The screen dropped yesterday afternoon for a final round of auditions for the San Diego Symphony’s open French horn seat.

Two people from about 50 total players were left. Each played the excerpts the audition committee asked for. The curtain that had kept them from the committee’s view was pulled away.

And then, they went back to their practice rooms and waited for their results.

Darby Hinshaw, a 31-year-old horn player who currently plays in eight (!) orchestras in the Bay Area, won the seat. He’ll become the San Diego Symphony’s assistant principal/utility horn player.

I caught Hinshaw on the phone this afternoon. He said he thinks he’ll be starting in July.

Hinshaw graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory in 2005 and joined the Monterey Symphony. He soon took more and more gigs with other part-time regional orchestras around the Bay Area, including subbing with the San Francisco Symphony and playing principal horn with the orchestras in Santa Rosa and Stockton.

Earlier this week, I wrote about how guarded the audition process is. I asked Hinshaw this afternoon if he could tell at all how he was doing from round to round yesterday.

He said he felt good about his playing and about his preparation.

“When I’m in there doing the audition, I’m not really thinking about what this means about my career, my financial stability, my family and all of that,” he said. “I’m thinking about the physical, mental and emotional process of playing the instrument.”

He said there are many ways of teaching horn players, and so each player adds a level of interpretation to the notes on the page. How long do you play a quarter note? Do you swell the volume for sustained melodies or ebb in the middle? Where do you breathe? He said no matter how it is you play, you must convince the judges it’s a valid interpretation, even if it’s different from how they might play.

“You can’t think about whether the committee will like it or not,” he said. “You just have to play it.”

But beyond that, there’s a big difference between performing music as a soloist and blending with the other horn players and the overall orchestra. Hinshaw said sometimes he has mixed feelings about whether this audition setup is truly the best way to find an individual candidate who will have to play on a team.

“It’s an imperfect solution to a very deep question,” he said.

But after winning the audition, Hinshaw’s surely not hating that imperfect solution too much today.

I’m the arts editor for VOSD. Please contact me directly at or 619.325.0531 and follow me on Twitter: @kellyrbennett.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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