The National Arts Centre Orchestra has launched an incredible new mentorship program where participants will be paired one-on-one with an orchestra member. This three-week program is an opportunity for participants to hone their skills, network with orchestral professionals, and perform with the NACO. I spoke with Yosuke Kawasaki, concertmaster of the NAC Orchestra, about this exciting new project.
The program is open to people 18 and over who are completing their performance degree, actively auditioning, or beginning a position in a professional orchestra. For the Conducting program, applicants should be in their final year of study or early in their career with broad knowledge of orchestral repertoire.
Kawasaki has been with the NACO for almost 15 years, now as concertmaster, and began playing violin at the age of 6.
“When I was growing up, I was taking music semi-seriously. I started putting in the hours, practicing seriously at 10. I had, of course, role models around me—my father was a professor, my mother was also a musician,” Kawasaki said. He got his start as a gig musician: “My parents knew how difficult it was to have a career in this field, so they never pushed me. I think a lot of people started off doing competitions—I didn’t really do that. I was a gig musician for a long time. I started off with weddings, and background music for a lot of events. My father always instilled in me that it does not matter what the gig is, just play the best you can.”
Importantly, participants receive an honorarium for their three weeks of attendance, along with accommodations, meal allowances, and travel subsidies, largely eliminating the financial pressure of participating in a three-week program.
The program really recognizes the kinds of barriers that early career musicians face: “I think that’s a big part of it—removing these barriers,” he said. “Reflecting on how I got here, not everything is about the level of command that you have of your instrument. I think that is definitely part of it, but you need these opportunities to meet people and create those pathways, not just to advance your career, but to open your possibilities.”
Kawasaki also mentioned that non-linear pathways are just as valuable to a music career. “Who knows what direction your artistry may go. It’s not all linear! And just because we are doing this mentorship program doesn’t mean everyone is going to land an orchestra position,” he said.
The NAC has been working for a long time to remove barriers, so it’s admirable that this mentorship program takes into account the limitations on students interested in participating in these kinds of programs. Importantly, participants receive an honorarium for their three weeks of attendance, along with accommodations and meal allowances, with travel subsidies also available, largely eliminating the financial pressure of participating in a three-week program.
“It has always been a dream of ours to have a program like this … This is great because it involves everyone on stage and everyone has ownership,” Kawasaki says.
While the pandemic has made it more difficult to have active programming, Kawasaki thinks there is is at least one significant silver lining—“The opportunity to see the benefits of online classes and meetings.” He said it “enhances the in-person experience by supporting it with these online opportunities for people who are not able to do this in person physically.”
The audition process works much in the same ways as other programs, with aspiring participants sending in tapes, though the NACO is asking for video submissions that will then have the audio stripped for a truly blind audition process.
“Not everything is about the level of command that you have of your instrument. I think that is definitely part of it, but you need these opportunities to meet people and create those pathways, not just to advance your career, but to open your possibilities.” —Yosuke Kawasaki
When asked what he is most looking forward to, Kawasaki said, “We are going to have side by side participants on stage with us and establishing that relationship with all the participants that are coming, which is exciting. I’m going to be sitting with someone for three weeks—it’s nice to get to know someone intimately.”
“It’s nice to have the music there because it’s a common language,” he continued. “There’s a connection—an immediate bond—because we are all working together on this one thing. Go ahead and speak to each other and you’re going to have a cacophonous experience.”
His final words of advice for those considering applying is to “Keep an open mind, but also not be judgmental! [The program] is an evolving thing—it’s just as much a mentorship program for us. We also want to grow and often we learn from the very people that we are teaching.”
“We are all sort of equals in that regard coming into this program and we are trying to maintain that approach.”
Information about audition repertoire and the application form can be found here. Applications are due by February 7, 2022 and the fee to apply is $60.