Over the course of 4 days in November, 144 of the best flutists in the world came to Chicago to audition for the second flute position with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. John McMurtery auditioned and was chosen to be one of five finalists.
McMurtery has taught at Western Illinois University for five years. Before then, he was a member of the New York City Opera Orchestra and the Opera Orchestra of New York. He has also been a substitute for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra over the past year. Still, he said he was shocked when he found out he was a finalist.
"I thought I played well at the audition, but you never know," McMurtery said. "When I found out I was among the final five, I was thrilled."
Candidates for the position have to prepare three solos and passages from more than 20 different orchestral pieces that have very difficult flute parts. They don't know which ones they will have to play during the blind auditions when they perform from behind a screen allowing the judges to remain impartial since they don't know who is playing.
McMurtery said his experience playing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra previously may not have helped him. "They know me for my section work. And hearing me in a more solo role and have the committee recognize you from behind the screen can be very challenging," McMurtery said.
McMurtery said he loves teaching at Western and gets ample opportunities to play locally. He cites playing with WIU's faculty ensemble Camerata Woodwind Quintet as one of the highlights. McMurtery said if he doesn't win the position he will be very happy to stay in Macomb.
The final audition is February 13th. Between now and then, McMurtery will continue to be a substitute with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He will join them on their European tour for two weeks in January, performing in Vienna, Paris, Milan and Hamburg.