Jazz must hire more Asian pianists.

      • NYC Musician says:

        This is but another example of racism. Someone who clearly knows nothing at all about jazz, who must have seen something in a movie about Louis Armstrong (who had white musicians in his bands), assumes that jazz is all Black. It is not and does not need being diversified. Jazz is plenty diversified, particularly now as women and LGBTQ artists are really growing. It is the orchestra (and opera companies) that are the problem. This post above and all the people who liked it are RACISTS and that’s why it’s okay for you to have all white orchestras. Tick Tock…enjoy watching the funding streams for orchestra go away…

    • Allen says:

      “That is that the penultimate achievement in music is classical orchestral or operatic repertoire.”

      Next to the last achievement ????

  • Dan P. says:

    Besides the misleading title (misleading because the NY Times can’t possibly have a “policy” concerning something over which they have no authority), I would think the most sensible thing to do would be to create an initiative to encourage more people of color to audition. The screens are there for a reason. But if no one of color auditions, what does one expect? An interesting piece of data would be the demographics of auditioners year over year.

    • MacroV says:

      Indeed. I would very much like to see orchestras become more diverse. They have become so, in fact – largely because women are now 40-50% of many orchestras, Asians are a significant component, and a decent number of other foreigners are winning auditions.

      I don’t know how many black or hispanic players are at any U.S. orchestra audition. I would like to believe that if they regularly comprised 20% of those auditioning, they would be getting hired in decent numbers. But you’re not going to get black musicians winning auditions very often if they remain a tiny percentage of the applicant pool.

  • Paul Robeson says:

    This is the classic example of white privilege at work. You all think the orchestras are meritocracies. Do you really think the NY Philharmonic suffered artistically when Sanford Allen was brought on because he didn’t win his job through a blind audition? And what if ten Sanford Allens were hired, as the NY Phil had thought about at the time or 20, who didn’t win their jobs through a blind audition. Do you really think the orchestra would have been bad? Would that have ruined Lenny’s orchestra? These are organizations that have systematically denied opportunities to black people, historically. Name one major orchestra CEO who is black? Ever?…In its history, the NYP has only had three black players? And its the US’s oldest orchestra.Oh, I see, that’s because there are no black musicians good enough, oh yes, it’s all about merit. You should hear about the racists in the orchestra when Sandy Allen was hired. You folks must love your confederate flags and monuments. Don’t go erasing history now.

    • Adrienne says:

      Your argument is totally incoherent, absurd in fact.

      Nobody has either said or implied that the orchestra suffered artistically when Sanford Allen arrived. But there aren’t ten Sanford Allens, and bringing in ten people who look like him will not ensure that they sound like him.

      • NYC Musician says:

        The Philharmonic had a list at the time provided by its principal players of Black performers who were all deemed worthy of being in the orchestra. It’s at least 10 and do you really think that Sanford Allen was the only black classical musician in New York at the time who could play? Were you a professional performer in 1963?

      • Viola Cat says:

        You don’t think there are 10 black and brown orchestral players in the world at the level of Mr. Allen or Weston Sprott or Billy Hunter? Ummmm…sounds racist to me. I agree, this argument is clearly white privilege and of course, those making it can’t see it.

        • Adrienne says:

          “10 black and brown orchestral players in the world at the level of Mr. Allen”

          In the world? Possibly, but far more first class white players who, believe it or not, have rights too, that’s the problem.

          White privilege? So opinions you disapprove of are allocated exclusively to white people? Who’s the racist?

          Both sides of my family are black, as pointed out on previous occasions on this site. Sorry to disappoint.

      • Bill the Trumpet Player says:

        I don’t think the argument is incoherent at all. What Paul was saying, I believe, is that there was no diminution of quality because Sanford Allen did not have a screened audition. He had an audition, like all the other Philharmonic players of that generation and was deemed good enough to join. They could have recruited another 10 or 20 Black musicians of high quality, auditioned them, surely some would have passed muster of the time, and instead of one person of color in the orchestra, you would have had 10 or 20 and the orchestra would have been just as good as it had been before (possibly better.) Nothing incoherent in that. What is incoherent in my view, is the notion that if you auditioned some great diversity musicians without a screen, because you wanted to increase diversity for reasons obvious to most people who don’t post on the board, that you would find those great players, diversify the orchestra, break a racial barriers, and still have a great orchestra.

