由于管弦乐团的文化中心当时还在建设，于是试奏在慕尼黑的德意志博物馆举行。参加试奏的候选者共有33名，每个人的演奏都要在幕布之后进行，以免评审看到他们。在当时的欧洲，这种幕布后的试奏还很罕见，但是由于候选者中有一人是慕尼黑管弦乐团某位成员之子，为了公平起见，乐团决意将第一轮试奏放在幕后进行。科南特被编为16号，她演奏的是费迪南·大卫的《长号协奏曲》（Konzertino for Trombone），这在德国是试奏者们常选的曲目。她吹错了一个音（G音破音了），于是告诉自己“完蛋了”，然后便走回后台，动手收拾东西准备回家，但评委们却不这么认为：他们被震惊了。试奏是典型的薄片分析场合，受过训练的古典音乐学家们说，在很短的时间内——有时只用听上几个小节，有时则只要听完第一个音，他们就能判断出一位乐手的优劣。而对于科南特的功底，评委们一听便心知肚明了。等到科南特离开了试奏大厅后，乐团的音乐总监谢尔盖·切利比达奇（Sergiu Celibidache）大声惊呼：“这就是我们要找的人！”其余17位等待着上台试奏的乐手们统统被打发回家，有人到后台找到了科南特，她回到试奏大厅，而当她从幕布后走出来时，她听到的却是巴伐利亚语的惊呼声：“这是怎么回事？老天啊！上帝啊！我的神啊！”原来，大家翘首以盼的不是科南特先生，而是科南特女士。
科南特别无选择，只得把事情搬上了法庭。管弦乐团在法庭陈述中的理由是：“原告不具备担任首席长号手所要求的体力。”科南特被送往高汀哥·郎医院（Gautinger Lung Clinic），做了大量的测试。她对着特制器械吹气，进行抽血采样以检测吸收氧气的能力，还接受了一项胸腔检查。她的得分在正常人之上，护士甚至问她是不是运动员。诉讼演变成了一场拉锯战。管弦乐队声称，在演奏莫扎特的《安魂曲》时，科南特的“气息不是很明显”。而实际上，那次表演的客座指挥还专门对科南特的表现大加赞赏了一番。人们筹划了一次特殊的试奏面试，并请来一位长号大师做评判。科南特演奏了长号曲目中最具难度的七章乐曲，大师极尽溢美之词地把她褒奖了一遍。管弦乐团口中她既不可靠又不专业的言辞都是弥天大谎。8年之后，科南特终于恢复了原职，重回首席长号手之席。
At the beginning of her career as a professional musician, Abbie Conant was in Italy, playing trombone for the Royal Opera of Turin. This was in 1980. That summer, she applied for eleven openings for various orchestra jobs throughout Europe. She got one response: The Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. “Dear Herr Abbie Conant,” the letter began. In retrospect, that mistake should have tripped every alarm bell in Conant’s mind.
The audition was held in the Deutsches Museum in Munich, since the orchestra’s cultural center was still under construction. There were thirty-three candidates, and each played behind a screen, making them invisible to the selection committee. Screened auditions were rare in Europe at that time. But one of the applicants was the son of someone in one of the Munich orchestras, so, for the sake of fairness, the Philharmonic decided to make the first round of auditions blind. Conant was number sixteen. She played Ferdinand David’s Konzertino for Trombone, which is the warhorse audition piece in Germany, and missed one note (she cracked a G). She said to herself, “That’s it,” and went backstage and started packing up her belongings to go home. But the committee thought otherwise. They were floored. Auditions are classic thin-slicing moments. Trained classical musicians say that they can tell whether a player is good or not almost instantly — sometimes in just the first few bars, sometimes even with just the first note — and with Conant they knew. After she left the audition room, the Philharmonic’s music director, Sergiu Celibidache, cried out, “That’s who we want!” The remaining seventeen players, waiting their turn to audition, were sent home. Somebody went backstage to find Conant. She came back into the audition room, and when she stepped out from behind the screen, she heard the Bavarian equivalent of whoa. “Was ist’n des? Sacra di! Meine Goetter! Um Gottes willen!” They were expecting Herr Conant. This was Frau Conant.
It was an awkward situation, to say the least. Celibidache was a conductor from the old school, an imperious and strong-willed man with very definite ideas about how music ought to be played — and about who ought to play music. What’s more, this was Germany, the land where classical music was born. Once, just after the Second World War, the Vienna Philharmonic experimented with an audition screen and ended up with what the orchestra’s former chairman, Otto Strasser, described in his memoir as a “grotesque situation”: “An applicant qualified himself as the best, and as the screen was raised, there stood a Japanese before the stunned jury.” To Strasser, someone who was Japanese simply could not play with any soul or fidelity music that was composed by a European. To Celibidache, likewise, a woman could not play the trombone. The Munich Philharmonic had one or two women on the violin and the oboe. But those were “feminine” instruments. The trombone is masculine. It is the instrument that men played in military marching bands. Composers of operas used it to symbolize the underworld. In the Fifth and Ninth symphonies, Beethoven used the trombone as a noisemaker. “Even now if you talk to your typical professional trombonist,” Conant says, “they will ask, ‘What kind of equipment do you play?’ Can you imagine a violinist saying, T play a Black and Decker’?”
There were two more rounds of auditions. Conant passed both with flying colors. But once Celibidache and the rest of the committee saw her in the flesh, all those long-held prejudices began to compete with the winning first impression they had of her performance. She joined the orchestra, and Celibidache stewed. A year passed. In May of 1981, Conant was called to a meeting. She was to be demoted to second trombone, she was told. No reason was given. Conant went on probation for a year, to prove herself again. It made no difference. “You know the problem,” Celibidache told her. “We need a man for the solo trombone.”
Conant had no choice but to take the case to court. In its brief, the orchestra argued, “The plaintiff does not possess the necessary physical strength to be a leader of the trombone section.” Conant was sent to the Gautinger Lung Clinic for extensive testing. She blew through special machines, had a blood sample taken to measure her capacity for absorbing oxygen, and underwent a chest exam. She scored well above average. The nurse even asked if she was an athlete. The case dragged on. The orchestra claimed that Conant’s “shortness of breath was overhear-able” in her performance of the famous trombone solo in Mozart’s Requiem, even though the guest conductor of those performances had singled out Conant for praise. A special audition in front of a trombone expert was set up. Conant played seven of the most difficult passages in the trombone repertoire. The expert was effusive. The orchestra claimed that she was unreliable and unprofessional. It was a lie. After eight years, she was reinstated as first trombone.
But then another round of battles began — that would last another five years — because the orchestra refused to pay her on par with her male colleagues. She won, again. She prevailed on every charge, and she prevailed because she could mount an argument that the Munich Philharmonic could not rebut. Sergiu Celibidache, the man complaining about her ability, had listened to her play Ferdinand David’s Konzertino for Trombone under conditions of perfect objectivity, and in that unbiased moment, he had said, “That’s who we want!” and sent the remaining trombonists packing. Abbie Conant was saved by the screen.