The orchestra regularly auditions musicians from throughout the Baltic Sea region in order to renew and refresh the pool of outstanding players who perform with the orchestra on tour. The Baltic Sea Philharmonic works with the region’s top conservatoires to recruit the best and brightest musicians, who are usually aged between 18 to 28. From 8 to 19 March, a total of 70 players from across all the orchestral instrumental groups came to audition at Talent Days in Palanga, Riga, Tallinn, Helsinki and St. Petersburg. To the Talent Day in Berlin on 25 June 2019 another 30 musicians applied.
The Baltic Sea Philharmonic, under its visionary conductor Kristjan Järvi, has established a reputation as a boundary-breaking ensemble, through its commitment to playing major orchestral works by heart and through innovations such as immersive concert experiences that feature cutting-edge lighting, sound design and projection art. It should therefore come as no surprise that the orchestra’s auditioning process is special too. Applicants had the opportunity to shine in a solo first round, but also in a new second round in which they joined a full orchestra rehearsal. And because the Talent Tour is being held as open auditions, all interested musicians were able to listen to the first-round auditions and full orchestra rehearsals, even if they themselves were not auditioning. For young conservatoire players eager to learn more about the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, these rehearsals are a window on the orchestra’s world, and a unique chance to see how this convention-busting ensemble works.
A significant part of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s mission is to empower the musicians and develop their entrepreneurial and leadership skills. The Talent Tour audition process strongly reflected this, in that it was led by nine of the orchestra’s principals. Although Järvi listened to each applicant perform solo and conducted the full orchestra rehearsals, the panel of principal musicians had a leading role in choosing their future fellow players. Principal violist Marzena Malinowska, from Poland, explained the panel’s approach: ‘We were trying to take musicians out of their comfort zones – not in search of failure or perfection, but to see who they really are as people. We let them show and share their passion, and we asked them to do things, such as playing by heart, that they might have thought that they were incapable of doing – in order to show that crossing mental boundaries is fun. When the audition itself becomes an experience that teaches you something, and lets you discover new things in yourself, then the final result does not matter quite so much.’
For 18-year-old flute player Margarete Galinka, a student at the Gnessin Moscow Special School of Music who auditioned at the Talent Day in St. Petersburg, the experience was both refreshing and inspirational. ‘I had never played an orchestral piece like Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty by heart in an audition before, so that was a very unusual and exciting opportunity,’ she said. ‘Also, this was the first audition where I felt truly comfortable, because the panel was so warm and encouraging. It felt from the beginning like we were friends, like we could speak freely and improvise together. The atmosphere in the audition was wonderful.’
On the ‘Midnight Sun’ tour in June itself, we welcomed several first-time members of the orchestra who had successfully auditioned at the Talent Days we held during our ‘Nordic Pulse’ tour of the Baltic States, Finland and Russia in March. Russian violinist Zhanna Troitskaya said that the warm atmosphere at her audition in St. Petersburg encouraged ‘improvisation and the freedom to create music without fear or shame’. Being part of ‘Midnight Sun’, she added, was ‘the best experience of my musical life’, and ‘playing by heart opened up to me a new way of performing orchestral music’. Her fellow new violinist Jokūbas Švambaris, from Lithuania, said he had embraced the challenges of the Talent Day in Palanga: ‘The solo audition was calm, whereas the joint rehearsal was one of the craziest things I’ve done in an orchestra: I had never played the programme before, and Kristjan asked the musicians to play standing and so I just joined in. That was an amazing experience, and really motivated me to become a member of this orchestra.’