Young musicians prevail over tough blind audition process to secure Adelaide Symphony Orchestra jobs

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Justin Julian is only 23 and he’s just been given a job for life.

“It’s a scary thought that I could be here for 40 years,” he said.

“I would love to be here for 40 years, but I just can’t imagine that length of time doing anything.”

The former Sydneysider has just been appointed as the Associate Principal Viola with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

The company offers tenured positions, or a contract for life.

But getting them isn’t easy, with a multi-round blind audition that attracts nationwide interest.

Long before television thought of the idea, these auditions have been run by orchestras worldwide.

Hopefuls play on one side of a black curtain, allowing for nothing but the music to stand out.

“Each round, they eliminate people until they eventually either settle on someone they want or they don’t appoint and they audition again later,” Julian said.

Dean Newcomb sat on the panel for Julian’s audition and knows first-hand about the stress and nerves, after winning his job the same way 13 years ago.

“The reason it’s tough is because you spend many weeks and many hours practising and then you come in and no-one sees who you are and you play for three to five minutes,” he said.

“Then you go home and if it doesn’t go well, then that seems like a real slog, no-one knows the effort you put into it.”

Long process to secure coveted roles

Julian wasn’t even meant to be auditioning, having been in Adelaide with the Australian Youth Orchestra when he was spotted by ASO musicians and encouraged to apply.

He spent the next week locked in a rehearsal room on his own from nine in the morning till nine at night desperately rehearsing.

It paid off and he was the last person standing, but the process wasn’t over.

He then had to get through a six-month trial process, made even longer by the 2020 break during the first COVID-19 wave.

He wasn’t the only one who made it through both stages, with oboe player Joshua Oates and principal timpani player Andrew Penrose also successful in gaining positions.

Penrose, 33, said the intense blind auditions made his legs shake.

“You know they’re going to be listening for certain things and you need to make sure those things are coming across,” he said.

A lot was at stake in chasing the tenured position, with the previous two timpani players being in the job for 39 and 42 years respectively.

“It’s an honour to be given it to start with, from all the musicians that I’ve worked with and played with and learned from, it feels good, yeah,” he admitted.

Joshua Oates, 29, had gone through the renowned Marryatville High School music program before studying in Germany.

He’d also been through 16 auditions for different orchestras, all while having to master the oboe, one of the more difficult instruments.

“It’s a complicated relationship, sometimes it can be quite a temperamental instrument,” he said.

“Just the nature of it and the way the sound is produced, it’s not always the most consistent thing to manage.”

Julian, meanwhile, is doing his own managing after landing the ASO job.

“I’m in the unique position of being in a position of leadership and also being the youngest person in any professional orchestra in Australia, which feels kind of weird of times,” he said with a laugh.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m telling people twice my age what to do. They’ve put up with me so far.”

Eventually, family and friends will be able to travel over from NSW to see him perform.

But then again, there’s no hurry — they’ve got decades to make it.

By Matthew Smith (Original ABC Article)