oregon symphony musician wins LA Phil position

Photo: Ashley Courter

Evan Kuhlmann, OSO Assistant principal bassoonist/contrabassoonist has won a highly coveted position with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which I was able to confirm with him today. No word on when Evan will begin work in LA. Most position start dates are set at the mutual availability and convenience of both the orchestra and the audition winner. In addition to his work with the Oregon Symphony, Evan is also a brilliant composer and arranger, and is a member of the Arcturus Wind Quintet and 45th Parallel Universe.

Evan’s bio from the Oregon Symphony website:

Evan Kuhlmann was born in Seattle, Washington. He graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy with Honors in Bassoon and English and The Juilliard School; where he earned a B.M. in Bassoon Performance with Scholastic Distinction as a student of Frank Morelli, a Graduate Diploma in Music Composition as a student of Robert Beaser, and the Peter Mennin Prize for Outstanding Achievement and Leadership in Music. Evan also studied bassoon with Francine Peterson, Barrick Stees, and Eric Stomberg; and composition with Samuel Jones, Stanley Wolfe, and Philip Lasser.

As assistant principal bassoon and contrabassoon with the Oregon Symphony, he has been praised for his “outstanding” playing (The Oregonian) and can be seen “rocking out” on a regular basis (Seen and Heard International). He has performed with numerous orchestras internationally including the St. Louis, San Diego, and Seattle Symphonies, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, All-Star Orchestra, and Orchestra of the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy.

In 2000, Evan made his solo debut with the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall. He has also performed as soloist with the Marrowstone Festival Orchestra, and with Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and the Oregon Symphony. Evan makes frequent appearances as a guest artist on local chamber and contemporary music series, as well as music festivals in the Northwest and beyond. As principal bassoon of the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, he has performed countless premieres, including works of John Adams, Magnus Lindberg, James MacMillan, and Christopher Rouse.

A dedicated teacher, Evan is a faculty member at Portland State University and Woodwinds @ Wallowa Lake, and maintains a private studio. He has also taught at the Marrowstone Music Festival and coached the bassoonists of the Filarmónica Joven de Colombia, Portland Youth Philharmonic, and Metropolitan Youth Symphony.

the anxious musician

anxiety

The Seeds of Anxiety

The anxious musician is me. I think this has always been the case. I’ve never felt like I was good enough to be in whatever position I’ve found myself. It began in high school, when I was in youth orchestra, and hadn’t really blossomed as a musician. I saw the ‘cool kids’ that were doing well with the best teachers, and who got all the attention. I knew that I loved music as much as they did. But I was invisible, or nearly so. I didn’t know why, but [pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]my brain told me that it was because I wasn’t good enough. Not just as a player, but as a person.[/pullquote] It’s funny, how this early attitude maintains itself. I’ve always felt like some sort of imposter – fearing that someone would unmask me for the pathetic pretender that I felt I actually was.

Environment is Key

What has become clear to me is that it’s all about comfort and support. The best performances I’ve given in my professional career have been in places where I felt a true rapport and sense of camaraderie with my fellow musicians and the audience. [pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The worst have come where I’ve felt like I was being judged at every moment, that every phrase contained a crucial moment where I could ruin everything.[/pullquote]

In moments of clarity, I realize that I am qualified to be doing what I’m doing. I understand that mistakes happen, and they are in the past immediately, and what comes next is what matters. Those moments of clarity are fleeting, however. It doesn’t take much to throw an artistic personality off balance. We are trained from the inception of our studies to be critical of our performance. We are warned that if we don’t practice until it is perfect, someone else will. We are subject to intense peer stratification in music school that makes Predator look like Kindergarten Cop. If you are naturally endowed (or skillfully engendered) with a healthy sense of self, you can make it through these trials with most of your faculties intact. If you’re not (my hand raised over here), then it’s a recipe for, if not a steady downward spiral, then periodic downward spikes with some frantic attempts at self-arrest. In my quest for solutions, I’ve found a couple of helpful sources, which, if you’re like me, you might also find of interest.

Brené Brown

Brené Brown is a YouTube TED Talk phenomenon. She has spent much of her professional life researching the mechanics of shame.

