Black curtain. Carpeted floor. Nameless people filing in and out. Sounds creepy, but it’s actually just a blind audition for the Arizona Opera Orchestra; an audition that Highland High School graduate Michael Marks won earlier this year to become the youngest member in ensemble history. He is 19 years old.
Ryan Taylor, Arizona Opera’s General Director, said he and the rest of the judging panel were shocked when they learned Mark’s age. During the auditions, musicians do not talk and play behind a screen, so the judges really have no idea who the musicians are or how old they are.
Taylor said all the candidates played well, but one played with extreme maturity.
“It was clear there were years of leadership and experience,” he said. “Out from behind the curtain came this young man. We were all stunned.”
Marks took the audition just for the experience and was rather stunned himself when they offered him the job as principle bass.
“I didn’t really think I had a shot at getting (it),” he said. “I wanted to put forward the best audition I could so that when I was more mature I could take what I had learned and apply it to future auditions. I was very, very surprised when they named me the winner. I kinda wished someone had a camera to see my face.”
As principle bass, Marks takes on an important and exhausting role in the orchestra.
“(Bass) provides the foundation for the string section. Without strong bass leadership, the rest (of the section) can waffle around,” Taylor said. “As bassist, you play every single set piece. You get no rest. It’s grueling. (But) he’ll have youthful energy to get him through.”
Marks, who is pursuing his musical studies at the elite Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles, said he is a bit nervous since it’s his “first real job” but he’s excited about the chance to play with accomplished professionals.
“One of the most important things about learning the trade of classical music is experience,” he said. “Getting to sit down with musicians is a fantastic opportunity that I have and get to take part in.”
Marks first performance will be Oct. 11 at Arizona Opera’s season opening performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera “HMS Pinafore.”
IF YOU GO
What: Arizona Opera performs Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘HMS Pinafore’
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11 and Saturday, Oct 12, 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13.
Where: 75 N. 2nd St., Phoenix.
Information: (602) 266-7464 or azopera.org.
Contact writer: (480) 898-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org