  • Grittenhouse says:

    Tommassini knows nothing about performing, let alone auditions.

  • MacroV says:

    I’m not really in favor of getting rid of screens. While there may not be many black musicians getting into orchestras, there are plenty of women and Asians. But another reason for that is that there are a lot of women and Asians AUDITIONING! You can’t deal with this at the professional level; until you’re training so many black musicians that they constitute 10-20 percent of students in the music schools, and a similar percentage of participants in an audition. It’s not discrimination if there are two black players in a field of 100 at a blind audition.

    That said, I don’t really have a problem that if you’re auditioning for a principal clarinet, you have three finalists, and one is black, that you choose the black player; they are all qualified, there is no lowering of standards in making that choice for the sake of diversity.

  • M2N2K says:

    Whatever respect I still had for AT as a classical music critic is now gone completely.

  • Nick says:

    Let’s start with sports and address diversity there, particularly in basketball, football and athletics!! and after we address that we can proceed with classical music. How about that?!?

    • Helen Chu says:

      That’s right. Same thing for rap and hip-hop music. We aren’t people asking that those art forms become diversified?!?

  • NYC Violinist says:

    Getting rid of blind auditions would create many more problems than it would solve. Is he saying that audition committees should make determinations on hiring based on race? A violation of federal law? What a black musician just so happened to not be picked, then the orchestra could open itself to liability and accusations of racism. Not to mention gender discrimination, biases, favoritisms (audition committee members quite often know many people who audition as it is a small world!). This would also undoubtedly result in more discrimination against asians in general as they have fought and trained hard to be successful in the classical music world. without a screen it seems The NY Times wants fewer more qualified asians so that we can make determinations based on race. This is outrageous, is a form of racism itself and would taint the audition process. There are some situations where I believe not having a screen in the final round makes sense, so that you can play chamber music, etc. with the candidates to get a better sense of their musicianship and ability to play collaboratively, etc. To really help the situation re: minorities on stage there needs to be more investment in education at a younger age, more training opportunities, etc.

  • Bayard Rustin says:

    These organizations are public institutions, not private clubs. They are public charities and one way or the other they are barring people of color from joining orchestras. The orchestras have said this is a problem with the conservatories. The conservatories have said it’s a problem with early music education. So, then people say, well, let’s invest in early music education and maybe 15 or 20 years later we will have a more diverse orchestra. It has not happened and never will. Something needs to be done if people really love orchestral performance. Clearly leaving as is has not worked and it is no longer tenable for these orchestras to continue to say they are about merit and fairness but there are are no black and brown players selected. These organizations were already heading towards failure financially while becoming less and less relevant. You want to secure a future for orchestras? Then drop the screens, admit that there are more than enough black and brown players across the world to be brought in and diversify these orchestras while maintaining excellence, and move on. Otherwise, well, get used to being called racist, watch donations head downward, and enjoy the BLM protests that will start soon as you try to enter the concert hall, whenever that begins again.

  • David Leibowitz says:


    …I didn’t realize the NY Times had a policy on blind auditions…

  • Grace O'Malley says:

    “Most players believe blind auditions are the fairest way to select the best talent.”

    In this brave new world, the words, “better” and “best” must be eliminated. Nothing can be better than something else. Diversity is all that matters.

  • Greg says:

    Any lack of diversity in today’s orchestras needs to be addressed well before the audition process. Underrepresented populations need to be exposed to music in school and given opportunities to grow musically. The sad fact of the matter is that in the US it is primarily the more well-to-do families who can invest in their child’s training that produce our conservatory students. A huge number of public school music programs are a disgrace (if they even still exist) and keen students must seek private instruction and performing opportunities elsewhere. This comes at a very high cost that may not be feasible for all. I suspect that many non-anglo students are turned off of music at an early age and that a career in music is therefore out of the question.

