Well, this is just awesome.
(click for the official Star Tribune story)
Over the three years since Jorja Fleezanis announced that she’d be leaving the orchestra at the end of the 2008-09 season, I don’t think I’ve fielded a single question more often than “When are you guys gonna pick a new concertmaster already?” It’s been impossible to answer that question, or even to offer much insight into the search process, since a) I wasn’t a member of the search committee, and b) even if I had been, these searches are kept under very tight wrapping. Concertmaster searches are almost as difficult and exhaustive as music director searches – it’s nothing like a normal orchestral audition process, and as with a music director, no one wants to make a mistake in hiring a new concertmaster. This is the individual who, more than any other single musician in the orchestra, will shape our collective sound for years or decades to come – it’s kind of a big deal.
And that’s why I’m so unbelievably thrilled about Erin winning the job. Even if I’d never heard of her before her final audition week this past spring, I would have loved the decision to hire her. But as it happens, I’ve known her since she was about ten years old. My middle brother and I both went to music camp with her, and I played in any number of chamber ensembles with her over the course of several summers in New England. She was a dazzling violinist at age 15, intimidatingly great by 18, and she’s only gotten better from there. She’s also seriously funny, disarmingly sweet when she wants to be, and tough as nails when she needs to be.
For those of you who wonder what it takes to get to the point where you’re named the concertmaster of a major American orchestra, here’s what it took for Erin. At some point over a year ago, she made first contact with our search committee, which was already more than a year into their search. Knowing they probably wouldn’t know much of anything about her, she proffered endorsements from Jorja (an influential vote of confidence, obviously,) me (considerably less influential) and others, basically just to establish that it wouldn’t be a waste of the committee’s time to listen to her play the violin for a bit.
Based on her application, Erin played a short preliminary audition for the search committee last fall, along with several other wildly talented violinists from around the world. At the end of that day, she was offered a week as guest concertmaster later in the season. She would be the last of eight candidates to play with us in 2010-11. In addition to leading an orchestra she’d never worked with through Mahler’s massive 6th Symphony, she’d be expected to play a set of six insanely difficult and varied concertmaster solos with the entire orchestra and Osmo during one of our rehearsals. Between concerts, she’d also present a half-hour solo recital for the search committee and any other members of the orchestra who chose to attend.
A few weeks before her stint as guest CM, I told Erin that, while we’d heard some great violinists over the course of the season, I suspected that the door was still open for her, and that she should be prepared to walk through it. I needn’t have said anything. She kicked that door down. Her solos were spot on, her leadership skills were remarkably well developed, and her recital was an absolute pleasure to listen to. Even without talking to a single member of the search committee, I knew we’d found our new leader.
I’ll have more on Erin here on the blog in the weeks to come – once she’s had a chance to catch her breath and settle in, I’ll definitely sit down with her for some sort of interview during which we’ll presumably humiliate each other with stories about what we were each like as teenagers. But for now, you can get to know her starting next weekend, when we open our 2011-12 season at Orchestra Hall. In week two, Erin will be playing the huge solo part to Strauss’s epic tone poem, Ein Heldenleben, which, by the way, was one of the excerpts that won her the job.
I know I’m biased, but trust me. You’re gonna love this woman. And I strongly suspect you’re gonna love what she does for our orchestra in the years to come.
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