Amy Cuddy & Miranda Wilson

More recently, thanks to a recent Facebook post by David Eby, I discovered this article by cellist Miranda Wilson which talks about physical ways of combatting performance anxiety inspired by Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy.

It is a hard battle, and when you find yourself in an uncertain and possibly hostile performance environment, these tools can make all the difference. I’ll let you know how it goes…

hard truths

In the world of professional cycling, the time trial is known as the ‘race of truth’. You are essentially alone on the road, trying to ride your hardest and fastest sustainable pace for the entire distance, trying on top of that to set the fastest absolute time of the field to win the stage. It is often described as one of the most exquisitely painful feats a cyclist can purposely endure.

In the world of the professional musician, the audition is our race of truth. Just one person, obscured from view by a screen, on stage in a concert hall, playing to the best of one’s ability in the hopes of advancing, and eventually winning the gig. Like the time trial, it can often be an exquisitely painful process, whether one wins, or not.

Over the past couple months, I’ve been preparing (in and of itself an agonizing process) to take the audition for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s latest viola opening. They previously held auditions, but no winner was chosen. I’m fairly long in the tooth for taking auditions (I’m 45), but I thought that I’d give it the old ‘college try’. I spent hours in the practice studio, with metronome, tuner, and digital recorder, re-learning and trying to constantly refine the list of audition repertoire that was required for the audition. This included the first movements of two standard concertos, and some 18 orchestral pieces ranging from Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 to Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion & Celesta. If there is any process which serves more to introduce self-doubt, and energize any and all self-imposed demons, than preparing for an orchestral audition, then I don’t even want to know what that might be. Because preparing for auditions is hell.

I spent the time in the practice studio, then sought out colleagues to play for, both recording the process and getting detailed feedback on what needed improvement from them. Then back into the studio for more self-flagellation. All while still preparing chamber music, outside gig music, and of course, music to be performed at my primary workplace, the Oregon Symphony. Ugh.

So, the audition in Chicago consists of just two rounds: preliminaries and finals. There were three days of preliminaries (two held this past Monday and Tuesday, and one more to be held this Saturday), and then the finals will be held in late January. I played in the morning group on Tuesday.

I’ll make a long story short, and just give the brutal details. I warmed up for about an hour in the group warm-up room (certainly one of Dante’s circles of hell) in the bowels of Symphony Center. Then, about 30 minutes before I was to go onstage, I was led up to a practice room of my own on the same level as the stage. I would not know what I would be asked to play (aside from which concerto) until I stepped on stage. So, I methodically went over all of the passages I thought I’d be most likely to play in the round, both slowly and trying them up to tempo, trying to keep my fingers warmed up and supple. After I’d given up trying to play anymore, a runner came to the door and summoned me to the stage. I then stood in the wings while the candidate before me played a really stunning audition, playing a total of six excerpts plus her concerto movement. Then, I walked onstage, into the beautiful confines of Orchestra Hall. I tuned, then played my concerto. It didn’t really feel good. Nothing was bad, but I wasn’t, as I wanted to, playing ‘like I play’. It was too careful, too controlled, perhaps a bit timid. Then I was instructed to play one of the toughest excerpts there is for the viola: No. 77 in Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben.

Strauss-Ein-Heldenleben

It traverses the entire range of the instrument in 26 bars, and literally every note of it is like navigating a minefield. Again, it didn’t feel good. There was no swagger to it, no self-assurance. It wasn’t particularly well in-tune. Then, ‘Thank you.’ I was done. Four minutes of playing time, and months of effort and hundreds of dollars of travel expenses were realized. Stunned, I slowly walked off stage, and actually snorted when the proctor congratulated me on a “good job”.

Now, I know that a lot of candidates would have such an experience and say something along the lines of “What the hell is wrong with the f-ing CSO??? Can’t they just let you play?” Sure, they could, but they’re looking for something very specific, and they have lots and lots of candidates to hear, and they don’t need to mess around when they know that someone isn’t at the standard they’re looking for. Even if I’d played perfectly in aspects of intonation and rhythm, musically, I clearly wasn’t playing with the confidence that they obviously were looking for, and I accept that. So, I get back to life as a non-auditioner, and play with my incredible string quartet, new music ensemble, and the Oregon Symphony – all in an amazing and wonderful city. I’m already a lucky man.