    By the time auditions are held, screens remain the most effective way to staff the orchestra. When all is said and done it is imperative to find the best musician possible – regardless of identity politics. I assume the diversity being called for pertains mostly to black musicians (possibly Hispanic, too). By the looks of most major orchestra rosters in the US it would appear that musicians of Asian descent have made huge inroads. It can’t be said that all minority populations in the US aren’t getting a fair shake.

    I suppose there are smaller orchestras that may hold open auditions and may be influenced non-musical factors when staffing their ranks. That’s their call. For the majors, however, a musical meritocracy should be the standard and screened auditions should be the norm. I would like to think that someone winning a job in an orchestra would prefer to know that they earned the position on merit rather than pigmentation.

  • Harold LaFarge says:

    The orchestras have tried everything, including scholarships, outreach programs mentorship programs, special programs of Black orchestral music, pops programming, recruitment of minority board members, and partnerships with local minority organizations. However, now matter what has been tried for the past fifty years, we have no more than one or no Black artists in the orchestra and have never had a Black CEO. It is a terrible situation, that we regret deeply, but we cannot sacrifice the quality of the orchestra to ensure that diversity, since there is nothing more important than the quality of the orchestra. (Guess what? That’s the hallmark of a racist protecting their white privilege).

  • Michael Mercer says:

    Tommasini’s proposition to do away with blind auditions seems to be based entirely on his suggestion that orchestras like the NY Philharmonic should “reflect the communities they serve… If the musicians onstage are going to better reflect the diversity of the communities they serve, the audition process has to be altered to take into fuller account artists’ backgrounds and experiences.”

    Really? What community does the Philharmonic serve? Do you really believe that every organization should reflect the plurality of its geographic community’s demographics? Inclusion is wonderful and encouraged, but not everything is for everyone, and not everyone wants everything. Should the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, or the Vanguard, or the Knicks be expected to “reflect the communities they serve” as defined so broadly as Tommasini does for the Philharmonic? Diversity shouldn’t mean that everything is proportionally represented in everything, but that everyone has the opportunity, but not the expectation, to participate in everything. Diversity is the product of non-exclusion, but not a thing unto itself for itself.

    Tommasini also writes, “For orchestras, the qualities of an ideal player might well include talent as an educator, interest in unusual repertoire or willingness to program innovative chamber events as well as pure musicianship. American orchestras should be able to foster these values, and a diverse complement of musicians, rather than passively waiting for representation to emerge from behind the audition screen.” And exactly how would you evaluate these in an audition setting? And how would abolishing blind auditions achieve this? And how silly does it sound when you add to that admirable list of attributes “and be black or brown”?

    Tommasini ends by invoking “… the spectacle of a lone Black musician [McGill of NYP] on a huge, packed stage at Lincoln Center is unbearably depressing.” Unbearably depressing? This is just trying too hard.

    Tommasini means well, as do others who broach the same topic, but what is frustrating to me is that many confuse non-exclusion with all-inclusion. Diversity should mean equal opportunity, in the best sense of that phrase, not equal representation, and certainly not diversity for its own sake. Tommasini, in his misguided article, espouses racial discrimination to correct racial representation. That, truly, would be unbearably depressing.

    • John Porter says:

      Perhaps you haven’t seen the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, but it is racially diverse or been to the Vanguard, as it presents a diverse array of artists, black, white, brown, and yellow (and the Vanguard always did, see the famous Bill Evans residencies). If you’re going to point to examples of ensembles or genres that aren’t diverse, then you might try to find some that support your argument, but in the non-profit world you will not, except for orchestras and opera companies.

      • Michael Mercer says:

        Have you been to the Vanguard, the Jazz at Lincoln Center, or the Knicks, and say this with a straight face? Although more diverse than the Philharmonic, they’re far from being exemplars of diversity by any stretch. And is this really your best rebuttal to my overall point that such organizations don’t need to be demographically representative of NYC? Such myopic thinking is why we’re here today.

