(New York Times) — There was no mistaking the Vienna Philharmonic’s plush sound in November at the Musikverein here, as Franz Welser-Möst conducted excerpts from Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung.” Gentle strings, glowing brass and a blend across all instrumental sections spoke to a culture of playing that has been cultivated since the 19th century.
But even for an orchestra that lives and breathes tradition, recruiting the next generation of talent is no longer self-evident. That is why, for the first time in its history, the Philharmonic is opening an academy to train musicians hands-on. Auditions begin early next year amid a busy schedule that includes touring to Lugano, Switzerland; Salzburg, Austria; Frankfurt; Budapest; and, in early March, New York.
Orchestra academies offer young players a transition from conservatory to professional life but also allow institutions to pass on their specific culture of playing. The Berlin Philharmonic has maintained its own academy since 1972, at the initiative of Herbert von Karajan, and graduates currently occupy about 30 percent of the orchestra’s seats. More recently, in 2014, the Shanghai Symphony began partnering with the New York Philharmonic to prepare instrumentalists in China for the demands of orchestral life.
The Vienna Philharmonic’s academy will be comparatively small and exclusive. Only 12 players, ages up to 26, will gain admission to a fully subsidized two-year program not only immersing them in the traditional curriculum of chamber music, private lessons and performances with full orchestra, but also exposing them to Austrian culture and history. At least one instrumentalist will be from the United States, thanks to support from the Vienna Philharmonic Society, and talks are underway with leading East Coast conservatories. […]