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YSM alums return to Yale with Dallas Symphony

DSO blog

Clockwise from left: Tom Fleming, Kaori Yoshida, and Bruce Patti. Photos courtesy of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra

On March 28, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, led by Music Director Fabio Luisi, will perform composer-in-residence Angélica Negrón’s What keeps me awake and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony in Woolsey Hall as part of a tour that will also take the ensemble to Symphony Hall in Boston and Carnegie Hall in New York. We spoke with three members of the orchestra who studied and graduated from YSM about their careers—violinists Bruce Patti ’76MM and Kaori Yoshida ’01MM ’02AD, and bassoonist Tom Fleming ’11MM. Also on tour with the DSO are YSM alums Eve Tang 11MM, who’s subbing in the violin section, and organist Bradley Welch ’99MM ’00AD ’01MMA.                                       

Q: What was your path to the DSO after you left YSM and what were the circumstances in which you landed the position in the orchestra?

BP: I was a professional violinist with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and at summer festivals while at Yale, eventually becoming principal second violinist of the Eastern Philharmonic during summers at the Eastern Music Festival. My first full-time job after graduating from Yale with a master-of-music degree was a joint position: Concertmaster of the Chattanooga Symphony and Assistant Professor of Violin at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, which involved chamber music concerts, classroom teaching, and teaching college and pre-college students privately. My duties also included performing concerti with the Chattanooga Symphony. It was an intensive job juggling so many responsibilities and the pay did not match, but it was a valuable experience!

I learned about a new international orchestra in Mexico City—the Philharmonic Orchestra— with better compensation snd international tours, and joined that organization, sometimes playing in principal chairs. After two seasons with that orchestra, touring all over Mexico, South America, Europe, and Japan, I moved back to the states and freelanced in Chicago for a couple of years, was the Concertmaster of a theater orchestra there and worked with a coach from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on audition repertoire, eventually winning a position with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra!

KY: After graduating from YSM, I moved to Hawai’i and started a job with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, which used to have auditions in New York City. As a foreigner hoping to stay in the United States, I was happy to take the offer. Hawai’i is a very beautiful place and I still love visiting there, but it's far from anywhere, and it is not easy to take auditions because of the time difference. I decided to return to the U.S. mainland after two years. Once I moved back, I lived in New York City, taking lessons and auditioning while freelancing there. When I started to freelance, I commuted to New Haven to play with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, where I was a member when I was at YSM. I started to advance to the finals in auditions and became a regular sub with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. My second year of freelancing, I saw the violin-audition ads for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra that took place around the same time. Fly once, play two auditions. The DSO audition was probably my sixth audition that year. There were three rounds in two days. After playing in the last round, it’s funny but I somehow already knew that I was going to win the position.

TF: My path to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra was not immediate. The year following YSM, I pursued a D.M.A. degree at the University of Maryland. After deciding to leave that program prematurely for other performance opportunities, I was accepted as a fellow of the New World Symphony. NWS was an invaluable experience that not only trained me comprehensively for the orchestral industry, it also inspired me to continuously investigate ways to make the art form relevant for future audiences.

After NWS, I freelanced and auditioned for four more years before landing my tenured position in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. I performed extensively with many great orchestras in the United States, including the National Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, and Oregon Symphony. I also performed half of a season with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra as co-principal.

Q: What wisdom can you share with current YSM students who are taking auditions in the hope of securing a position in an orchestra?

BP: I found that learning the standard orchestral excerpts from an experienced professional violinist is very important. They know the tempos, have great fingerings, and valuable tips! Equally important is networking by attending summer festivals/music camps and freelancing! Meeting and playing with several musical acquaintances can be influential in securing music jobs down the road! You never know when one or more of these individuals may be on an audition committee or know of an opportunity for you! Nonetheless, you must play the repertoire at a very high level. Play for a professional coach and play auditions on very good instruments including a good bow. You can’t take every audition; your body needs a break. I never auditioned for orchestras with poor financial histories. 

KY: It’s important to get enough sleep, eat well-balanced food, and exercise modestly. In terms of preparation, I referred to Performance Success: Performing Your Best Under Pressure, by Don Green which I received directly from the author when I lived in Hawaii, and Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within, by jazz pianist Kenny Werner. 

Never give up. If something doesn’t work out, just move on. I believe that taking many auditions one after another around the same time and getting the hang of it led me to win the audition. Landing the job is not the goal but the starting point. 

TF: One shouldn’t take an audition merely for the experience. It is inevitable that we gain experience at each audition. Why not pair that with the intention of success? Be humble, but also assertive and confident in your principles.

If you are lucky enough to find yourself in a great performance arena, pay attention to the brilliance and tradition around you. Avoid judgement of your colleagues and continue to hold the utmost respect toward them post-tenure. An orchestra is only as sublime as what it can accomplish collectively. Morale goes a long way.

Q: What might surprise people about orchestra jobs? 

BP: I was surprised to see that foreign orchestras offer good jobs and have many Americans in them. I was disappointed to learn that college positions didn’t compensate as much as the orchestra job.

KY: It is actually a busy and physically demanding job, just like being an athlete. There was a female violinist in the Honolulu Symphony who was obsessed with how to sit in the chair. I didn’t quite understand what she meant at the time, but I do understand now that it is really important to have good posture, not only for good sound and visual reasons but for good health. 

TF: Winning a job isn’t the end. A full-time orchestra job, while rewarding, is also physically and mentally taxing. It’s critical that we curate a lifestyle that enhances our artistic output. Find balance and connect with the community around you.

Orchestras are small communities, and we should aspire to get along personally as well as musically. The tone you set in your interactions will follow you throughout your career.

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, led by Music Director Fabio Luisi, performs composer-in-residence Angélica Negrón’s What keeps me awake and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony on Tuesday, March 28, in Woolsey Hall. Admission is free. Learn more here.