Conservatory musicians play their way into professional orchestra

Conservatory of Music students Emma Northcutt ’24 and Braydon Ross ’23 took turns trying to impress judges situated behind a curtain who had no idea of their age, gender, ethnicity or race.

All the judges had to go by was how Northcutt played the violin and Ross played the horn.

The answer, it turns out, is very well.

The Pacific students emerged from the “blind auditions” by out-performing more experienced musicians to earn seats in the Stockton Symphony.

Northcutt will play in the holiday concert Dec. 3. Ross, now a master’s student at the Yale School of Music, is commuting cross-country to meet his concert commitment. He played in the Nov. 11 and 12 concerts.

“For two students to prevail against very stiff competition is admirable,” said Peter Jaffe, director and conductor of the Stockton Symphony. “The Conservatory should be very proud. Emma and Braydon are amazingly talented young musicians, and we are pleased to have them in the symphony.”

Emma Northcutt

Emma Northcutt

Emma Northcutt, violin

Northcutt admits she was nervous for her blind audition. But her confidence grew as she progressed from the first round to call-backs.

“There were auditions for four positions, but they opted to fill only two seats,” Northcutt said. “I was sitting in a room with the other musicians, waiting for the decision. The personnel manager of the symphony came out and said, ‘we would like to have you play second violin.’ I was so surprised and happy.”

The fact that she fared better than significantly more experienced musicians was not lost on Northcutt.

“I felt very supported. Many people associated with the symphony were genuinely pleased that young people were joining the orchestra,” Northcutt said. “I am grateful for the guidance I received at Pacific. It prepared me for this moment.”

The opportunity comes at a good time for Northcutt. She performed with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra for several years, but aged-out when she turned 21. She now has the symphony position as she considers where she will attend graduate school.

“Emma is a very dedicated student and musician. She has served in leadership roles in the Conservatory and is respected by all,” said Professor of Violin Ann Miller. “ She has a very bright future.”

Braydon Ross

Braydon Ross

Braydon Ross, horn

Ross had previous experience with the Stockton Symphony, often filling in when the orchestra had musician openings on short notice. He parlayed his experience into a successful blind audition, which is going to lead to cross-country commutes for performances.

“The travel will be daunting, but I want to make it happen. I must play in at least four concerts, and the people at Yale are being very accommodating in helping me make this work,” he said.

The way Ross sees it, his Stockton earnings will cover the cost of the commute.

“Basically, it’s a break-even proposition financially, but I will get great experience,” he said.

Ross said one of his Conservatory classes specifically emphasized auditions. He put what he learned to good use.

“That class helped prepare me for what I faced in the blind audition,” he said. “I like the whole process. When you take out age, gender and other factors, the competition becomes void of biases. That makes it the truest test of you as a musician.”

Ross said the guidance he received from Professor of Horn Sadie Glass helped prepare him for his new symphony role as well as graduate school.