“We have a very rigorous audition process,” said Gary Ginstling, the Cleveland Orchestra’s general manager and a clarinet alumnus of New World. “It’s very traditional as far as orchestras go. There’s no doubt in Cleveland that we’re looking for musicians that are absolutely at the top of their field on their instrument.”
Yet once the players are in, Ginstling said, the Cleveland Orchestra can certainly utilize their community relations skills. “We’re in a city that’s challenging economically, and the population is declining, so we’re trying to find ways to connect the orchestra with a larger group of people from northeast Ohio,” he said. “We’ve really worked to connect our musicians with our audiences closer and giving them a chance to speak from the stage and engage with our donors and members of the public, humanizing and personalizing the members of the orchestra.”
The desire to make orchestral musicians an active part of their community has long been an essential part of the New World Symphony’s DNA. Harpist Elizabeth Hainen joined New World in its second year, 1988. Her memories include working on Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 (and hanging out at the pool) with Leonard Bernstein, whose advocacy of Mahler helped raise the composer’s work to the leading position it holds today. She went on to what for most New World members would be a dream job: principal harp of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which despite its financial troubles, continues to make great music as one of the nation’s top ensembles.
But in addition to her orchestral work, solo career and teaching responsibilities as chair of harp studies at the Curtis Institute of Music, she has established a nonprofit group that provides harp lessons and access to harps for public school students.
“At the New World Symphony they gave us a lot of seminars and coaching, and it always made you very aware of where you came from,” she said. “So you really feel, when you’re given such a gift as a big position like Philly, that I need to do something, I need to give back. It’s probably the most rewarding thing that I do.”
This season, 31 new fellows, selected from more than 1,200 graduates of music conservatories, arrived in South Beach. They moved into small furnished apartments in two renovated hotels. Each receives a weekly stipend of $450. During the year they will receive private lessons from visiting members of leading orchestras, undergo training in dealing with the public, learn from psychologists how to handle auditions and work with contemporary composers.
The heart of the program is a full concert schedule, a fast-paced series of concerts that will throw many of them into the world of performing orchestral musician for the first time in music spanning the early Baroque to contemporary premieres. The musicians will perform under Tilson Thomas as well as a variety of well-known conductors from around the world this season, including Stéphane Denève, Susanna Mälkki, Matthias Pintscher and composer John Adams.
In addition to the value and excitement of working with such top rank conductors, the typical New World fellow today is faced with two roles and an array of choices: the thrill of being part of the massed forces of a superb orchestra along with somehow carving out a career and achieving one’s personal career goals.
“I would love to play in an orchestra, but I’d like to do a little bit of everything,” said violinist Amos Fayette, who is entering his second season with New World. Among the highlights of his first season, Fayette mentioned the late-night Pulse concerts and the season-closing performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony with Tilson Thomas.
“For me this was a very meaningful experience, exploring Mahler with someone who’s a real expert,” he said. “That piece was kind of the culmination of everything we worked on through the year to gel the orchestra and treat the orchestra like a big chamber group.”
Yet Fayette also coached a gifted young violinist through the works of Bach, Mendelssohn and Paganini to the point that she could study with concert violinist Elmar Oliveira at Lynn University. And he even managed a concert series, coordinating the Musicians’ Forum series, which includes solo, chamber, jazz and pop performances.
“The definition of what it means to be an orchestral player is changing,” he said.