        • John Porter says:

          I go to the Vanguard regularly and it remarkably diverse from a racial perspective from week to week. One week Jason Moran and Bandwagon another week Bill Frisell, another week the New Masada Quartet, I can go on and on. Take a look at the Jazz Gallery, The Stone, SF Jazz, and you will see an amazing amount of diversity. here’s the roster for LCJO. https://www.jazz.org/JLCO/ It is quite diverse racially, as is the entire Jazz field. Take a look at Jazz Times or Downbeat and you see a wide range of artists of all stripes. Take a look at orchestra rosters, conductors, the music they perform, and you will see nothing of the sort. The fact is that the jazz field is representative of NYC and the growing diversity of the US. The challenge jazz had for years was a gender issue, which is quickly fading away as pressure has been brought to bear to give great non-male jazz artists a chance.

  • MardySiegmund says:

    Look the comments section. That there is the death of classical music. So unwilling to be accepting or to address it’s industry faults, it would rather dig it’s own grave than open itself up to inclusivity.

    • Adrienne says:

      It is inclusive, it’s just that it includes the “wrong” minorities.

      SE Asians seem to be of huge benefit to classical music but they have the huge disadvantage of not being dark enough.

      Harvard appears to be facing similar issues.

    • Flora Sullivan says:

      Exactly. When the private and government funders tell the orchestras they are taking away their funding, the screens will come down, willingly, believe me.

      • M2N2K says:

        Let us hope it does not happen that way, but even if it does, this would not make it either right or good.

  • Bratsche brat says:

    Absolutely absurd article. Blind auditions fought the monstrous, calculated, year-long sexual harassment from those in power towards female musicians on probation. Now BLM trumps MeToo?

    The person who performs the best audition wins the job. If people want more black musicians in jobs, invest in educating and supporting them well before it’s time for them to audition.

    Any hiring practice which uses race as a determining factor above skill-level, is, by definition, racist.

  • MacroV says:

    There is a lot of reductio ad absurdum in these comments. Lots of arguments for “only the best” should win (in a field where “best” is highly subjective), and therefore a defense of blind auditions, otherwise mediocrity will prevail.

    I’m all for merit, fairness, and transparency. But let’s not delude ourselves here: lots of people are qualified at any audition, and SD has run a number of pieces over the years about auditions where the winner was not exactly selected through a head-to-toes blind process. The reaction has not always been outrage, and many of those who complain get charged with jealousy or sour grapes.

    Somehow, though, now that we’re talking about making efforts to get more musicians of color into U.S. orchestras – rather than, say, another grad of CIM into Cleveland or of Curtis into Philly – the SD-osphere goes ballistic. One is a defensible preservation of culture and tradition, the other political correctness run amok.

  • MacroV says:

    I’ve been interested to see such a vigorous defense of the blind audition process. Anyone remember this discussion from 2016? https://slippedisc.com/2016/06/cleveland-principal-viola-hands-seat-to-his-student/

    If you look over the comments, there was no shortage of people defending a very un-blind process, seemingly justifying it because the winner was exceptionally well qualified (which I am no position to know but don’t dispute), and accusing those who complained about the process of being ill-informed, petty, jealous, etc..

    Apparently the SD community has become much more woke in the subsequent four years, and now see blind auditions as only way to ensure not just fairness but that the best person is always chosen for the job.

  • justsaying says:

    Hm, the NY Times seems to have four white guys and one white gal writing about classical music. Shouldn’t they fire at least half of themselves first, and then get on with lecturing everyone else?

  • Who really cares? says:

    Classical music is un-American anyway

  • Max says:

    So stupid, may be NYT is over-rated after all…

  • Drumroll says:

    When I was a graduate student I had a professor who said flatly that if women were meant to be composers and conductors, they would be in evidence already.
    “Where were they?” That was 40 years ago, and today they are everywhere, extremely competitive, breaking into the front ranks of composers with opera commissions and functioning as music directors, etc. So give this other issue some time. There are outstanding Black musicians out there. Some of them choose to be in other fields than classical music, but they are definitely there. We already see outstanding Black classical composers. The rest will happen. The first ones will be scrutinized as Ellen Taafe Zwilich and Antonia Brico were in their fields — as if their success or failure proved something, or didn’t, about the entire class. But now it is nothing unusual to see females in the highest echelons. The current crops in both categories are flat out brilliant. There are really terrific young Black musicians coming up as well.

  • Ruth Millnan says:

    Blind auditions are the most fair fir the best talent.