Last week, Paul Hauer sat in his usual place in the MSO’s second violin section for the annual Stars of Tomorrow concert. But ten years ago, he was at the front of the stage soloing with the orchestra.
Hauer is not the only MSO musician to have participated in the contest, which allows talented teenage musicians a chance to solo with the orchestra. But he is the most recent, and he is part of a talented family; his younger sister was one of the finalists this year.
Stars of Tomorrow is the culminating event in the Forte Young Artist Auditions, which has been identifying and encouraging young musicians in Wisconsin for nearly half a century. Each year, three musicians solo with the orchestra, and a few dozen finalists and honorable mentions play side by side with MSO musicians in another piece; this year it was Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony.
Last Thursday, cellist Garrison Keller of Mequon won the grand prize in the concert presented at the Wilson Center in Brookfield. The other soloists were Hauer’s sister Emily, a home-schooled high school freshman from Appleton, and violinist Cassidy Franzmeier, a junior at Germantown High School.
As a teenager, the Stars of Tomorrow contest was “a huge boost of confidence,” Paul Hauer said. Playing the finale of Bruch’s showcase “Scottish Fantasy,” he was advised to “play as loud as possible, all the time” to be heard with a full orchestra.
Sitting in the section as an adult, of course, the situation is different. “I’ve never played in an orchestra with this much attention to dynamics and ensemble,” he said. “And I have very supportive colleagues.” He credited frequent stand partners Laurie Shawger and Mary Terranova for helping him to get up to speed — or possibly down to speed, since he said that keeping good rhythm was his toughest task while trying to win a job.
Becoming a mature musician is a process. Looking back, Hauer remembers “just trying to play the notes.” As a student at Indiana University, one year he tried to imitate the virtuoso Joshua Bell at auditions, and got the lowest possible seat (assistant principal second violin). The following year, playing with a greater sense of his own self, produced better results—concertmaster of the University's Philharmonic Orchestra (the highest seat possible).
During his undergraduate work at Oberlin and his master’s at Indiana, Hauer concentrated on learning the orchestral repertoire and how to take auditions. He estimates that he took 15 auditions for full-time jobs before winning Milwaukee; in the meantime, he played in several regional orchestras and put 25,000 miles on his car in one year.
Hauer, who won his job about a year ago, recalled that when he saw the audition notice, “my first thought was that I could drive to Milwaukee, instead of flying, and I could stay with friends, so I could save money. One of the last things I thought about was, ‘Oh yeah, I could live in Milwaukee.’”
MSO violist Norma Zehner, who won Stars of Tomorrow in 1970, is a link to the contest’s early days. Two years later, while she was still a student at Wisconsin College Conservatory, she won the MSO position that she still holds. She had envisioned a career in chamber music, but the prospect of a steady job at 18 was irresistible. Over the years, she said, “the stars have gotten so much more proficient. I don’t hold a candle to them today.”
Another previous Stars of Tomorrow winner is Alex Ayers, who grew up in Waukesha and won a seat in the MSO’s first violin section four years ago. Sitting in the orchestra now and listening to the students, “I know what they’re going through,” he said. “They all do a great job. I’m amazed at how prepared they are. It’s cool to be a part of their story, a part of their journey.”