Magazine article The New Yorker

LOW NOTES; DEPT. OF TRYOUTS Series: 3/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

LOW NOTES; DEPT. OF TRYOUTS Series: 3/5

Article excerpt

When, this spring, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra held auditions to fill an open seat in its bass section, Kurt Muroki, who lives on the Upper West Side, carried his bass ten blocks south to Lincoln Center. Of all the candidates--there were sixty-two--he had probably travelled the shortest distance. Susan Wulff may have travelled the farthest; she flew in from San Diego, arriving late the night before her tryout. "I got to my hotel, with my bass, at ten-thirty, and they're, like, 'Bad news. No room,' so they sent me to another hotel--the Edison?--and brown water came out of the shower."

Between 1985 and 2004, only two seats in the Met's bass section opened up. The second became available last summer, hence the auditions, which took place over four days. The Met is considered one of the best orchestra gigs in the country. ("This job would double my salary," one candidate said. "You get dental," another noted.) Each bassist would play for five minutes or so, for a panel of six judges, drawn from the ranks of the Met's orchestra.

Day One: In a basement rehearsal room, panels of plywood had been rigged up in a corner, creating a screen so that the judges could not see the players. A voice called out, "Player No. 14!" Papers shuffled. A chair (or music stand?) squeaked behind the plywood. Then, after a silence, the first notes of Humperdinck's "Hansel und Gretel" overture floated over the partition. After five minutes, the judges whispered and made hand signals. Then one of them called out, "We'd like to hear the first excerpt again. We'd like to have the player try to make the dots a little dryer. Perhaps a little more space." Player No. 14 tried to make the dots dryer. Then a door opened and closed. "Player No. 15!" Shuffling. Squeaking. Silence. Humperdinck.

After a candidate played, he or she went to wait in a nearby locker room. Muroki came in, joining those who had played before him. "I hit the first A, but then I just crapped out," he said.

Another candidate, an Italian man, rolled his eyes; he'd seen Muroki play before. "Watch--he'll advance," he told the others. Muroki slumped in a chair. "If there is one orchestra in the entire world I'd want to play for, it is this one," he said. Nods all around, except for one guy, who said that playing in a rock band would be better. …

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