USC Thornton bassist wins chance to play with the L.A. Chamber Orchestra in new mentorship program

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For several years, the USC Thornton School of Music’s strings department has held mock orchestral auditions to give students a taste of life in the professional world. But, says adjunct professor Margaret Batjer, there was always something missing — ‘an added incentive that would energize and motivate them in a different way.’

So Batjer, who also serves as concertmaster of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and department chair Midori Goto, the celebrated violinist, went to the ensemble with a proposal. The result is the LACO-USC Thornton Strings Mentorship Program, which offers auditioners a real prize to compete for — the chance to perform with the orchestra.

The first winner, double bassist Mary Reed, will play in LACO’s concerts at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale and 7 p.m. Sunday at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Music Director Jeffrey Kahane will lead a program that features John Harbison’s Gli accordi piú usati (‘The Most Often Used Chords’), Dvorak’s Serenade in E major for Strings, Op. 22, and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 with soloist Jon Kimura Parker.

Reed, a 22-year-old master’s candidate, was among nine nominees — violinists, violists, cellists and bassists — who auditioned last fall before Batjer; adjunct professor Peter Stumpf, principal cellist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic; and Roland Kato, LACO’s principal violist. Batjer says the judges assessed areas including technical proficiency, ‘familiarity with not only their own parts but also the score’ and ‘stylistic approach to the composer.’ If no one had met the appropriate standards, no winner would have been selected.


‘Mary had certain qualities that as an orchestra musician I look for in terms of her rhythm and preparedness,’ says Batjer. ‘Also, it’s unusual for a bassist to outdo a violinist or cellist.’

A native of Charleston, S.C., Reed began to play the double bass when she was 9. She attended the Charleston County School of the Arts and the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. Currently, she is studying with David Allen Moore, a USC Thornton faculty member and Los Angeles Philharmonic bassist.

Rachel Fine, LACO executive director, says auditions were conducted according to union guidelines designed to preserve anonymity: students played behind a curtain and avoided interacting with the judges. Reed has been hired as a substitute musician for the rehearsal-performance period. (USC paid her union expenses.) She is being treated like any other orchestra member, says Fine. ‘When you are preparing for a professional career you need to understand fully the working experience.’

‘Collaborations like this are very important to us,’ says Fine, as is helping a new generation of orchestral musicians ‘make a seamless transition.’ Ideally, she adds, the next auditions will occur in September and the winner will perform with LACO the following spring.


Music review: Jeffrey Kahane, Sasha Cooke and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at the Alex Theatre in Glendale

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra to explore the musical mind

— Karen Wada