What do guitarist Jason Vieaux, pianist Simone Dinnerstein, the crossover trio Time for Three, and bass-baritone Eric Owens have in common?
These internationally recognized musicians were launched early on with help from Astral Artists, a Philadelphia-based organization that has closely mentored nearly 80 musicians who've gone on to achieve impactful careers in music. From Tuesday May 29 through Thursday May 31, anyone who purchases a $20 pass can hear the new wave of Astral hopefuls compete at Rock Hall at Temple University, during Astral Artists’ 2018 National Auditions.
But the part of the selection process that makes or breaks an artist’s chance to win a coveted spot on Astral’s roster is not about performance. We talk with Astral’s Artistic Director Dan Visconti and Executive Director Julia Rubio to discover what that might be.
What makes Astral’s National Auditions different from other high-level competitions out there?
At Astral we're all about cultivating the total musician: our audition process emphasizes a broad definition of excellence, not just performance acumen. We want to choose a young musician who might have the ability to introduce a piece of music to a rural community in a way that forges meaningful connections, or the drive to start a new music festival, or the passion to share one's own experience with others. So our audition process includes written responses to questions, a video pitch, and a live interview. Considering the total context of a candidate's life and career is essential for the success of our program. There's simply no other competition out there evaluating candidates on these criteria.
How did you select the 30 young artists who’ve been asked to participate in the live auditions for 2018? How many will end up winning a spot on the new roster?
In the first round, applicants submit three different recordings, which are judged by an independent, anonymous panel. This round is open to anyone. Those receiving the highest scores within each discipline are invited to the live auditions in Philadelphia. Typically, we invite around 10 people in each discipline to the live auditions. (For 2018, the disciplines are Strings, Piano, and Winds and Brass.)
Applicants aren’t competing against each other; rather, they're evaluated against a high standard of excellence. We don’t have a quota for the number of musicians we invite into our program, but we tend to average about 5 new artists each year. It's all a matter of finding the right musicians who will flourish in our program.
Each category in the live round of the competition is judged by 9 to 11 panelists. With so many people on a panel, is there a danger of not being able to come to an agreement — or is it pretty obvious to you all when a musician is a clear “winner?”
We pride ourselves on drawing from a large and diverse pool of adjudicators, each of whom brings their own unique expertise and perspective. While deliberations are lively, we think this process is exactly what allows the winners to clearly emerge; we're not going by hunches here! That's why when an artist is invited to join our roster, it truly reflects not just having made a big splash, but also standing up to incredible scrutiny.
The winners of the live performance round are then invited to the interview portion of the auditions process. Here they're given the chance to share their vision for how they plan to make an impact through music. Have you ever not selected a musician of sterling performance ability because of their interview?
The interview is a major component of the audition process in that it gives us all kinds of information we can't necessarily derive from performance alone: what are their interests, dreams, and values? At Astral, we're looking to update traditional notions of excellence: we are looking to nurture the total musician and we're interested in candidates who have a strong point of view.
Above all, we're looking for artists who are creative, collaborative, and responsive to the audiences and communities they serve.